You will see in lots of our recipes that we use edible weeds, such as in our autumn breakfast greens recipe. Here’s a quick guide to identifying some of our favourites and how they can be eaten! It's fun to find these guys in the wild or while you're weeding!
Winter is all about greens, and edible weeds in particular. They are abundant at this time of year, as they thrive in the cooler weather. They’re also nice and young, which means they are at their most sweet and tender.
We have a farm full of delicious greens where we live, but we still love to forage for edible plants that grow in the wild. They are a breakfast staple at our house, sautéed and served with eggs, toast, preserves and pickles.
Known for their medicinal effects and unique flavour, edible weeds used to be eaten regularly, but over time we have forgotten how to identify them. Below is a quick guide to finding a few of our favourites. It will tell you how to identify them, what flavour profile to expect, which seasons they grow in, and how to eat them.
It can be difficult to start, do ask questions below :)
- Pick them young – they are always more delicious this way
- Pick them before they set seed or flower (except for wood sorrel) – again they will be more delicious and tender this way
- Avoid any thick stems, as they are generally tough. The leaves are the best.
- Don’t pick anything you can’t identify
- Don’t pick anything you think might be sprayed
These really are our favourite. They are the most annoying to pick, but the most rewarding to eat. (To find out why, see our recipe for stinging nettle and wild mushroom soup.) They’re also a great source of protein, and one of the richest sources of chlorophyll on the planet.
Identified by: serrated, furry, teardrop-shaped leaves on an upright plant with a central stalk. It should be vibrant dark green in colour. As the name suggest they will give a sharp sting if you brush past them, so wear gloves to harvest or grab them firmly enough to crush the little ‘hairs’ that can sting you.
Flavour: earthy, similar to spinach, but uniquely nettle.
Best eaten: cooked, in soups and stews. Blanch in hot water to remove their sting before handling. Also great dried and used as tea.
Season: first shoots in autumn, growing throughout winter and spring until the weather becomes too hot.
You can see this weed basically everywhere.
Identified by: dark green, slightly furry leaves with a crinkle-cut edge. The shape is similar to a lily pad, with a lighter coloured underside and seven veins radiating from the point where it meets the stem.
Flavour: smooth, but quite dry in texture and with a really exceptional nuttiness.
Best eaten: sautéed in a risotto or in a stew. You can use it as you would spinach. We’ve found it goes great with Chinese flavours like Szechuan pepper and star anise.
Season: autumn, winter, spring. It can also grow in summer if it has a good water source.
This one’s tricky! It can look really different depending on where it’s growing and at what stage of its cycle it is in.
Identified by: a few things. Young leaves can look quite rounded, but become deeply jagged as they mature. The things to look for are:
- A milky sap when they’re cut
- A hollow stem and main leaf vein
- Leaves and side shoots that grow from a central stalk.
They’re also completely hairless, and have a greyer, bluer tinge than most greens. Leaves begin completely matte, then becomes glossier as the plant matures.
Flavour: chicory bitterness, with a slight nutty sweetness. Cooking really knocks out the bitter elements, though.
Best eaten: sautéed, or in a stew. Very Italian.
Season: autumn, winter, spring. It can also grow in summer if it has a water source.
Remember picking tufts of ‘sourgrass’ as a kid? This is what you were getting into.
Identified by: small clover-like leaves on long stems, shaped like three hearts joined together. It’s very easy to identify due to its distinct shape and flavour. Its flower is usually yellow, but it can also be purple or white. The flower, stalk and leaves are all edible and it has no poisonous lookalikes.
Flavour: a pleasantly sour, vibrant lemon.
Best eaten: a great raw addition to salads, or as a lemony garnish.
Season: winter and spring.
Identified by: a long, thin glossy leaf, that looks a bit like a lettuce mixed with rocket. It has a little row of spiky ‘hairs’ along the spine on the bottom-side of the leaf, and exudes a milky white sap when cut.
Flavour: a little bitter, but with a mild sweetness and nuttiness just like heirloom lettuces.
Best eaten: the young leaves are best eaten raw, as a salad ingredient. It’s also great lightly sautéed, especially if more mature.
Season: winter and spring.