Here’s one way to get rid of those nuisance weeds that litter your yard and garden: eat them. Foraging for weeds is not only a popular movement among the health-conscious, but it’s a great way to give your meals a kick. “These plants have not had the flavor bred out of them in order to ship easily or last longer on shelves, so they taste delicious,” says Ellen Zachos, author of Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat.
While you can find most of these wild foods in your own backyard (or close to it), many others are also available in grocery stores, at farmers’ markets, and even on restaurant menus. One note: If you are going to forage, Zachos strongly recommends picking up a book that shows you how to identify what you pick. “Only eat it if you’re 100 percent sure what it is,” she says.
Here are five weeds to dig up—and dig into:
With succulent leaves that have a crunchy, almost green-bean like quality, purslane is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids—a 2011 study in the International Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that supplementing a diet with purslane reduced adults’ total cholesterol and raised levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.
Find it: Look for purslane growing between rows of other crops—or at food co-ops, grocery stores like Whole Foods, and farmers’ markets.
Cook it up: Purslane can be slimy when raw, which is why Zachos likes to stir-fry the leaves with garlic and onions, then simmer in tomato sauce with feta cheese.
Eat all parts of this plant, including flowers, roots, and leaves—one cup of raw greens packs more than 100 percent of your daily value for vitamin A. Dandelions are also a surprisingly good source of bone-strengthening calcium.
Find it: Dandelion greens are sold in some supermarkets, but wouldn’t you rather pick the ones growing in your own backyard?
Cook it up: Eat raw in early spring before they flower. During summer, dandelions need to have their bitterness cooked out. Zachos recommends blanching the greens for 30 to 60 seconds, then sautéing until tender in olive oil and garlic; top with a squeeze of lemon.
Ferns are a surprisingly high protein pick for few calories—one 34-calorie serving (3.6 ounces) packs nearly five grams. They’re also rich in skin-supporting vitamins C and A.
Find it: Overpicking by foragers is threatening fiddlehead stocks, so don’t harvest them wild. Instead, look for them on restaurant menus and at farmers’ markets—or pick up a start at your local plant nursery to grow at home.
Cook it up: Boil, roast, or toss in a stir-fry.
Like its more popular cousin, ramps, wild garlic tastes like a cross between garlic and an onion. However, while you’ll find ramps on restaurant menus, these wild leeks are becoming overharvested. That’s why Zachos suggests substituting the equally delicious wild garlic instead. Research also suggests that wild garlic may lower blood pressure better than cultivated garlic.
Find it: Wild garlic grows along roadsides everywhere.
Cook it up: Chop up the spicy bulb and use it as a substitute for garlic or onions.
“It’s known as wild spinach because it’s a mild-tasting green that reduces greatly in volume when you cook it,” says Zachos. One cup of the cooked greens offers four grams of fiber, more calcium than a cup of milk, and 10 times your requirement for vitamin K, a nutrient essential for blood clotting.
Find it: A prolific weed, lamb’s-quarters grows just about everywhere, including in sidewalk cracks and even factory yards. Pick it from a clean environment to avoid pesticides.
Cook it up: Use it like you would spinach—sauté or add to quiches or frittatas.