SPROUTS AMONG THE CONCRETE
FORAGING WITH CREEK FOR EDIBLES IN THE HEART OF THE CITY
Weeds are some of the most durable survivors on Earth. Even in a well-manicured city, weeds are everywhere ... if you know where to look. Luckily, many of them are not only edible but are also packed with vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
The urban landscape is loaded with nooks, cracks, curbs and green spaces that are home to these edible weeds. These include parks, empty lots, construction zones, roadway medians, sidewalk cracks, lawns, playgrounds, cemeteries, landscaping areas and more. While it's important to avoid areas treated with chemicals and/or are directly exposed to traffic, there are plenty of areas for safe emergency foraging.
Edible weeds and flowers are perfect additions to stews, soups and salads. In addition, having access to green, vegetable-like foods when the grocery store shelves go empty keeps your diet well-balanced and diverse in taste.
Here are five wild edible plants that every urban forager should know:
1. LAMB'S QUARTER (CHENOPODIUM ALBUM)
Lamb's quarter is an annual, meaning it only grows one year. Another common name is “goosefoot” because of its triangular, goose-foot-shaped leaves. The leaf margins are toothed, and the underside is coated with a mealy white substance, which aids as a very unique identifying feature. The stems are striped with shades of green, and the plant often has tinges of purple on the leaves and stem as well. The best edible part of lamb’s quarter is its leaves. They can be prepared just like spinach by sautéing, steaming or boiling in a little water. They are one of the mildest-tasting wild greens and are absolutely packed with vitamins and minerals.
2. COMMON CHICKWEED (STELLARIA MEDIA)
Chickweed is just as happy in a city landscape as it is in a country meadow. It's an annual that grows low to the ground in dense mats. Its small, ovate leaves grow opposite one another along the stem, and a little line of hairs runs the length of the stem. This is a key identifying feature of chickweed. The upper leaves don't have stems, but the lower ones do. They grow a small, white flower that appears to have 10 petals, but it's actually five petals, each with a deep central cleft. The entire above-ground plant is edible. It tastes fantastic raw in salads, made into a pesto or blended into smoothies. It has a very pleasant flavor and is very similar in texture to most mild-tasting salad greens or sprouts.
3. GARLIC MUSTARD (ALLIARIA PETOLATA)
Garlic mustard is a biennial, meaning that it has a two-year life cycle. The first year, it produces a low-growing rosette of leaves that, at this stage, are heart shaped with no point at the bottom and have scalloped edges. The second-year plants shoot up as a tall flower stalk in early spring. The leaves along the flower stalk are more triangular in appearance and have toothed edges. The flowers grow in clusters, each flower having four white petals. The leaves of the first-year plant and young leaves of the second-year plant are the choice edibles. They both have a strong garlic smell and flavor and are perfect additions to soups, stews or any kind of stir-fry for flavor.
4. CURLY DOCK (RUMEX CRISPUS)
Curly dock is a perennial that starts in the spring as a curly-edged rosette of bright-green leaves and soon bolts a central flower stalk. The leaf margins are crinkly and curly in appearance (hence the name). The flower stalk then produces a thick, bountiful seed head loaded with seeds that turn brown quickly. The leaves are best before the central flower stalk starts to bolt—typically, in early spring. They should be cooked as a pot herb (like collard greens), and they exhibit a slightly tangy taste. They are absolutely fantastic cooked with bacon and are rich in vitamin C.
5. DANDELION (TARAXACUM OFFICINALE)
Dandelion is a perennial plant that grows leaves in a basal rosette. The leaves are narrow, deeply toothed and typically point back toward the center of the plant. The flower is the dandelion—one of the most recognizable weeds in the world. The flower stem is unbranched and hollow, while the leaves and stem contain a milky, white sap. Eat the leaves as you would spinach, either raw or cooked. The flowers are great batter-fried, and the roots are great carrot substitutes.