Bob Ewing — The cost of food continues to rise and the hot, dry conditions, in too many areas, do not bode well for farmers or consumers. Now is an excellent time to get to know the non-traditional and free food sources that are in our neighbourhoods and backyards. It is time to think beyond the grocery store and take a closer look at what Nature readily provides.
I am talking about what we mistakenly call weeds; plants we ignore, at best, or wage war on, at worst, a war we frequently lose. Dandelions may be the most hated and best known weed; however, they are an excellent food source and certainly not in short supply.
There are many other so-called weeds simply waiting for us to notice them. It is time to stop thinking of weeds as an enemy but rather as lunch or supper; to borrow from Ralph Waldo Emerson, I look at weeds as a plant we do not yet know.
Here are two examples of plants that can be found in back and front yards across much of North America as well as many abandoned spaces.
Lycopus uniflorus, or better know by its common name, bugleweed,or gypsy-wort.
The tubers are the edible portion of this wet land plant. Collect the tubers in the early spring. Tubers will be between ½ to 3 inches long. Be sure to wash and to remove the runners.
Boil the tubers in water with a little sea salt for approximately eight minutes. You can then eat them much like a baked potato with a little butter and chives or parsley, for example.
The tubers can be pickled or added to soups and stews.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is also fairly common. Purslane is said to be a good source of antioxidants; as well as ascorbic acid (vitamin C), beta-carotene (previtamin-A), glutathione (a common antioxidant compound that can even detoxify some pesticides!) and tocopherol (vitamin E).
In addition, this very common weed is rich in the omega-3 fatty acids that have been linked with lower cholesterol levels.
Purslane is similar in flavour to spinach and belongs with beet tops, chard, lamb’s quarter, pigweed, spinach; to a group of plants (Centrospermae) all has a similar taste.
Purslane, like spinach, can be eaten raw or cooked with the young tender shoots being added to soups or green salads.
When it comes to picking plants for food, if you are not sure what you are gathering, then do not gather; don’t even nibble.
Know the plant you are about to pick and know the site where the plant grows; is it an abandoned lot; if so, did a gas station once operate there? Is there a steady stream of traffic passing nearby? If the answers are yes to both or either, do not harvest.
However, do not let this stop you. Look to your own yard. If you have a backyard, spend sometime identifying the weeds that are growing there. You may find a few ingredients for the salad. Talk with neighbours, friends and family, tell them what you are doing; they may think you are a bit wacky, but they will be glad you are reducing the weeding they would otherwise do.
If nothing else you may well find that your own yard will provide all the dandelions that you need and have a few other delicacies to flavour your meals as well, happy weeding and eating.