The nu­tri­tious virtues of some com­mon weeds

Manitoba Gardener Magazine - - LOCAL DIRT - By Elva Rus­sell

If your gar­den is over­grown with weeds, you can al­ways eat some of them and do your health a favour at the same time.

Purslane, some­times called por­tu­laca, is very nu­tri­tious, with ten times as much omega 3 fatty acids as are to be found in spinach. Purslane is that fleshy look­ing weed, whose red stems and oval leaves hug the ground, send­ing down new roots at each node. It makes a tasty sub­sti­tute for fish oil and is high in vi­ta­min C. Steamed, it tastes like spinach. Served raw, it raw it tastes like pea shoots and is won­der­ful in sal­ads. Both the leaves and the stems are de­li­cious. Purslane pro­duces lit­tle yel­low flow­ers that soon be­come cap­sules of tiny seeds. (Be­ware of a poi­sonous im­i­ta­tor, which of­ten grows close by. It is easy to iden­tify by the milky sap it ex­udes when the wiry, rather than thick, stem is bro­ken.)

Bur­dock ( Arc­tium lappa) is that nui­sance weed re­spon­si­ble for the burs that get stuck in pet fur and pant legs. But it has virtues that make all that worth­while. Young bur­dock leaves can be eaten in sal­ads or the roots can be mashed, formed into cakes and fried in but­ter. The stalks can be peeled and used like cel­ery and even the flow­ers can be used – sim­mered in syrups and eaten like candy.

Bur­dock is very high in nu­tri­tion in­clud­ing in­ulin, a nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring phy­to­chem­i­cal that mim­ics the ac­tions of in­sulin. It was tra­di­tion­ally used as a blood pu­ri­fier and as a di­uretic. It was also used for to clear the skin of acne, eczema and pso­ri­a­sis be­cause it has anti-in­flam­ma­tory, anti-ox­i­dant and an­tibac­te­rial prop­er­ties. It is said that the root is ef­fec­tive in re­mov­ing heavy met­als from the body.

Dan­de­lion greens have long been known for their use in sal­ads. Use very young leaves and, if you don’t like bit­ter, then cook them with eggs, ba­con or both (or col­lect them in the fall when the bit­ter­ness has dis­si­pated). Roots can be sautéed or ground up as a cof­fee sub­sti­tute. And of course the flow­ers are fa­mous for dan­de­lion wine.

Dan­de­lion greens are four times higher in vi­ta­min A than broc­coli and twice as high in vi­ta­min K. They are an ex­cel­lent di­uretic as at­tested to by their French com­mon name of piss­nelit or “pee the bed”.

This is just a small glimpse at the virtues of dan­de­lions, which were ac­tu­ally brought to North Amer­ica by Eu­ro­peans who couldn't fathom liv­ing with­out their heal­ing and health­ful prop­er­ties.

And it wouldn't do to talk about ed­i­ble weeds with­out men­tion­ing sting­ing net­tle ( Ur­tica dioica). Young leaves are an ex­cel­lent source of iron and can be cooked in soups. (When the leaves and stems are cooked or dried, the stingers lose their sting). Ac­cord­ing to Man­i­toba Food and Agri­cul­ture, “To­day, sting­ing net­tle is in de­mand as a treat­ment for non­cancer­ous prostate en­large­ment, for high blood pres­sure and uri­nary tract in­fec­tions. It is used to treat skin erup­tions and eczema, and freeze-dried as a treat­ment for hay fever.” There is a book that will tell you 101 ways to used sting­ing net­tle for heal­ing pur­poses. Col­lect them (wear­ing gloves, long sleeves and pants) in spring be­fore they flower.

Purslane.

Bur­dock in blos­som.

Dan­de­lion.

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