Adventurous eaters need not stray far from home for a unique meal. Just step outside. It’s springtime, and the eatin’ is easy.
Here in the Puget Sound region, with its temperate climate, we can harvest a bumper crop of nutritious and toothsome weeds from our gardens and lawns nearly year-round. If that sounds gross, consider this: Common weeds—including purslane, chickweed, lamb’s-quarters and bittercress—make the domestic vegetables we grow look like junk food. Dandelion greens contain more vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron than Popeye’s favorite energy booster, spinach.
OK, so they’re good for you. What about the taste? Purslane (aka pigweed) is slightly sour and salty. Chickweed is sweet. Lamb’s quarters (sometimes called goosefoot) tastes a lot like spinach or chard. Bittercress has a hot and peppery taste that belies its unfortunate common name. Europeans think these “weeds” are fab—and not so long ago, New Jersey was known for its golden fields of dandelions, not cranberries and blueberries.
As with any gourmet food item, preparation can be the key to enjoying your backyard harvest. Pick dandelion leaves for a salad before the flower buds form, when these free greens look and taste more like expensive French baby lettuces. (They get bitterer after budding.) Or sauté them like kale with a little garlic, lemon and soy sauce. Later in the season, you can use the buds in an omelet, pick the flower petals for bread or make a sunny adult beverage to spirit away the drizzlies, as famously evoked by Ray Bradbury in his nod to simpler times, Dandelion Wine. The root can also be roasted to make a coffee-like beverage or to flavor ice cream.
Here’s one more reason to harvest backyard weeds: You’ll be less inclined to use the nasty herbicides and pesticides that foul our water. Salmon, birds and even the neighborhood kids (maybe your own!) will thank you.