There are several definitions of the word weed. One definition in the dictionary is “a plant that is not valued where it is growing.” My own personal definition is “a plant out of place.”
Examples would be corn growing in a bean field or maple seedlings sprouting up in your yard. If you ask people on the street to name the first weed that comes to mind I am sure the answer would be Taraxacum officinale or the common dandelion. In your yard a dandelion is that plant out of place or a weed. Homeowners around the country spend millions of dollars each year trying to eradicate this perennial plant out of their bluegrass lawns when in fact they could just go out and harvest them for a garden or should I say yarden fresh salad.
All parts of the dandelion are edible. The roots can be dug and dried for tea, the flowers can be used in winemaking and the leaves can be used fresh in a salad or cooked as greens.
The fresh young leaves are not only tasty but they are good for you. One cup of fresh greens has only 25 calories, only 5 carbs, no fat and no cholesterol. The fiber content is 1.9 grams and potassium is 218 mg. The leaves also contain (of the daily requirements) 10 percent calcium, 9 percent iron, 11 percent vitamin A, 32 percent vitamin C.
Medicinally dandelion leaves are no cure all but it has been found that they are good for liver and kidney problems.
The best leaves are new tender growth. Make sure the yard has not been chemically treated. Wash the leaves and mix in with spinach and lettuce greens for a tasty and healthy fresh salad. The leaves will get a little tougher and bitter as the weather warms up. Stop harvesting during the summer months. In the fall when weather is cooler new growth will again be tender and mild.
In the heat of the summer when you are no longer harvesting dandelion leaves there is another common weed which is tasty and full of nutrients. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a low growing weed which germinates when the soil temperature gets above 90 degrees and then thrives in hot dry weather.
The plant radiates out from a single tap root and forms a thick mat of succulent leaves. Native to India this plant is a close cousin to a common annual flower the moss rose. The plant’s thick succulent leaves hold water which helps them thrive in hot dry weather. The leaves and shoots of this plant can be used fresh in salads, steamed, stir fried and used in soups. The best part other than the flavor which is similar to spinach is the fact that there are only seven calories per cup.
The health factors are: no fat, no carbs and no fiber. Of the daily recommended vitamins per serving you get 11 percent vitamin A, 15 percent vitamin C, 5 percent Iron and 3 percent calcium. In addition to all that good nutrition purslane leaves contain the highest level of Omega-3 fatty acid of any leafy vegetable.
A word of caution. Before you go out and start grazing in the yard and garden make sure you have correctly identified the plants or weeds before you start eating them. Also be sure the area has not been treated with any weed killers.
So the good news is these plants/weeds are healthy, free and never in short supply.
Margo Hansen is a Horticulturalist and Director of Programs at Bickelhaupt Arboretum.