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Eating Your Weeds and Flowers | July 8, 2009

Fried Green Tomatoes, goat cheese, sweet pepper sauce, crisp dandelion greens topped with chamomile flowers—sounds delicious right? What we often consider weeds, other cultures consider a delicacy. Some of the common flowers that we eat include broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes. But did you know that the spice Saffron is the stamen from a crocus flower? Capers are unopened flower buds from a bush grown in the Mediterranean. So there is hope for those pesky weeds and flowers in your yard—just eat em!

Here are some of the tastiest of the weeds/flowers:

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are widely eaten in Europe and gaining popularity on the east coast (and California of course). Many natural or whole foods stores carry bundles of dandelion greens, but why buy them when you can just go out and pick them from your yard? Dandelions have been used in Asia and Europe for centuries as a diuretic---a substance that causes increased urination. They can be used in many forms. The tender young greens can be tossed into a salad of mixed greens or sautéed and served like any other bitter green, such as escarole. They can also be used in soups and omelets. The flower, well who hasn’t heard of ‘dandelion wine’?

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is another edible weed. It is one of the tastiest salad greens out there. You eat the little delicate leaves or the stems and all.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) has it’s roots in Roman times, where it was grown as a vegetable. The sky blue flowers are also edible and great in salads.

Milk Thistle (silybum marianum) – the young leaves with the spines removed can be eaten raw or cooked as a spinach-like vegetable. The flower buds can be eaten, like miniature artichokes.

Purslane (Portulaca Oleracea) – is the stuff that likes to grow around paver stones and tastes similar to spinach . The leaves and stems can be eaten raw in salads or cooked or pickled in vinegar. Cooked purslane has a texture similar to okra—an acquired taste. It is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.
Safety Precautions
Although I love edible flowers in salads because of their unique flavors and colors, you need to be extremely cautious. The pollen in flowers is highly allergenic and could cause severe reactions in sensitive individuals. If you suffer from asthma, ragweed allergies or hayfever you should avoid consuming flowers altogether. When using any type of plant, moderation is key. Ingesting excess of even the most benign substance can cause you to become ill. This is especially risky if you have allergies to certain plants. So start with small amounts and make sure you are absolutely certain of their identification and know if they have been sprayed with any harmful chemicals.