Above, a bucket of redroot pigweed awaits the dinner table.
by Garrison Benson
Here at Three Roods Farm CSA, we get plenty of weeds. (Most organic farms do.) So, at least occasionally, we cook them up and eat them.
A few weeks ago I weeded our tomato patch and collected about three bucketfuls of redroot pigweed, lambsquarters, purslane, and mallow. These cooked down to two huge bowls of steamed greens. We froze two quarts for the winter, and ate the rest the next day as saag, an Indian dish.
All four of the above plants, usually considered weeds in the US and Europe, are grown for food elsewhere in the world. Lambsquarters and purslane in particular are highly nutritious. Here at the farm, we never plant them, but they still spring up in great numbers, ready to harvest.
On the website msuweeds.com, run by Michigan State University’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, twenty-six weeds are listed as "Michigan’s Worst Weeds." Of these, about nineteen are edible (give or take, depending on your definition of "edible"). Thirteen are medicinal. One, hemp dogbane, provides usable fiber. Only one or two are mostly useless, "weeds" by the definition of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered."
There are a lot of great reasons not to use herbicides in agriculture: Preserving genetic diversity, improving soil structure, preventing cancer and other diseases, and so on. Another great reason, seldom heard, is that weeds are delicious.
Some folks feel herbicides are essential for feeding the world: that without them, crop yields would decline and millions or billions would starve. To them I say: How many mouths might we feed if we saw between the rows not weeds, but tasty and nourishing wild plants? How much food are we not growing due to herbicide application? To herbicide advocates I also say this, which may be more convincing:
On a sunny day, grab a basket, the prettiest basket you can find. Round up children, if you have them, and take a long, meandering walk. Collect as many dandelion flowers as you can find. (For safe, poison-free dandelions, abandoned land is your best bet.)
When you’ve got a whole bunch of flowers, head back to the kitchen. In a small bowl, mix one egg, one cup of milk, and one cup of flour. Take each flower and twirl it around in the batter, then drop it in a frying pan over medium-high heat with a bit of olive oil. Remove when lightly browned. Let cool on a paper towel. Serve with either maple syrup or powdered sugar (for a sweet treat) or mustard (for savory - my personal preference). Eat a lot and share the rest with anyone and everyone nearby, especially the aforementioned children. Now you've tasted dandelion fritters.
Many such dishes are waiting underfoot in any farm, garden, or yard. Before we condemn them with poisons, let's at least give 'em a taste.
© Gary Benson, 2010