I Eat Weeds

A lot of people dream about having a vegetable garden.  Fresh vegetables every day, full of flavour and at a cost of virtually nothing, except a bit of water and maybe some fertilizer. 

Yes, of course, another cost is your time and patience during the growing season.

And then there are the problems which will take up more of your time and sometimes money.  Things like pests, including slugs, caterpillars, ants, and other insects that seem to like your home-grown vegetables more than you do.

Or birds, mice, squirrels, and other little critters who want to eat your tasty seedlings. Or bigger animals who dig out your vegetables and take them home to feed their families.

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately, because as you may know, there’s a vegetable garden in the planning at our house.  It’s happened a bit sooner than I expected.  I was planning this for my retirement years, but I’ve got a huge, empty garden to fill with wonderful food for us and also to share with our friends and neighbours.

my garden now
Here’s my garden as it looks now in March – almost empty!

But, there’s also another problem.  Timing.

We bought the house at the beginning of December, and moved in a few weeks later.  Just in time to start the new year with a new life.

garden in january
My garden at the beginning of January

And, just in case some of my Australian friends have forgotten, we’re in the northern hemisphere, and December isn’t the middle of summer.  It’s the middle of winter.

So, it’s not growing season.  In fact, for some of the winter the ground is covered by snow.

garden in january
This is my garden on 9th January

And often the ground is frozen, so even if you wanted to plant something you couldn’t.

And when the temperature goes up a little, and the ground thaws out, you still can’t plant anything because there’s still the risk of frost and anything that you try to grow can be killed overnight. Frozen to death.

So we have to wait until spring arrives and the threat of frost is over.

Of course, there are some things that can be planted towards the end of winter that are frost hardy, but they won’t grow fast enough to provide you with food until spring or maybe even summer.

So that means that from December to March there’s not much activity in the garden.  We’re just sitting around, waiting out the cold weather. 

Waiting for the real spring weather.  And even though it’s now officially spring, it’s still too cold to plant anything outside.

Which is why I’ve got something like 80 seedlings in the house right now.  I’m ready, but nature is not.

But we do have a few things in the garden already.  Let me tell you what’s there.

What’s growing now

I planted some garlic in early December, and it’s growing nicely.  It is very frost hardy, which means it can live through the cold winter months without a problem.  It’s still too early yet, it’s nowhere near ready to eat so I just have to leave that alone and wait.

There are also some carrots in the ground that the previous owner left for us.  They are very, very small.  I’ve pulled a few up to check, and although we’ve eaten some of them, they are not really enough for even a salad. 

I found some onions growing randomly in the ground.  I guess they’re also left over from the previous owners.  And they’re not ready to eat, either.

onions
Random onions growing

There’s some parsley, and some dill.  Not a lot, but I have managed to pick some to use in our kitchen.  I will be growing more of these when the time is right.

And also there’s been quite a lot of little lettuce’s popping up.  They’re also frost resistant, and although they’re really, really small, I’ve pulled off a few leaves and had a little nibble from time to time. 

But like the carrots, it’s not nearly enough for even a one-person salad.

I started thinking, “There must be something I can eat in this garden, without having to wait until the summer harvest!”

So I had a look around, and guess what I found?

Food!

Food!

Not the kind of food you’d find in a shop.  Probably not the kind of food you’d even find in a market.

And I’m guessing not even the kind of food that you’d recognise as food.

Because they’re weeds. 

Yes, weeds.  I’ve been eating weeds. 

Let me tell you about them.

Before I do, I must tell you that it’s not advisable to go outside and eat any plants that you find.  Do some research, and make sure that you don’t poison yourself, ok?  I will not take responsibility for you eating something you shouldn’t and getting sick from it.

Chickweed 

The first weed I ate is called ‘chickweed’.  You may have heard of it, or maybe not.  I’d heard the name, but I never knew what it was or what it looked like.

chickweed flower
Chickweed flower

I saw someone online asking people to identify a plant in photo, and the answer came back – ‘chickweed’.  Realising that I also had a lot of this weed, I decided to find out what I could use it for.

And I was so surprised at what I found!

The little white flowers, the leaves, and the stems are edible.  They can be used in salads, or ground up into a pesto.  They can be cooked in stir-fries or stews. 

chickweed
Chickweed

And they’re so full of goodness, it’s almost hard to believe!  They contain vitamin A, D, B complex, C, as well as rutin (a bioflavinoid), calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, sodium, copper, iron and silica.

And they taste really good!  You have to make sure to wash off any dirt, which isn’t a problem if you pick the longer stems which are shooting upwards and not the ones that are crawling along the ground.

chickweed
Chickweed

Chickweed is what I snack on while I’m in the garden doing the weeding. 

There is a toxic look-alike for chickweed, called Scarlet Pimpernel, which has orange flowers.  If you’re not sure if your weed is chickweed or the toxic Scarlet Pimpernel, wait until it flowers before eating any of it.

Dead Nettle 

Apparently these are called ‘dead nettle’ because although their leaves resemble those of the stinging nettle, these plants have no sting at all.  They’re a part of the mint family.

dead nettle
A carpet of dead nettle

I admired these beautiful carpets of colour before I even knew what they were.  Then one day a friend was complaining that it was almost impossible to get rid of this weed, so I decided to find out what I could use it for.

Food!  Yes, these lovely little colourful plants can be eaten.  Some people eat them raw – why not add them into a mixed salad?  Or put some into your soup?

dead nettle
This would look gorgeous in a salad

People also mix them into smoothies.  I don’t make smoothies because I don’t have the right equipment, but I think they’d be a great addition.

And, best of all, you can make a tea from them.  I just put a few flower heads into a cup, add boiling water and let sit for about 10 minutes (I cover the cup so it doesn’t lose too much heat). 

The taste of this tea is very ‘earthy’, so I put a big teaspoon of local raw honey into it to improve the flavour a bit.  But it’s not unbearable even without the honey.

This tea can have a laxative effect if used in large amounts, so if you want to try it maybe just a cup or two a day is enough. 

You can use the flower heads fresh, or dry them and store them for later.

plate of dead nettle
My first dead nettle harvest

I must admit that I don’t snack on these ones while I’m in the garden.  And that’s because they really need to be washed before eating or making tea with them, because ants and other little insects often hide among the flowers, and I don’t really want to eat those!

Dead nettle is high in vitamins C, A, and K, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and fibre. 

I won’t go into the medicinal properties of dead nettle here, but if you do a bit of research you’ll find a lot of health benefits and different ways to use this plant, including for allergies, and it’s also an anti-inflammatory.

dead nettle in the garden
Dead nettle in the garden

And the good news is that there’s no toxic look-alike for this plant, so you can’t accidentally poison yourself thinking you’re eating dead nettle.

And more…

There are also some other edible weeds in my garden. I have dandelion, stinging nettle, and little blue violets dotted all over the place. 

I won’t write about them today, I’ll save them for another time.  But here’s some photos of them for you.

Some stinging nettle in my garden.

And some dandelions.

dandelion
Dandelions

And here’s some very pretty violets.

violets
Violets

As you can see, although I’m going to have to wait quite some time to harvest the vegetables I plan on growing this year, I have enough to keep me going for now just from the weed population!

What edible plants do you have in your garden?  Have you incorporated them into your regular cooking or are you unsure about how to go about it?  Also, let me know any other ways you use ‘weeds’ in the kitchen or for other purposes.

~ Cheryl

Shared in Natalie the Explorer’s Weekend Coffee Share.

Author: Cheryl

I'm an Australian woman who is now living in a village in rural Bulgaria. I lived for 12 years in Moscow, Russian Federation, working as an English language teacher. My current loves are my husband and my vegetable garden.

36 thoughts on “I Eat Weeds”

  1. Hi Cheryl – this made me smile because my husband is a big fan of Bush Tucker and went on a weekend course once where they went bush and were shown what “weeds” and natives were edible. He will often point something out that can be eaten and nine times out of ten I try it and think “nah not my thing”. Glad you have so many interesting flavours in your backyard – we have a few citrus trees, a fig tree, and a lot of agapanthus (hard to kill) but gave up on a vegie garden decades ago – too hard to maintain for the amount of produce we got.

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    1. Hi Leanne, I never really knew that so many things could be eaten! I know about Australian ‘bush tucker’, but I always imagined these plants to be so dry and tasteless. Although I’m sure a lot of it can be put in soup or made into a tea. It’s so interesting to learn about these things, I’m actually excited for the first time in a long time! I’m itching to get the veggies planted, still too cold but we’re almost there! I do hope that we’ll manage to grow enough food to make it worthwhile, it would be a shame to have to continue buying our veggies from the shop with so much land here to grow on. Enjoy the rest of your week! x

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  2. Goodness me, what bounty from ‘weeds’. Love your ambition and sharing these images will definitely show the progress.

    We have weeds growing amongst the plants that have been inundated by the heavy rains of recent days. Fortunately we stayed safe in the flooding but there is a lot of heartache all up and down the NSW coast.

    Thank you for linking up your blog post to Life This Week #232. Lots of interesting comments from bloggers this time about “good”. Next week, the optional prompt is Heroic….that too might generate more conversation…and THAT is what I love about hosting a link up on my blog. See you there. Denyse.

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    1. Hi Denyse, yes, bounty is a great word! I’ve never really bothered with weeds, except when we were kids we ate the stalk of a yellow flower that we called ‘sour grass’. Did you have that where you grew up? I haven’t seen it for years. We didn’t really eat it, just chewed the stems to get the juice. Glad to hear that you’re ok re the flooding. What a terrible time for the people of NSW. See you in the linkup next week!

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  3. Hi Cheryl. Who knew there were so many beautiful weeds that are edible and healthy for you! I have to say, that the dead nettle is my favorite. I’m partial to their purple color and for that reason, I like the violets, as well. I guess I just really love flowers, but I’m so interested in the health benefits of all these weeds. Weeds always seem to be more prevalent than flowers anyway. I’m thinking you could start a business here, for all the expats in Veniko Tarnovo. They’d probably enjoy having something healthy in their tea. I really enjoyed this post. You shared such great information and the accompying photos are beautiful. xx

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    1. Hi Christina, I know, why aren’t we told about this? I really think I should have listened to my maternal grandparents better, I’m sure that they could have shared information like this if I had been open to it. It’s a shame that some of us don’t ‘get it’ until we’re old. I’ve got a big pile of dead nettle drying out right now to keep for tea. There’s so much of it growing outside that I’ll probably go out at the weekend and get some more. I’m also interested in the health benefits, I think we all need as much health as we can these days. I’ve just started watching videos about foraging, they’re so interesting and I’m learning even more! Unfortunately a lot of the expats here (mostly from the UK) are only interested in their imported UK food and wouldn’t touch something wild like dead nettle. I’ll just continue to learn about and share what’s around me, and who knows, maybe it will encourage at least one person to start looking at their backyard for tea and greens for salads. There’s a lot worse to be found in supermarkets! Thanks for the kind words about my photos, I really enjoy sharing them with you. xx

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  4. Hi Cheryl, This was fun stuff. Thanks for the insight and information. You gave me several, “who knew?” moments. We do have stinging nettles here in northern California and for those who have encountered them – we hate them. Their sting is terrible as you might well have found out.

    When they got me as a child, I wasted too much time trying to see and extract the non-existent stinging needles. It wasn’t until I had kids of my own and researched them that I learned that each leaf has these tiny hairs, which if disturbed by being touched, dump out a mild, but painful acid that only feels like tiny needles.

    I was shocked to learn that some folks actually eat them. I’d prefer to dump gas on them and throw on a lit match as a public service.

    Thanks for the visit. I hope to read more of your adventures on your side of the globe.

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    1. Hi Gary, glad you liked it!

      I actually got rid of (or thought I did) almost all the stinging nettles I could find when we moved in here last December. That was before I knew how great and healthy they are! They did sting me a bit even though I was wearing gloves, and I was hoping that I pulled up enough of the root system for them to be gone permanently. How naive of me! And how lucky I am because now it’s spring and I can see the stinging nettle bursting back into life again exactly where I pulled it all out just a few short months ago!

      I’m going to try it in tea, but I’ve also found out that you can put them in soup and eat them, or fry them etc. I’ve decided I’ll try to learn to love them instead of getting all angry about their existence! Thanks for reading and commenting, nice to see you here and I’m looking forward to sharing more of Bulgarian life with you in future posts!

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  5. I’ve not yet ventured much into eating edible weeds or wild plants…though we have a lot of nettles (stinging) on our property and they are edible and good in tea. Your garden space is awesome. It’s going to be great.

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    1. Hi Kirstin, I’ve yet to try the stinging nettles, either in tea or cooking, but I’m encouraged by the fact that so many people are using them that I might give them a try really soon! Yes, my garden space is indeed awesome! I’m so happy every day and love just walking around looking at everything! I even love weeding, which is good because there’s a lot of it to do right now! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post.

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  6. Cheryl, It’s fantastic that you discover all these edible plants. You’re going to get a lot out of a garden the size of yours. This spring/ summer, I’m thinking of planting a small herb garden of basil, rosemary, oregano, mint, etc. I don’t need a lot of herbs and don’t want a large project either. Thanks for linking with #WeekendCoffeeShare

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    1. Hi Natalie, I’m thrilled to discover all of these edible weeds! And just today while I was out in the garden, a couple of people who live in the street behind us stopped for a chat, and the women was actually picking some ‘wild spinach’ (I don’t know yet what it’s called) from the land next to ours. It’s very common here for people to forage, and why not, it’s completely free with so many health benefits! I’m also planning a lot of herbs as my husband and I both love cooking and there’s not much better than fresh herbs to use in the kitchen (and they’re so expensive to buy from the supermarket). You’re right, herbs are a great small project, which won’t get out of hand! Just remember to plant the mint in pots, because they tend to spread and then you will never be able to get rid of it!

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    1. Hi Jeanne, I don’t know if I’m brave, but I have been known just to pick a piece of leaf and eat it to find out if it’s poisonous or not! And I just love salads, using all kinds of different ingredients, so this summer is going to be an exceptionally good one for salads in our house! Thanks for stopping by and reading and commenting on my post. I hope to see you here again!

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    1. Hi Pamela, thank you for your kind wishes. I’m lucky, I’ve always had a pretty green thumb. I do manage to kill some things, but generally I have good luck in the garden. Thanks for visiting Born in a Car, I hope to see you again!

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  7. People of today have long forgotten or don’t even know how people used to eat from nature and and had health remedies they used from those same natural things. Gosh, wouldn’t we all be a lot healthier if we used nature more? Good luck with your garden!! Thanks so much for linking up with me at the Unlimited Monthly Link Party 23. Pinned!

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    1. Hi Dee, you’re 100% right about that! The health remedies are especially important to learn about! It’s sad to see that we’ve moved so far away from eating natural and healthy food, and eating processed rubbish which is making us all unhealthy and in some cases sick. I’m planning on really getting to great health now that I live in my Bulgarian village and have the opportunity to grow whatever I choose. Bulgarian old ladies are brilliant at using plants for health and medicine, they keep the traditions alive, so I’m in the best place to learn about it here!

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  8. I found this really interesting Cheryl and admire you for your tenacity and patience! I hope your weather warms up sufficiently and your vegetable garden can get growing, you have a huge area available to you there by the look of things. Your edible weeds look fabulous #weekendcoffeeshare

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    1. Hi Debbie, I wouldn’t say that patience is one of my virtues! The weather has turned very nice since the end of last week. At least our night time temperatures are above zero now! And we’re getting some sunshine, so I spent all day outside today. It’s still a bit too cool to sow seeds, but it shouldn’t be too much longer and I can get everything in the ground. Yes, it’s quite a big area, but we have the fruit trees which will make blocks of shade so I won’t be able to fill the whole area (thank goodness! Way too much work already!). Glad you like the look of my edible weeds, we actually ate some at dinner tonight. Thanks for visiting!

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  9. I think one of the readers mentioned the word bounty. You should have a good summer with the bounty you already have the the result from your planting. I like the fact that you are including friends and neighbors in your planning and that folks there forage! how interesting. i am afraid I am not an adventurous eater. I don’t care for most summer fruit and more is the pity. I will have to switch to eating more veggies in the summer. I am not a salad fan. Roger has salad most nights with dinner, I finish off my dinner with an apple or orange while he eats his salad. Looking forward to seeing more of the garden as things start to sprout and grow. Blessings, Michele

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    1. Hi Michele, I’m really hoping for a bounty! It’s the first time I’ve ever had a garden of this scale, and to be honest I’m a little intimidated, but I’ll do my best and learn from the first year (and subsequent years, of course!). You’re not the only person I know who isn’t into salads, and I do feel a little sorry for you because of it. Salads are so wonderful, and often we can add so many different things to a salad that it hardly resembles a salad at all! There’s nothing wrong with apples and oranges, either! I’m looking forward to sharing my garden with you. Thanks so much for your kindness, have a lovely week!

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    1. Hi Michele, I hope that nature and food springs into life soon where you are! (I did take a look, you’re in Maine, but I don’t have any idea of what kind of natural vegetation you have there!). Let me know the results of your weed scavenger hunt – and have fun!

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  10. I love this perspective about weeds. A week is just a plant in the wrong place! I have a LOT of dead nettles right now and never thought of it as anything but a weed. Thanks for the lovely post.

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    1. Hi Terri, you’re right about weeds, they’re not always unwanted, just unwanted where they pop up! Have a cup of dead nettle tea (I put about 3-4 fresh heads to one cup of water, and remove the heads before drinking), and feel the health oozing into your body! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, it’s lovely to see you here!

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  11. Bonjour Cheryl, so good to read your post.I grew up with fresh vegetables and fruit every day. My mother had a huge garden, potatoes and herbs. Also we used different plants as remedies. We never went to a doctor as children and we were healthy but what is sad is that I didn’t appreciate all that until now. My father passed away at 100 years old. How I wish I could turn back time. There’s nothing like eating fresh produce from the garden. Here, in Nova Scotia (not where I am from) a lot of people kill weeds with pesticides and insecticides. They want a green lawn free of weeds. I wish you all the best with your garden and don’t give up. Ne lâche pas!!

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    1. Salut Yvonne! So nice to hear that you had a good, healthy start to life with your mother’s garden. Yes, it’s unfortunate that we don’t appreciate these things when we’re younger. How interesting that you were all healthy without seeing a doctor – it says a lot! I also used pesticides many years ago – I wouldn’t dream of doing that now! I’ve yet to discover what pests are going to threaten my garden, but I will try all I can naturally to discourage them. And I never want another lawn as long as I live – what a waste! Thanks for your kind words, it’s always nice to see you here at Born in a Car!

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  12. Hello Cheryl. Wow! Your garden is looking so ready for a wonderful harvest this year. I am so happy you are discovering the natural growing life in your garden😊.

    Mother was so happy to see you both at the back of your garden at the weekend. She said your Bulgarian has progressed well, you even called her by her name 👍.

    Keep up the great work in the garden, and enjoy the wonderful and nutritional benefits that it will bring you both! Take care. Mariya x

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    1. Hello Mariya! My garden is coming along really well. I’ve spent the past two days outside digging, planning, weeding, moving compost, and even planting! I was happy to see your mum at the weekend! It was lovely that she stopped to talk with me. I introduced her to my husband. I hope that each time we meet we can speak more and more together.

      Thanks for the encouragement with the garden. I hope to be proud at harvest time and I’m looking forward to showing you what I grow. Have a great week! x

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  13. Wow! Who would have thought that eating weeds could be so appealing? We have most of the weeds you discussed here in the US, right in our back yard and in the woods behind our house. I would love to get a field guide to help me to learn about edible wild plants. I have eaten dandelion greens before, but that’s the only one. Thanks for this inspiration!

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    1. Hi Laurie, I’d never really considered eating weeds until I moved here! There’s so much to learn about the natural world around us, even if we’ve left it a bit late in life! I’m so glad that you’ve tried dandelion greens, it’s on my list of things to try. How interesting that you have all of these amazing plants right behind you, and even greater is the fact that you have woods behind your house! I wish I did! I hope to continue to inspire you to eat weeds! Thanks for passing by and commenting, it’s nice to see you. Have a great week!

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