I’m a big advocate of appreciating and eating local plants. In modern supermarkets, to eat well our wallets might seem like they’re emptying out as quickly as our funds come in. (I’m sure you’ve heard people call Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck”.) But it doesn’t have to be that way! Welcome to the New Paradigm and learn to forage!
In this article I’d like to specifically focus on greens. We know that greens are extremely alkalizing, packed with phyto-nutrients and chlorophyll to help nourish and invigorate our body. It’s recommended to eat greens almost every day, even more than once a day. This can become an expensive habit if you’re buying green juices and a bunch of organic kale or chard nearly every other day. There’s another way!
Those of us who live in fairly suburban or rural areas have a mostly untapped resource—our lawns! (Even urbanites, in your local park, might be surprised at what you can find!) The first step, if you haven’t already, is definitely to STOP using chemical fertilizers or spreading weed-killers on your lawn. The solution to the weeds is to EAT them!
Yes! I’ve already written articles about the benefits of nettles and dandelion as medicinal foods; common weeds and lawn plants are gifts from Mother Earth! If we follow the belief that She gives her creatures exactly what we need to survive for the current climate and species that live there, then we don’t need to rely solely on Big Agriculture and (even organic) produce from across the country (or the world) to find nutritious, medicinal foods. There’s so much more available if you just learn where to look and how to identify plants! Take a look at some common lawn plants you can eat (and/or juice!):
Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
Also known as: Pepperweed
Taxonomy: Brassicaceae (mustard family)
Flavor profile: bitter, peppery
Where to find: Grows in disturbed soil, sunny areas; often the first to appear and quickly overtakes garden soils; available in winter
Parts to eat: the leaf stalks and leaflets
Nourishment: rich in Vitamins A and C and contains calcium, phosphorus and magnesium
Herbal Actions: diuretic, expectorant
Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)
Taxonomy: Lamiaceae (Mint family)
Flavor profile: mild, grassy
Where to find: lawns, roadsides; can create carpet; can survive in winter
Parts to eat: any
Nourishment: high in vitamins, iron, fiber; crushed leaves can help topical wounds
Notes: the reason it’s called “dead” nettle is that it does not have stinging properties (urtication) like it’s cousin, stinging nettle, and is therefore safe to eat raw
Yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta)
Sometimes mistaken for: Clover
Taxonomy: Oxalidaceae (wood sorrel family)
Flavor profile: Lemony!
Where to find: partial to full sun
Parts to eat: flowers & leaves: peel flowers, green (immature) seed pods, leaves from stalk
Notes: this is one of my favorites! Sprinkle in salads! mmmm yes please!
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
Sometimes mistaken for: dandelion, chicory (leaf shape)
Taxonomy: Polygonaceae (Knotweed/buckwheat family)
Flavor profile: lemony, tangy
Where to find: sun, partial-shade (more tender, larger leaves in shadier spots)
Parts to eat: the leaves!
Nourishment: high in vitamins A & C; also contains vitamin B, potassium, calcium, magnesium
Notes: related to French sorrel variety, but as wild sheep sorrel leaves usually don’t grow past 1 inch in size.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Also known as: Duckweed, wild portulaca
Taxonomy: Portulacaceae (Purslane family)
Flavor profile: crunchy, slightly lemony; sometimes comparable to spinach or watercress
Where to find: any farm/garden that has at least a 2-month growing season; susceptible to frost, so doesn’t emerge until soil grows warm enough
Parts to eat: the leaves!
Nourishment: high in omega-3 fats; pectin helps lower bad cholesterol; extremely high in vitamin E & beta carotene, vitamin C; also high levels of magnesium, riboflavin, potassium and phosphorus
Notes: pectin is a great thickener for soups & stews; I’ve seen purslane sold in farmer’s markets at high prices—while I love supporting local businesses, why spend the money when you can source this amazing “weed” for free?! Additionally, there’s many variations of purslane out there to find.
Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album)
Often mistaken for: Oak-leaved goosefoot (also edible, same family)
Taxonomy: Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot family)
Flavor profile: earthy, mineral-y (some say similar to chard)
Where to find: summer annual; lamb’s quarters helps restore soil health, so can be found in contaminated soils—if there’s a large patch, perhaps check soil quality; common in gardens, near streams & rivers…this very hardy plant can be found almost anywhere throughout Canada & US!
Parts to eat: the leaves!
Nourishment: Excellent source of vitamins A & C
Notes: If eating raw, do not consume in excess because of oxalic acid, which becomes toxic in large quantities. (Cooking removes this acid.) You can also dry or freeze to have throughout the winter. (Dried leaves can be made into a flour!) When you first glimpse it, don’t be afraid of the whitish dust—it’s completely natural on the leaves!
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Sometimes mistaken for: endive, dandelion, sorrel
Taxonomy: Asteraceae (sunflower family); the intybus species originates from Europe; there are many other species all over the world
Flavor profile: bitter
Where to find: like chalky soil; roadside, disturbed grounds, gardens; perennial herb: take flowers anytime; roots fall through spring and leaves in early spring
Parts to eat: leaves (young leaves for raw salad, other parts good to cook), flowers, roots (roast & grind for excellent coffee substitute!)
Nourishment: vitamins A, C; riboflavin, potassium, various other minerals; acts as a bitter (good for digestive health)
Notes: It’s worth a look into how to identify chicory vs. wild endive, dandelion, and sorrel for accuracy, though they are all edible and nutritious!
Why spend so much money on wheatgrass shots when you can juice the grass from your lawn? Go ahead and toss some green grass clippings into your next smoothie or into your juicer. If you can get past the super grassy taste, you will unlock a reliable source of nutrients and plant energy! (While you’re at it, you might end up grabbing some useful local pollen on the leaves!) Note that most grasses are too fibrous for our system to break down, so better to juice or, in a pinch, chew and suck the juice out of
Of course there’s lots more we could identify, and there’s of course whole schools, workshops and webpages dedicated to wild foraging. The key is to remember that we don’t have to be 100% at the mercy of the supermarket industry, and that we can find holistically nourishing plants in our back yards. Don’t be shy and try these today! Happy lawn-eating!
Note: Use caution and common sense when identifying and harvesting any plant. For example, stinging nettles should be handled with care and never eaten raw! (Always cook, juice, or dry your nettles.) Make sure you can 100% identify accurately the plant you are going to consume. Additionally, use discretion when foraging from areas that might be heavily sprayed with pesticides or fertilizers. In general, it’s a great idea to eat a little of something first and observe how you react before consuming larger amounts.
My favorite foraging experts:
Dan De Lion, Return to Nature
“Wildman” Steve Brill
Green Deane, Eat The Weeds