Healing Gaia

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Weeds are simply flowering plants growing where they're not wanted. Many are not only beautiful to look at, but also delicious to eat.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published May 23, 2019

I love this time of the year. I have a breathtaking variety of spring bulbs in bloom and the bounty of summer and fall plants to look forward to. You see, I have no grass - at all. My front and back yards are all garden. An assortment of low growing ground cover filled in my boulevard long ago.

It's been 16 years since I've had a lawn. I resented the time I had to spend cutting, trimming, and watering. I never used petrochemical-based fertilizers, nor did I ever apply any type of pesticide. Even when I had grass, I was not trying to achieve the homogenous, weed-free, immaculately manicured monoculture my suburban neighbours aspire to.

I plant mainly native perennials that are watered when it rains. They aren't fussy and don't need a lot of attention. So now I spend my time admiring my booms and all of the wildlife and birds that flock to my gardens.

Beginning in the spring, I fill each room in my home with seasonal native flowers from my yards and still have enough to share with friends. I'll also gather a few herbs and the odd vegetable before the first frost sends everything to sleep for the winter.

Rethinking 'Weeds'

I take the scenic route to work so I can enjoy the boulevards and lawns covered in blue snow drops and bright yellow dandelions. That makes my heart happy because it tells me people aren't using pesticides or herbicides and instead are creating spaces that are safe and welcoming to children and pets.

Weeds are simply flowering plants growing where they're not wanted. Many are not only beautiful to look at, but also delicious to eat. It's all in the perception. What's a nuisance to one person can be a delicacy to another.

So, while walking around today, look down and appreciate the vast variety of weeds growing in the cracks of the sidewalk, on boulevards, in your lawn and garden. And if you're adventurous enough, get to know the plants that are safe to eat and add them to your favourite salad, soup or side dish.

Dandelions are one of the first bursts of sunny yellow to brighten dreary boulevards. These gorgeous plants, a staple in Middle Eastern fasts, work cleanse the liver while producing cooling energy. They're a diuretic, as well as a natural remedy for constipation and anemia.

Rich in iron, vitamins A, C, thiamin and riboflavin, young dandelion leaves can be part of a delicious spring salad. Mix finely cut leaves into any salad mix from the store or use the leaves on their own and top with a tahini and lemon dressing.

Lambs quarters were traditionally grown between rows of wheat in India. This green is rich in vitamin A and C, folic acid, iron, calcium, and protein. In India, this plant provides much-needed calories to impoverished diets.

Unfortunately, biotechnology, mechanization and Western beliefs that weeds have no place in food production led to the demise of this spinach-like plant, which can prevent vitamin A deficiency and blindness in people living in underdeveloped countries. Lambs quarters thrives in my southern Ontario garden and the young leaves are wonderful when added raw to a salad or cooked like spinach.

Chickweed bears tiny white flowers that attract wildlife and birds. This cloverlike plant is delicious and a cinch to pull up from between patio stones or interlocking brick. Chop a few leaves and stems into your favourite salad, but go easy as this plant imparts a distinct grassy taste.

Chicory thrives in fields, by roadsides and in fallow places like boulevards. Good for your liver, a natural remedy for gallstones and an aid for rheumatism and gout, the young base leaves are fantastic raw or cooked like spinach. Its stunning blue flowers are a wonderful addition to salads, teas and are used as a coffee substitute.

Purslane, better known as wild portulaca, grows close to the ground with red branches bearing green succulent leaves and small yellow flowers. This succulent grows in crevices between the sidewalk, interlocking bricks, or from your garden and is a chinch to pull up. This plant increases the vitamin A, C, E and alpha-linolenic acid in your diet. It's like okra when cooked and adds body to soups.

Wild mustard grows all over southern Ontario. In some areas it's an invasive species. Use the leaves of mature plants to create a unique pesto or add some to your favourite basil-based pesto recipe. Here's a recipe that's not only easy to make but freezes well:

Put leaves, oil, garlic and salt into a blender with lid on but the hole for adding ingredients uncovered. On high, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Turn off the blender and scrape down the sides from time to time.

You can freeze the pesto at this point. When you're ready to use the pesto, thaw it, then mix in the cheese and butter by hand.

This recipe makes enough pesto for six individual servings of pasta.

Here's a simple salad dressing to compliment wild green salads:

Put all the ingredients into a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake well. Just before serving, pour required amount of dressing over greens and toss well. Refrigerate unused dressing.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

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