5 Edible Wild Greens: Free Foraged Food for Your Table

These wild edible weeds, including amaranth, common chickweed and lamb’s-quarters, will soon be gourmet greens in your salad bowl. Learn the basics of backyard foraging and your taste buds will thank you.

| April/May 2016

  • Wild Green Foraging
    These edible weeds are as delicious as any other greens, and at least one can be found near your home if you live in North America.
    Photo by Superstock/Flowerphotos/Eye Ubiquitous
  • Amaranth
    Commercial growers raise amaranth for its seeds, but its leaves and stems make great additions to stir-fries.
    Photo by Samuel Thayer
  • Chickweed
    Chickweed has these tiny flowers in clusters at the top of the plant as well as a narrow row of fine hairs on one side of the stem.
    Photo by Samuel Thayer
  • Lambs-quarters
    Lambs-quarters has alternate diamond-shaped leaves and ridged stems.
    Photo by Samuel Thayer
  • Lambs Quarters Frittata
    Skip spinach and feast on a frittata featuring lamb's-quarters. This green is so versatile in the kitchen that you'll want to harvest large quantities to blanch and freeze for wintertime meals.
    Photo by Linda Xiao
  • Shepherd’s Purse
    When mature, shepherd’s purse can reach up to 2 feet tall. Its branches end in a cluster of small, white, four-petaled flowers.
    Photo by Samuel Thayer
  • Sowthistle
    Common sowthistle looks a bit like dandelion, but it grows tall flowering stalks, and the midvein of the leaf has a triangular shape underneath.
    Photo by Samuel Thayer
  • Sauteed Sowthistle
    Sauteed sowthistle has a rich, slightly bitter flavor, so try seasoning it with garlic and rosemary. Its role as an edible is apparent in its name: Oleraceus is Latin for "cultivated vegetable."
    Photo by Jill Carroll

  • Wild Green Foraging
  • Amaranth
  • Chickweed
  • Lambs-quarters
  • Lambs Quarters Frittata
  • Shepherd’s Purse
  • Sowthistle
  • Sauteed Sowthistle

Free food abounds at your feet, offering itself to the hands of the savvy. I’m not talking about rough fare that you’d eat only in an emergency, nor a sacrifice that you’d make to help your family’s budget. These are greens as scrumptious as anything you can buy or grow, and they’re exceedingly high in vitamins and minerals when compared with cultivated garden plants.

I’m sure you’ve heard of collecting wild edibles for food, but you may still have questions about this seemingly intimidating proposition. How will you know what to pick? Are there poisonous look-alikes? How should you handle these plants after you’ve harvested them? These are all good questions, but don’t let the unknown scare you. You have the ability to do this without any trouble and with the same confidence you’d have picking wild blackberries or blueberries.

Hundreds of wild plants with edible leafy greens grow across North America, but many are regionally specific. No matter where you call home, whether a big city or a remote homestead, at least one of the five plants featured here is likely in your yard many of you can find all of them within sight of your doorstep. These wild greens are unique yet mild in flavor, and cooking them is simply a matter of adapting familiar methods and recipes. They don’t require special preparation to render them palatable, and if you identify them carefully, you aren’t likely to confuse them with any dangerous plant.

If you have a garden, you’ve likely already seen many of these edibles disguised as “weeds.” Before eating them, carefully check that you have the right plant, matching every detail with the illustrations and descriptions given here. You should collect each of these at the correct time and in prime condition just as you’d cut asparagus only in its spear stage of growth before the branches have spread open. Harvest them in the right way, and these plants will please your palate. If you want to serve these gourmet greens at your table, your only expense will be the knowledge of identifying them, for picking and cooking are a gardener’s labors of love.



Wild Amaranth

In the kitchen. Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.) can be eaten raw, but it’s much better cooked and is almost always prepared that way. The stems soften when heated. Amaranth greens are high in calcium, iron, potassium and zinc. My family enjoys amaranth shoots chopped into short sections, tossed into a vegetable stir-fry with onions and peppers, and served over a bed of seasoned rice or couscous. We like amaranth so much that we let several plants go to seed every year. Then, we scatter the seed around the garden in fall to ensure we have a good crop growing the following June.

Field identification. Many similar species of amaranth (often called “pigweed,”) grow throughout North America, terrorizing gardeners and farmers in every corner of the land. One of the most common varieties, redroot amaranth (A. retroflexus), is characterized by its beet-red root. Amaranths love full sun, but they are otherwise generalists sometimes even considered “noxious” popping up in every kind of disturbed, well-drained soil. These plants have alternate leaves that are an elongated diamond shape with smooth edges. The branches terminate in spiky clusters of tiny, drab, greenish flowers that will develop into thousands of brown seeds.

Johnny
4/23/2016 3:43:46 PM

It would have been very helpful if you had posted some pictures of each of these edibles. Thanks.


Gareth
4/15/2016 5:41:34 PM

Hi during April,may & June i also eat nettles & dandelions,really tasty,re.nettles I only use the leaves and tips,best picked with gloves..upon a light steam they lose any sting(honest!) Even in a smoothie they magically !ose it too..dandelion leaves are also superb eating too,even the flowers are edible,after a light steam NO one will detect your new greens & will love the taste,I have them with other common greens & mixwith most meals nb.dandelion leaves are nice as part of a spring salad too..olive oil, vinegar yum.Gareth UK.







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