The other day AT:Chicago writer Regina asked if readers had favorite weeds. A lot of people commented on plants that they not only liked or had fond memories of but were also quite useful. This past month Oprah had an article on a group of common 'weeds' that are also potent superfoods. Take a look after the jump and see if you recognize any of them from your own neighborhood.
In the Oprah Magazine article, 'They Might Be Weeds, but Wild Greens Pack a Nutritious Punch', the author describes how the American mindset has formed a bias against these plants that are commonly considered weeds, but in research and in other areas of the world their potency and healthfulness have been proven time and and time again.
Here are the plants highlighted in the article:
Chicory: It's a relative to endive and is rich in Vitamin A. The roasted, dry root is sometimes added to coffee, or used as a coffee substitute. The leaves have a bitter taste and can be cooked like greens or eaten raw.
Chickweed: "The tiny, delicately flavored leaves can be used as a substitute for sprouts."
Lamb's Quarters (A.K.A. Wild Spinach): "Try tossing it into a salad; the flavor is mild enough to use in place of domesticated spinach or lettuce."
Purslane: "With a crunchy texture and hint of lemon flavor, it makes a delicious garnish for salads." The article also claims that Purslane is the richest known source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Dandelion Greens: "Look for baby greens in early spring, when they tend to be more tender and less bitter." These little inhabitants of sidewalk cracks are full of vitamin E and iron!
If you would like to read a bit more online about weeds, you may want to check out Peter Del Tredici's article for the Boston Globe in which he champions many so-called weeds as the future for low-care urban plantings. It drew quite a response in the comments area from those who are worried about very invasive species, but others could see a middle ground in the argument.
No one waters the field of weeds thriving in the lot next door, or the crazy plants growing out of our sidewalk cracks. That alone deserves some respect for their abilities. My planters with the 'attractive plants' need water daily! Del Tredici also just published a book on weed identification, "Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: A Field Guide". It's on my list and I am looking forward to reading and being surprised by what some of these overlooked plants are capable of—I bet many just need a better PR person!
Matt writes a weekly column on plants, flowers and gardening. Feel free to e-mail questions to email@example.com