Master Gardener: Edible weeds, part 1
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a two-part series about edible weeds.
A weed is in the eye of the beholder or is a weed just a plant in the wrong place? Should we really be ripping out every unwanted plant in our garden or do we have gems amid our landscape?
Weeds can provide many benefits. Why is it that we try and try to rid our landscapes of these pesky plants, and yet they continue to appear year after year?
Weeds can grow in poor soil due to their typically long taproots that extend deep into the soil, drawing water and nutrients closer to the surface and allowing more shallow-rooted plants access as well.
Some weeds, when left alone, can improve soil quality by fertilizing the soil with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and manganese, while loosening and aerating the soil. Their seeds can provide a nutrient-packed meal for birds, and they can divert common pests from eating our beloved vegetables or flowers.
What is really exciting is they also provide food for us. Their leaves, fruit or seeds are delicious and nutritious. Today’s soils are depleted and void of many essential nutrients, yet weeds are loaded with them. How convenient for us that they are in our lawns, gardens and national forests.
Remember, edible weeds should only be consumed if collected from uncontaminated soil suitable for growing food plants and be sure to your homework to learn how to safely eat these special plants.
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are a familiar edible weed and are one of the first plants to bloom each spring with their tell-tale yellow dandy flowers covering lawns and fields. This perennial plant is determined and resilient and attracts our native bees which we desperately need for pollination. Maybe we have something to learn from our friend the dandelion.
Every part of the dandelion is edible. The greens are a rich source of vitamins and minerals and a good prebiotic, supporting friendly gut bacteria and immune system. Some research indicates that dandelion may have antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Other studies found dandelion extract significantly reduced the ability of viruses to replicate.
The sharp, bitter flavor is a great addition to salads. Cooking lessens the bite, they are delicious sautéed or in soups. The flowers make a distinctive wine and the dried roots make a healing tea for the liver, which is perfect for springtime.
More edible weeds found in Northwest Colorado landscapes will be presented in next week’s Master Gardener column. Stay tuned.
Tracy Zuschlag, Master Gardener since 2000 loves the science behind gardening. Living in Northwest Colorado brings its challenges and successes with every gardening season being a new gardening experiment.
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