We talked a bit about foraging a few weeks ago -- hunting for edible goodies like mushrooms, berries, and sea salt. But here's a whole new twist that might not take you any farther than your own back yard: Edible weeds.
It makes sense when you think about it: Mother Nature doesn't have a special category for weeds. What one farmer or culture considers to be a problem, others might harvest wild, or even cultivate. Purslane grows so prolifically in Northern California that it would be impossible to eradicate, and many San Franciscans would be stunned to know that the miniature succulent that sprouts up between sidewalk cracks is actually a delicacy in many peasant cuisines. Known as verdolagas in Spanish, the plant is most commonly used in traditional Mexican pork-based stews and other savory soups.
Nettles -- the itchy bane of every Girl Scout -- must be cooked to eliminate their signature sting, but once tamed they're a favorite pizza topping or pasta addition. And lambsquarter (known as quelites south of the border) are fabulous either raw or cooked, a more-flavorful relative of garden-variety spinach that grows in many arid regions, to the dismay of many unwitting gardeners.
And not only are these 'weeds' potentially free for the taking, but they're health-bombs, too. San Francisco's Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, discusses the nutritional value of plants we usually think of as pests:
Purslane has more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy green vegetable, and has been shown to be a potent source of several key vitamins and minerals. Lambsquarter is richer in calcium, protein and B vitamins than spinach and most other greens. Nettles, meanwhile, are very rich in iron.
But it's best to stick to your own back yard or other clean source. As Nancy Gammons -- one of the Farmers in the CUESA article -- mentions, it's important to know your foraging environment because "Public waterways can be so contaminated these days," she says, "so it's important to know that we're gathering on our own [certified organic] land.
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