Solution for invasives: saute ’em!


IMG_3382 I'm traveling, which is the only time I'd be indulging in the schizophrenic diet pictured above: Diet Coke and John Kallas's super-fun book Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate.

I've been interested in eating more weeds ever since my friend Martha, a scholar of food, first served me sauteed lambs' quarters.  It's often cited as a spinach substitute, but I think it's more delicious than spinach.  And Martha, who has a big garden, nonetheless makes the point of foraging all over her property for it and freezing whatever she can't use immediately. 

A few weeks ago, weeding my vegetable garden, I wound up pulling clump after clump of lovely-looking purslane out of it, and thought, I should be eating this. I'm pretty relaxed about wasting money, but wasting potentially delicious food?  That really bothers me. I also know that edible weeds often beat the pants off of domesticated crops in terms of nutrition.

And then, I had the good fortune to run across Kallas's book.  This is a guy after my own heart.  If it's edible and tasty, my word, he thinks it is simply foolishness not to cook and eat it, even if it is a weed!  Here's what he has to say about garlic mustard, which was by far the most frustrating weed at my previous house, going to seed in May just as I was busiest in the vegetable garden and the least likely to grub it out:

Garlic mustard is beloved by many rural people in Europe, where it has natural predators that keep its populations in check. It is considered a noxious weed in North America. A search for garlic mustard on the Internet brings up a noxious weed alert and informational piece from nearly every state and province. Why is this weedy vegetable such a problem here? The big answer is that we are not eating enough of it.

Hear that, invasive plant hysterics?  You may be contributing to the problem by failing to cook enough greens.

Kallas includes some recipe ideas that interest me–homemade marshmallows using real wild mallows–as well as some that don't–curly dock greens with raspberries and cashews. 

But what I really love is the spirit of adventure embodied by this book. We can eat wild if we choose! There is an intelligent discussion of edible versus toxic, and the fact that even some plants that taste great can contain underlying toxins that may poison you slowly:

These toxins are the reason you cannot assume that just because a plant part tastes good, it is edible….You must know that a plant is edible from a long tradition of use.

But when there is a long tradition of use, even if not in my house or my mom's house, it seems a shame not to put the plant on the dinner table.  Thanks to Kallas, I'll now be able to weed my vegetable garden like a cook.


  1. I love wild foods — when we were kids, we were forever foraging for dinner. Funny — I didn’t like vegetables, but I LOVED eating anything I’d picked myself from some road side weeds. A great way to get kids eating better — as well as to control invasive weeds.

  2. YES! Next spring, I’m opting for local “weeds” instead of trying to cultivate fancy greens that aphids and snails devour unceremoniously. I was pretty amazed to find how many are indeed edible in Austin. I’m also going to try my hand at amaranth cultivars for summer greens. High maintenance leaves are counterrevolutionary.

  3. Sorry, Michelle. I’ll be willing to worry about invasive plants when we rid the world of the internal combustion engine and coal-fired power plants.

    Until then, I plan on enjoying my common daylilies and flag iris.

  4. Just be careful when you harvest it.

    My daughter and I harvested some garlic mustard by the side of the road, and after we had picked a bit, realized that our hands were turning purple.

    We suspected the plants had been sprayed. Sure enough, a few days later all the vegetation in that area was dying. I’m glad we didn’t eat the garlic mustard.

  5. Welcome to the movement! John’s book is great, and when you thirst for more, try Sam Thayer’s 2 books: The Forager’s Harvest and Nature’s Garden. You won’t be sorry.

  6. I have always had two favorites that grow wild here in Wisconsin. Wild Asparagus and Cattail Roots. The cattail roots are dug up, prepared and taste very similar to potatoes. Very Tasty

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