As a young man living in Grand Rapids, Mich., I would often see hungry people lined up for free food at food banks. What they didn’t know was that the yards, parks and vacant lots all around them were full of free fresh veggies. They may have seen them as weeds, but some of these “weeds” could have been harvested to augment the food bank fare.
One of the most common and plentiful of urban wild vegetables is a weed known as common plantain (Plantago major), which can grow from almost any patch of dirt. Common plantain is not only hardy enough to sprout up from cracks in asphalt and concrete — even gravel roadsides — but it can thrive in any climate.
Nutritionally, plantain is equally amazing. Related to spinach, plantain leaves are rich in iron and vitamins A and C. Plantain may be eaten uncooked, but adult leaves tend to be stringy, and seedpods are a bit tough. Preparation is as simple as boiling washed plants until tender, then serving the leaves as you would spinach, or the seedpods as you might green beans or asparagus. A little apple cider vinegar helps enliven the taste of cooked leaves, and I personally like them served hot with butter, salt and pepper. Seedpods are good in stews, soups and stir-fries, or with melted cheese over them.