Opinion: Let’s eat our weeds this summer

  • There are dozens of ways to prepare all parts of a dandelion. File photo

Published: 5/22/2022 8:02:07 AM
Modified: 5/22/2022 8:00:13 AM

Hayden Keene of Springfield is an Environmental Studies major at Bowdoin College and also studies herbalism.

This season, I challenge you to eat your weeds. This time of year, vibrant heralds of spring are popping up all over our lawns. Dandelions and violets are among those flowering in my yard right now.

As children, many of us were fascinated with these flowering weeds, making wishes on dandelion seed heads and admiring buttercups for their beautiful yellow glow. So why then, as adults, are we so intent on eradicating these so-called weeds for the appearance of a manicured lawn or an orderly garden?

The latest estimates from the EPA report that Americans apply over 80 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides to lawns annually. Not only does it require intensive fossil fuel use to manufacture herbicides, but many of them pose risks to human and ecological health. What we apply to our lawns will end up in our bodies, our soils and our waterways.

Furthermore, an industry report stated that the lawn care industry was worth over $100 billion dollars in 2021. Given all the costs of eradicating weeds, we must collectively reorient our attitude towards these misaligned plants.

So let us set aside the Roundup and tone down the die-hard mowing practices this year. We can nourish our bodies, our ecosystems and all the pollinators around us by treating our weeds differently. Regardless of how much herbicide we apply or how hard we chop them up with our lawnmower blades, weeds are designed to be hardy and resilient. They are here to stay, so why not have fun with them?

There are some of my favorite ways to use the common weeds that you might recognize in your yard.

There are many resources online to help you identify weeds. I like the apps iNaturalist, Seek, and PictureThis. But remember: never consume a plant if you aren’t 100% sure of its identity, and if you have treated your lawn with chemicals do not consume anything growing there.

Dandelions may be the most common species to grace our lawns and gardens. Good news! The entire plant is edible and there are dozens of ways to prepare it. My favorite is pesto. I harvest the leaves in the spring before they become bitter and tough in the summer heat and substitute them for the basil in my favorite pesto recipe.

Dandelion leaves are also delicious in salad, soup or sauteed and are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. You can add the flower petals to your favorite sweet bread recipe or batter and fry them to make dandelion fritters. There are dozens of recipes online! When you weed dandelions out of your garden, you can wash and dry the roots and boil them into a nutritious herbal and caffeine-free coffee substitute.

Red clover is an excellent nitrogen fixer and helps add nutrients to your lawn and garden. The blossoms have a lovely floral taste and can be eaten raw in salads or dried and brewed into a nourishing herbal tea. I like to add the fresh flowers to my water bottle when I’m working in the garden.

Violets may be growing in the shadier areas of your lawn and garden. The fresh leaves and flowers are delicious when added to a salad.

Broadleaf plantain grows just about everywhere and is also entirely edible. While these leaves may not be as tasty as your standard grocery store green, my favorite use of plantain is to soothe itchy bug bites and stings and minor skin irritation. You can chew or crush the leaves and apply them to your skin for gentle relief.

So, get curious and see what plants are volunteering in your lawn and garden this season. Maybe they will end up at your dinner table.

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