Backyard Edibles (Some Might Call Them Weeds)
Have you ever stood in a place and wondered how could anyone live there, when there’s nothing to eat? I know I have on many occasions, especially when camping or hiking through marginal areas such as the low deserts of Arizona or the sweeping plains of southern Idaho. Learning to recognize plants, both edible and non-edible, is a window into seeing and connecting with your environment and understanding it. When you begin to understand the plants that grow in your area, you start to see the story of that place. The plants that grow somewhere are there because of the condition of the soil, the amount of precipitation, and daylight hours that place gets. When you understand the environment you are in, the wild world becomes a lot less intimidating and whole lot more interesting.
What many consider to be weeds are just really kick-ass plants that have found soil that needs some amending. Most often, those spaces are backyards, verges, medians, shoulders of the roads, or empty lots. Often these plants are edible and delicious: think dandelions, clover, sunflowers, burdock, curly dock, yarrow, plantain, violets, purslane, amaranth, comfrey and so on. Many of these plants have long taproots to bring up nutrients and minerals from deep down in the soil. Try to pull a dandelion out of the ground and you’ll see what I mean. Note that these plants might differ if you live in place that is dryer like the American Southwest, where you might only find sunflowers , amaranth, and purslane.
The other day I was looking around my yard to see what might be coming up now that spring is fully here. To my delight, I found numerous edibles: Dock, yarrow, violets, dandelions, burdock, clover, and lots of oregano. Apparently, someone forgot to tell oregano that it’s not a grass.
I thought I would share with you a little about each plant and show you what they look like so you can check your backyards too!
Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) is very easy to spot, and its leaves can grow to be quite large. They have an elongated ovate shape that curls at the edges. The leaves, stems and seeds are all edible. Curly dock is rich in iron and is said to be helpful for treating constipation, skin diseases and indigestion. It’s also high in iron , so you could eat it like spinach sautèed, boiled, or in smoothies.
Taraxacum officinale. This lovely bright yellow plant is the bane of all perfectionist lawn owners. However, to foragers and herbalists this plant is one the first wild edibles in the spring that is a welcome relief. The taste is slightly bitter so you wouldn’t want an entire salad made of dandelion greens, but adding a cupful to your dinner is great. The blossoms can be made into lots of things: you can batter and fry them, make them into jelly, or wine. The roots made a delicious tea that is cleansing to the liver. Dandelion is rich in vitamins A, C, E and K and in potassium, iron and calcium. It’s one of those plants that have a long deep tap root and pull minerals up from deep in the soil. Also this is one of the first flowers to open in the spring, which is very helpful for the pollinating insects who are just waking up.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a great medicinal herb. It’s useful for healing skin wounds and can be used as an expectorant. This is another deep rooted plant that brings lots of mineral up from deep in the soil. It makes a great addition to the compost pile.
Wild Violet (Viola odorata) is a delightful little spring plant. They are low growing and emerge in the spring. The flowers and leaves are edible and make a delightful addition to salads and spring dishes and frozen in ice cubes for a colorful addition to drinks.
Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is in the mint family, though it has more of leafy taste like chard or kale. You can eat the stems, leaves, and flowers. I like adding a few stems into my salads. It’s also delightful sautéed with garlic. It’s also high in iron. I have not found a strong medical usage through it is said it’s good as a stimulant.
This were just a few of the wild edibles in my backyard. Feel free to share what you find in your own yard. If you want to know more about wild edibles, check out the book on the Bookshelf page called Wild Edibles. It has tons of information and recipes. I’ll a a review of the book up soon. If you find something in your yard, let me know in the comments below or tag me in Instagram and show me what you find!