Edible Weeds: Weed Them and Eat!

| 8/17/2012 1:47:27 PM

Tags: edible weeds, purslane, nettles, lambsquarters, salmon salad, omega 3 fatty acids, Ellen Sandbeck,

A few years ago, during our daughter Addie’s senior year at the University of Chicago (yes, the Green Barbarian Lifestyle does produce fantastically brilliant and beautiful children, both of whom graduated from the University of Chicago, and thank you for noticing!), she managed to acquire one of the very scarce community garden plots available near the University. By the time she took possession, most of the other plots had already been planted, and hers was knee deep in weeds, many of which she harvested and brought home, much to the amazement of her roommates, who had never heard of, much less eaten, lambs-quarters, (Chenopodium album) which is one of our family’s favorite greens.   

Lambs Quarters Plant 

Ever since my husband and I first started harvesting and eating lambs-quarters (pictured above) about 30 years ago, we have not bothered planting spinach, because not only are lambs-quarters cheap, easy, and abundant in the garden, like many wild relatives of cultivated vegetables, they are also more nutritious than their domesticated kin. And, since they contain far less oxalic acid, I find lambs-quarters much tastier than spinach.  

But I digress. Addie and her roommates were mutually astonished. Up until that moment, she hadn’t realized that most Americans do not eat weeds, and perhaps, because of our family’s attitude towards the edible volunteers that come up in our garden, she hadn’t really thought of lambs-quarters as a weed: It was simply our favorite spring green, which we steamed and ate with mayonnaise; sautéed in olive oil with garlic and onions; cooked in an omelet; or added to soups. (Every spring, when I do the first major weeding — which is mostly done with an eye towards stocking the freezer — I pull the lambs-quarters out by the roots, snip the root ends off with a scissors, and put the stalks in a colander. Once indoors, I pluck the most tender, healthiest leaves off the stems, and freeze the leaves in freezer bags so that all winter long I can add lambs-quarters to my soups.) 

Two of my very favorite wild greens come up a bit later than lambs-quarters: stinging nettles (Urtica dioica), a perennial plant that I brought with me when we moved, and purslane (Portulaca oleracea), which grows like a weed everywhere that there is rich soil. 

Stinging Nettle Weed 

5/3/2016 4:57:26 PM

I hate to sound stupid, but how do I tell a mature purslane leaf from an immature one?

5/16/2013 1:05:47 AM

Thank you for this article.  In New Mexico, the locals call Lamb's Quarters "Kelita's".  It's amazing warmed up with a little lemon on it.


5/16/2013 1:04:11 AM

Thank you for this article.  In New Mexico, the locals call Lamb's Quarters "Kelita's".  It's amazing warmed up with a little lemon on it.


ellen sandbeck
10/26/2012 1:39:17 PM

Dear Melinda, I just realized that you wrote "lamb's ear," not "lambsquarters." These are two very different plants. Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) are the edible annual weed and are in the spinach family, they have quite insignificant flowers, which frankly, I never notice at all. "Lamb's ear " (Stachys byzantina) is a perennial plant in the mint family, which has quite obvious pink flowers in early summer, but is mostly grown for its very hairy leaves. Lamb's ear, as far as I know, is not edible, and even if it were, it is so hairy that I think it would be difficult to deal with. Please make sure you use a plant guide to identify your lambs quarters before you eat it!

ellen sandbeck
10/26/2012 1:32:31 PM

: )

ellen sandbeck
10/25/2012 7:10:02 PM


ellen sandbeck
10/25/2012 7:09:44 PM

That sounds delicious! Growing tips? We have had the most success with the purselane that volunteers in our Meyer Lemon pots! The soil is quite rich in the pots, and purselane is a weed that requires very rich soil.

ellen sandbeck
10/25/2012 7:08:00 PM

: )

ellen sandbeck
10/25/2012 7:07:43 PM

: )

glenda ponroy
9/24/2012 7:31:32 AM

Love Purslane. Always put it in salads, but I didn't know it could be cooked, too.

john denoon
9/22/2012 11:45:13 AM

I've been pulling this weed (purslane) for years i didn't know it's value. I hate fish oil now I can reap the benefit of omega 3 naturally.

pearl lufrano
9/21/2012 9:52:56 PM

i had a neighbor that would pick dandelion greens,wash and cook then fry in olive oil and garlic nice side dish for spaghetti

pearl lufrano sr.
9/21/2012 9:45:50 PM

i have been eating purslane since i was a child --my dad would pick the weeds where ever we went,he would wash them, cook them,then he would fry some ribs ,adding garlic,onions,salt then add the cooked weeds,little water and let them simmer til ribs were tender,he would make flour tortillas and our supper was ready!!!! for us this was poor mans food. now i want to grow my own,any tips??

melinda taylor
9/21/2012 1:53:15 PM

Dear Ms Sandbeck, great piece! Your writing style is eloquent, entertaining, informative, and food for the soul as well as the body. I'd been wondering about purslane and lamb's ear. I have purslane in my garden and am going to harvest some and give it a try now - thanks to you! I really appreciate how close up the photo is, so thank you for that. It leaves no doubt in the identification process for me. Congrats on raising such "green" kids as well!

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