In late June, I attended a conference put on by the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society. One of the most interesting talks was given by Bronwen Powell who just finished her doctorate research in Tanzania. She said that even in third world countries, like Tanzania, malnutrition is no longer just an issue of calories. Rather, it’s an issue of micronutrients.
In other words, there has been a huge push to feed the world with starchy grains and vegetables especially corn, rice, wheat, and root vegetables. However, in this push, nutrient dense vegetables and fruits have been largely left behind. This has resulted in huge increases in the diseases of the Western world namely diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Yet, even though these diseases are on the rise, people are still malnourished.
Traditionally, cultures around the world ate the wild vegetables that grew of their own volition on the edges of roads and in fallow fields and pretty much anywhere that there was sunlight and dirt. The good news is that these vegetables still grow, but many people have forgotten how to use them. Here, in America, most of us call these wild vegetables, weeds.
In my microbiome research, I have been learning that wild plants also harbor unique and diverse microorganisms that can contribute to a healthy gut ecology. They also are loaded with fiber which serves as a “prebiotic” or food that will feed the microorganisms already existing in the gut.
As an added bonus, many weeds are tasty! My friend, Aube, author of the amazing blog Kitchen Vignettes, did a post a few weeks ago on one of the most common garden weeds of the United States: Lamb’s Quarter. Check it out here.
This week’s video was made in a fifteen minute walk around my yard in Michigan. In these fifteen minutes, I identified 15 wild edible plants and there are certainly more that I don’t know.
People always ask me about the safety of eating wild edibles. In my view, there are several things to think about when you start eating weeds. First, you need to be sure that you’re identifying the weed correctly. There are poisonous wild plants, but learning to distinguish poisonous plants from edible ones is typically as straight forward as learning to tell the difference between a tomato and a pepper or spinach and arugula. And second, you need to make sure that your weeds are not covered in noxious pesticides. So, don’t pick weeds on a golf course, but you should be safe picking weeds from the edge of your garden.
There are many books about wild edibles, and many people leading wild edible plant walks. Find a walk in your neighborhood.
If you’d like to do any more research on any of the plants in this video. Here are their common names and their Latin names in case you live somewhere where different common names are used. Happy Foraging!
Garlic Mustard. Allaria petiolata.
Wood Sorrel. Oxalis (montana or acetosella)
Motherwort. Leonurus cardiaca.
Lemon Balm. Melissa officianalis
Sassafras. Sassafras albidum
Comfrey. Symphytum officianale.
Chickweed. Stellaria pubera
Plantain. Plantago major
Queen Anne’s Lace. Daucus carota. Note: This plant looks somewhat similar to Poison Hemlock. Be sure of your identification before you start nibbling on the roots.
Raspberry Leaf. Rubus occidentalis
Oak. Quercus (many species names)
White Pine. Pinus strobus
Lamb’s Quarter. Chenopodium (berlandeiri or album)
Dandelion. Taraxacum officianale.
Mint. Mentha (many species names)