Most people aspire to have their homes decorated on the outside with an attractive lawn consisting of a nice green carpet of mono-cultured green grass framed by a few ornamental shrubs, some colorful flowers and perhaps accentuated with a few attractive trees. Some enterprising individuals may even plant a garden to cultivate fresh fruits and vegetables. But, what happens when weeds begin to invade our yards and gardens ruining our perception of an immaculately manicured, picturesque landscape?
What is a weed? The definition of a weed is largely a matter of prejudice. What one person considers to be an invasive eyesore with no redeeming virtue, another person may consider to be a nutritional powerhouse chock full of the best medicine. A weed is anything that grows in an area where you don’t want it to grow. Many of the plants some people call weeds are more correctly called wild edibles. Many of them are storehouses of nutrition and potential harbingers of healing.
Wild edibles are generally more nutritious than their cultivated cousins. Unlike those plants that we cultivate in our yards which are pampered by us with regular food and water, wild plants receive no such special care. As a result they must fight for life and have mastered survival skills which makes them far stronger. This is why wild edibles contain more nutrients. For example, amaranth is an edible plant that seems to pop up frequently on its own. The seeds of this herb have large amounts of protein and essential amino acids (30% more than rice, oats, and rye.) In fact, amaranth has the highest protein content of any gluten-free grain. This plant has been used traditionally in some cultures to benefit those with hypertension and cardiovascular disease and has been known to reduce blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels. You can use the seeds in a rice-like porridge or pop it like popcorn.
With its familiar bright yellow flower and cotton ball-like wispy seed pods some homeowners spend hundreds of dollars every year trying to eradicate dandelion from their yards. Yet, this wild edible plant is quite high in vitamins A, B, C, D and a broad array of minerals. Dandelion stimulates the flow of bile from the liver into the gall bladder, making it a key ingredient in liver cleanse formulas. It helps to break down liver fats and is an effective diuretic. Traditionally, dandelion has also been used for treating kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, stomach problems, appendicitis, fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, diarrhea, and breast problems, such as inflammation or lack of milk flow. The entire plant is edible but, the leaves are sweeter when they are harvested young.
Purslane is another wild edible plant that sometimes seems to voluntarily appear in the yard out of nowhere. The soft, juicy, succulent purslane leaves, flowers, and stems can be eaten alone or mixed with your salad. Here are some of the key nutritional constituents of purslane:
- Excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids (better than fish oil!)
- An excellent source of Vitamin A, one of the highest among green leafy vegetables
- A rich source of vitamin C, and some B-complex vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine and carotenoids, as well as dietary minerals, such as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and manganese.
- This delicious plant is an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids which is known to be good for the eyes, skin and enriches your brain health. It has traditionally been used for relieving symptoms of autoimmune diseases such as lupus, maintaining good heart health by lowering cholesterol and regulating blood pressure, and as an anti-depressant.
In nature, invasiveness is frequently a sign of medical potential. Plants can sometimes overwhelm illness the way they overwhelm their environment. Nature corrects imbalances when given enough time. There is a perfect synergy between humans and plants when we live in a more natural way. The longer you stay in one place the more you become a part of the local ecology. Plants react to inputs from their external environment and change their chemistry to create the phytonutrients to ward off disease. Could it be that the best medicine for you is growing right outside the door of your home in the form of wild edibles?
Rather than view weeds as an invasive eyesore and a nuisance we should see some of them for what they are – a nutritional powerhouse! Not only are wild edibles a free food but, they are and the potentially the healthiest and the most energizing. Using wild edible plants in your diet is perhaps the greatest stride towards self-sufficiency you can make. They add diversity to your diet and they’re easily accessible. While many wild plants are edible, obviously some are not. Make sure you can accurately identify your weeds before you use them. Do not eat it if you don’t know what it is! It is also a good idea to rotate your greens for a more balanced nutritional profile.