This is the time of year when I find the time to read gardening books. I recently settled in by the woodstove with The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival by Katrina Blair (Chelsea Green, 2014, $29.95 in paper). I was intrigued when I read, in the Forward by Sandor Katz, that “Most of us can identify many more corporate logos than plants.” Huh. That’s not true for you and me – as gardeners we know many plants. But overall? It probably is true. Katrina Blair wants all of us to recognize and use a few common weeds in our daily life.

Katrina Blair has selected 13 weeds that are found pretty much everywhere in the world, including some that grow in Antarctica. These weeds follow humans, growing in disturbed areas and surviving even where our domesticated plants will not. She selected these weeds because they can be used as food and medicine. She notes that “The wild greens outside are still vibrating with the life force and are at their peak nutritional potency.”

CLOVER AND DANDELIONS are full lof healthy minerals.

CLOVER AND DANDELIONS are full lof healthy minerals.

Of the thirteen, everyone knows dandelions, clover, thistle and grass. Others like chickweed, lambsquarter and mustard you have certainly seen, but may not know by name. A few of the others are common, but less well recognized. Most of us do not think of weeds as food or medicine. Maybe it’s time to expand our view of them.

Why eat weeds? Blair states that weeds are very nutrient-rich. She points out that they require no fertilizer or pesticides to thrive. Weeds are available locally and are very good at picking up a wide range of minerals from out soil – whereas crops that are grown year after year in commercial agriculture plots may lack trace minerals.

Blair states that grasses can pick up 92 minerals out of the 102 available in healthy soils. Getting as many vitamins and minerals from fresh plants as possible makes sense to me. Weeds can provide a good source of minerals.

Where to harvest, when to harvest and how to use weeds are important questions that Blair answers in her book. She explains that picking wild greens from areas where chemicals have been applied is not a good policy. That includes commercial agriculture fields. But your own gardens? No problem. And she noted that picking in spring and early summer is best, when leaves and stems are less tough and bitter. She dries fresh weeds to use later in powders she uses in green drinks.

How to use these weeds is a major focus of the book, which supplies recipes such as dock mustard pretzels, spouted lambsquarter tabouli and mallow milk shakes. Many of the recipes take considerable time to prepare (and to harvest). Blair is a fanatic about eating weeds, so she doesn’t mind spending the time to collect seeds from wild plants, and then grinding them, and finally away winnowing the chaff before using.

The wild ingredients, the weeds, are just one component of most of the recipes provided. So, for example, she will eat a healthy breakfast cereal (presumably from her local health food store) that she supplements with weed seeds she harvested. Or she will make bread using wheat flower but add some ground weed seeds.

Katrina Blair is also happy to sit on the ground and pick and eat wild grasses and clover flowers. She notes that our digestive system cannot breakdown cellulose. But grass stalks, when young, are edible. Just chew the stems for a long time to break the cell walls and then savor the fresh juices and chlorophyll. She spits out the indigestible fibers.

I recently became a fan of “green smoothies” and often prepare one for my breakfast. In a good high-speed blender I mix leafy greens, fruit, ginger, freshly squeezed lime juice and water or green tea. I like the idea of adding some wild weed leaves to the blender (in season). Dandelion leaves, for example, are pretty bitter unless picked before the plants have blossomed in the early spring. But mixed into a smoothie with a banana and some apple probably would enrich my diet without offending my tender tongue.

It is important to note that not all weeds are edible. Before ingesting weeds in quantity, she recommends eating a little bit, and listening to your body’s response. She says her body will tell her not to eat many leaves from even her favorite weeds if they are too high in oxalic acid, for example. She notes that juicers can concentrate and extract things like oxalic acid, giving you too high a dose if you drink too much, particularly late in the season when levels are high in leaves.

I recommend only eating weeds that you have positively identified. Her book has plenty of photographs, but nothing beats a good plant book with a botanic key for identifying them. There may be a forager in your neighborhood, too. Many emigrants have learned to identify and use wild plants in their native lands, and find them here, too. If you see someone foraging, introduce yourself and start learning.

Although Kristina Blair feels confident to set off on a 3-day hike without food, I am not. Foraging can be a nice supplement to my diet, but I will never depend on weeds as a major component of my diet. But if you need weeds for your diet, my garden usually has plenty!

HENRY HOMEYER’S web site is www.Gardening-Guy.com. He lives in Cornish Flat, NH and is the author or 4 gardening books.


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