Foraging is on my list of things to try as I slowly learn the importance of food sources.
Foraging is the act of searching for food sources in the wild. It is an ancient tactic and art. Modernity has made it unnecessary in some parts of the world, but it is still a vital survival skill.
As a past city dweller, I only knew of foraging as it related to woodland creatures in the country. After leaving New York City, I learned that foraging was a way of life. I now have neighbors and locals that forage on the sides of roads, in parks, and in their own yards.
This season, my yard was filled with at least three edible weeds: dandelion, henbit deadnettle, and Persian speedwell. I have seen plenty of dandelions in parks, but they sprouted in armies this year in my front yard. Along with them were pockets of little purple and blue flowers I had never seen before—or, at least, never noticed before.
After learning about the edibility of dandelions, I decided to try identifying the weeds that had sprouted in my garden. I wanted to know if they were edible, if they were invasive, and if they could be of any other use.
As it turns out, there are more uses to wild, weedy plants than we realize. What we mistake for nuisances could actually be foraged and made into salads, teas, and other fine dishes. Think of the possibilities in terms of free, natural food!
WHEN IS FORAGED FOOD SAFE TO EAT?
As with foraging any wild plant, there is the risk of contamination if they were picked in settings where heavy metals and pesticides are a concern. Four Season Foraging has a great article about avoiding contamination in urban and/or industrial environments, where risk is usually higher.
It is also important to be highly knowledgeable about a plant (especially mushrooms) before deciding to forage. Foraging classes in your town are highly recommended.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Those bright and sunny yellow flowers we find in open fields, between sidewalk cracks, and swaying on highway shoulders is actually an edible delight. Despite its reputation as a weed that invades gardens and lawns, it is actually a nutritional and medicinal powerhouse that has been consumed for centuries.
Dandelions are native to Europe and Asia, but due to their resiliency they can grow in nearly any type of soil and have spread throughout the world. They are a perennial herb, able to live for more than two years.
Dandelions are a source of vitamins A, C, E, and K, and a good source of minerals such as calcium, iron, and potassium. In fact, they are higher in iron and calcium than spinach (Yuan et al., 2012).
CULINARY AND MEDICINAL USES
The entire dandelion (roots, leaves, buds, flowers, stems, and buds) are all edible. They can be used in soups, salads, teas, and even wine. In terms of medicinal use, dandelion leaves are a diuretic and can help increase urine flow and remove excess fluid from the body. The leaves also aid in digestion and can serve as a mild laxative (Hechtman, 2012). Tea made from the roots can serve as a liver tonic and digestive aid (Lewington, 2015). However, ask a doctor for more information about consuming dandelion for medical reasons.
Henbit Deadnettle (Lamium amplexicaule)
When I first came upon these beautiful little flowers, I wondered if I had spilled some wildflower seeds because I thought they were precious with their velvety petals and delightful color. Henbit deadnettle is part of the mint family and is commonly found throughout Europe and the United States.
CULINARY AND MEDICINAL USES
The stems, leaves, and flowers of henbit are all edible and can be used in soups, salads, and teas. The flavor is akin to celery with mild sweetness. The leaves can be cooked or eaten raw.
It is not a heavily studied plant, but according to “Lamium amplexicaule as a source of bioactive compounds” from the Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science, it might have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties since it was traditionally used as a remedy for respiratory infections such as asthma and bronchitis (Journal of Applied Science, 2016). It might also have antibacterial properties that could make it a natural remedy for infections including but not limited to Staph and E. coli (Sousa et al., 2006). Double check with a physician or doctor, however, to see if this plant is right for you.
Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica)
I noticed the Persian speedwell flowers first because how often do you see bright blue flowers anywhere in the wild? They had these beautiful stripes and the honey bees were having a feast! I felt bad harvesting them, but my gardening space is for me and my herbs. Sorry bees! I’ll get you new flowers!
Persian speedwell is native to Asia and Europe, but, like dandelion, has spread throughout much of the world. It is part of the plantain family and has been both a culinary and medicinal plant for generations.
CULINARY AND MEDICINAL USES
Persian speedwell is slightly bitter compared to the dandelion and henbit deadnettle. All parts of the plant are edible, but the leaves taste the best. They can be eaten raw or cooked, much how one would cook spinach. Persian speedwell is often used in Iranian cuisine, used to flavor salads and soups such as Ash-e Reshteh.
In traditional medicine, Persian speedwell was used to treat respiratory infections, digestive problems, and even skin disorders. Persian speedwell has positive effects on allergic reactions caused by pollen, dust, mold, and animal dander (Shams et al., 2020). In a study published by the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, participants that took Persian speedwell as a supplement experienced reduced symptoms of nasal congestion and sneezing (Shams et al., 2020).
Have you foraged anything in your area?
If you have, what did you find? How did you use or prepare it? Which foraged item is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!
Avoiding Contamination in Urban Environments, (2018). Four Season Foraging. Retrieved from https://www.fourseasonforaging.com/blog/2018/11/15/avoiding-contamination-in-urban-environments
Hechtman, L. (2012). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone.
“Lamium amplexicaule as a source of bioactive compounds.” Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science, vol. 6, no. 9, 2016, pp. 145-150
Lewington, A. (2015). Plants for People. Royal Horticultural Society.
Naseri, M., Eghtesadi, S., Khodadadi, I., & Aghamohammadi, V. (2019). Veronica persica Poir. (Persian speedwell): A systematic review of its traditional uses, phytochemistry, and pharmacology. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 236, 139-152.
Shams, R., Hashemi, S. M., Taheri, S., Nazemi, M., & Alizadeh, A. M. (2020)
Sousa, M. J., Matos, M. E., Santana, M. A., & Serralheiro, M. L. M. (2006). Antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activities of Lamium amplexicaule L. (Lamiaceae). Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 107(1), 118-126.
Yuan, Y., Liu, W., Wang, X., Liu, J., & Jin, Q. (2012). Comparison of nutritional compositions between wild and cultivated Taraxacum mongolicum. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 60(9), 1975-1980. doi: 10.1021/jf204038a
I never gave foraging a thought as starting a garden from seed is plenty enough work anyway. I’ve seen locals forage for acacia flowers, silene, and wild nettle tips but that’s as far as my knowledge goes. Dandelion flower petals are made into a syrup for dry coughs and you can buy the leaves (all ready to go in tea bags) at the supermarket. Great post!
Thank you for reading! It’s definitely hard work! Honestly, I prefer growing from seed, but I do get excited when I see wild edibles. I recently found a mulberry tree, and I might try harvesting from it. Also, thank you for the dandelion syrup suggestion! I’m going to have to try that!
We don’t forage, but we do have spearmint and Thai basil that we grew from cuttings we rooted. We planted them in pots as we read that spearmint grows like a weed and can take over.
I love spearmint! However, I made the mistake of putting it into the ground, and yes it grows like a weed. It’s extremely hardy. No matter how much I cut it back, it comes back every year.
Not sure if it counts, but I do pick mangoes from trees which grow along the side of the road, in parks and just about everywhere in Jamaica. We make dandelion tea here for those same health benefits you describe, but the other flowers are new to me. I’ll take a closer look at the weeds in my garden now 🙂
That totally counts as foraging. Fresh mangoes? I envy you! I was once given a mango tree as a present, and unfortunately it didn’t survive 😭