Northeastern Ohio Edible Garden Weeds

Don’t think of them as weeds. Think of them as dinner.

Looking at my garden, one would think I don’t do enough weeding.That’s on purpose as most of my weeds are edible (not to mention beneficial to my garden’s productivity and soil quality). Many of the plants others call “weeds” were brought to Northeastern Ohio via Europe or Asia as culinary herbs or vegetables. I also admire these plants for their ability to survive the most harsh conditions (including human poisons). I wish my regular garden plants had the same resilience.  Below is a list (in order of deliciousness) of some plants that will turn your weeding chores into simply picking dinner!

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Garlic Mustard. Invasive weed or delicious plant?
Garlic Mustard. Invasive weed or delicious plant?

One of my favorite weeds in my backyard, garlic mustard comes up early in spring and is ready to eat by Earth Day (April 22nd).  The scourge of environmentalists and naturalists as an invasive species, this plant is actually a culinary herb. Garlic Mustard is not related to garlic but instead is a mustard variety that tastes like garlic.  It originates from Europe and has no natural predators in North America (except for the Snarky Gardener).

Best way to eat Garlic Mustard:  Garlic Mustard Pesto with pasta and cheese.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

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Purslane via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portulaca_oleracea

Purslane is one of those weeds that doesn’t really look like anything else in your garden.  It grows best on warm, dry, barren soil (like corn or squash mounds) once the heat of summer really hits. A few years ago when we were going through a drought, this was my only produce from the garden until July and August.  Purslane is a succulent (reminds me of tiny little non-spiny cactuses cacti) so it tolerates lack of water when other plants in your garden are wilting. As for eating, it’s not bad with a slightly sour and salty taste, though can be somewhat slimy. Little known fact:  purslane contains more omega-3s than any other leafy vegetable source.

Best way to eat purslane:  in salads or pickled.

Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)

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Lamb’s quarters are closely related to spinach and beets and is in the same family as quinoa.  I found this in my yard last year and actually saved some seeds and tossed them into my garden.  The plants I found almost didn’t make it as the friendly neighborhood groundhog seemed to prefer it over other things in the backyard.

Best way to eat lamb’s quarters:  same as spinach

Violet (Viola sororia)

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Violets (a perennial) not only show up in my garden, they are also spread throughout my yard.  I didn’t know until last year that they are edible but have been eating them ever since.  The leaves are pleasant and remind me of spinach.  Like many leafy greens, the earlier in the season the better.

Best way to eat violets:  leaves and flowers in salads

Plantain (Plantago major)

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Also known as white man’s foot, plantain is a yard and garden staple.  It loves compacted soil, so you’ll notice it growing near where there is a lot of foot traffic.  The leaves are full of nutrients with a spinach like taste.  Plantain can be used medicinally for bug bites and scrapes.

Best way to eat plantain:  same as spinach

Dandelion (Taraxacum)

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We all know the good old dandelion.  I laugh when people talk about eradicating them from their yards.  Not only can it be eaten, but it helps in other ways.  The yellow flowers give bees pollen early in the season when they need it the most.  Its long tap root brings up minerals and nutrients that are then utilized by your garden plants.  Just hoe the plant down and use the leaves as mulch around your veggies.  Don’t worry – the tap root stores plenty of energy and will help the plant grow back in no time.

Best way to eat dandelions:  young leaves in salads, flowers in fritters, and roots in beer or wine

Quickweed (Galinsoga parviflora)

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This weed took me three years to identify as it’s not common enough to show up online easily.  One season back a few years, after my last full tilling, this plant bolted like a banshee (is that a phrase people use?) and took over my garden (thus the quickweed name).  Wished I would have known it was usefulness in salads back then.  Would have had a delicious summer instead an endless weed battle that I eventually lost.

Best way to eat quickweed:  in salads

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

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Hairy bittercress is a bitter herb in the mustard family.  It’s winter hardy and will survive under snow and ice.  It’s pretty small but can be used in salads or as an herb.

Best way to eat hairy bittercress:  in salads before the plant goes to seed

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

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In the mint family. purple dead nettle is a bee favorite.  It comes up early and often on bare ground in gardens.  As a salad addition, the taste isn’t the greatest but a few flowers at a time doesn’t hurt too bad.

Best way to eat purple dead nettle:  just a few flowers in salads

Ground Ivy/Creeping Charlie) (Glechoma hederacea)

Ground Ivy / Creeping Charlie
Ground Ivy / Creeping Charlie

Ground Ivy or Creeping Charlie is a ground cover in the mint family.  It’s not my favorite food but the bees seem to love it.  Ground Ivy’s little purple flowers give plenty of nector to small native insects.  It’s strong mint-like flavor makes ground ivy a good companion plant and natural mulch.

Best way to eat creeping charlie:  it’s too strong for my taste