If you’re a gardening fan, you probably have a love – hate relationship with weeds. I fume every time I see my precious plants strangled by these ‘pests’! But in calmer moments, I am grateful because I know that these wild weeds can be incredibly nutritious. Plus they’re free!
Their nutritional and therapeutic value has in fact been known and exploited for centuries worldwide, and promoted by gardening and cooking experts like Vivien Weise. She shows how common weeds have many times the minerals, vitamins and protein of cultivated vegetables.
For example, take 100g of lettuce and stinging nettles. Lettuce has 13mg Vit C, the nettles have 333mg. Or
100g of chickweed has 8.4mg of iron compared to just 4.1mg in spinach. Dandelion has 3.3% protein per 100g, lettuce 0.9%. Ground elder has 648mg of vitamin A per 100g , broccoli has 370mg, and Good King Henry has 3.5 mg of iron per 100g compared with 2.2mg in swiss chard.
Let’s look further at how common weeds in various parts of the world can add nutritious flavour to your foods and boost your health.
Yellow Dock / Burdock
Burdock is both a food and a medicinal herb. It is a good source of dietary fibre and minerals, including calcium, potassium and iron. It also contains bioflavonoids, which strengthens capillaries.
The early spring and summer leaves of yellow dock can be added to soups to instead of other greens, such as spinach. It is also made into teas and tinctures, or the roots may be dried and encapsulated.
The oxalic acid and anthraquinone glycosides in yellow dock stimulates intestinal secretions, which have a mild laxative effect and help to eliminate waste. They can also help bring stomach acids to normal levels. Stomach acid helps dissolve the food you eat and breaks it down into simple chemical compounds the body can use. By promoting the flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder, minerals absorption is increased.
However, as with all good things, do not go overboard! Oxalic acid can irritate and inflame the intestines and liver so should be avoided by those with irritable bowel or kidney disease.
Oxalic acid also combines with calcium to create an indigestible compound. So best avoid eating calcium rich foods immediately after eating or juicing Burdock.
Related to quinoa, Amarath is said to be most nutritious wild plant food available and is very high in vitamins and minerals. Technically, it's not a grain, but the fruit of a plant, so contains a more complete protein than other grains. Amaranth also lacks gluten, a problematic protein in many true grains.
In comparison with other ‘grains’, it has more of the amino acid lysine, and is richer in iron, magnesium, and calcium, so it helps to keep anemia and osteoporosis at bay. It also excels as a source of mostly insoluble fiber, which reduces the risk of various diseases, including heart disease, cancer and digestive-tract conditions.
Perhaps one of the most attractive weeds, dandelion has a wide range of health benefits courtesy of its copious vitamins, including A, C, D, K and B-complexes, as well as minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc potassium, manganese, copper, choline, calcium, boron, and silicon.
Traditionally, dandelion roots and leaves have been used to cure breast illnesses, bloating, disorders of the gastrointestinal system, aching joints, and skin conditions. Dandelion is also used as a gentle diuretic, blood pressure stabiliser and detoxifier.
Dandelion roots contain inulin and levulin, starchlike substances that may help balance blood sugar, as well as a bitter substance (taraxacin) which stimulates digestion. The presence of a bitter taste in the mouth promotes the flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder, as well as hydrochloric acid from the stomach. (As you probably know, Bitters have been used for centuries in many countries before meals as a digestive stimulant.)
And if you want a healthy alternative to coffee, try toasted dandelion root. Or even dandelion wine!
Nettles are often one of the least welcome garden weeds because of their sting. With the sting comes many nutritional and health benefits.
Nettle contains a great number of amino acids, glucidic substances, amines, sterols, cetones as methyl heptenone, acetophenone, volatile oil, fatty substances, sitosterols, formic and acetic acid, panthotenic acid, folic acid, chlorophyl protoporphyrine and coproporphynine. It also contains vitamins C, B2 and K, beta-carotene, Ca, Mg, Fe and Si salts, phosphates and more!
These compounds give the plant anti-anemic, anti-diabetic,anti rheumatic, haemostatic and diuretic properties.
The leaves may be harvested, cooked, and used like spinach. They are particularly good as a tea to ease diseases and inflammations of the urinary system and as a blood sugar stabiliser
Or used as a juice, nettles regulate arterial pressure and relax blood vessels. For silky soft revitalised hair, try a nettle infusion or tincture. And if you’re i to cheese making, nettle is used as a vegetarian source of rennet.
Purslane or Pusley
In addition to its rich dietary fiber, anti oxidant, vitamin and mineral content (it also has one of the highest Vitamin A scores of 1320 IU/100 g of any green leafy vegetables), purslane is exceptional for its essential fatty acids- linoleic (LA) and alpha-linolenic acids (a-LNA).
100 grams of fresh purslane leaves provides about 300-400 mgs of a-LNA. Purslane also appears to be the only ‘weed’ reported to contain the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
As you know, foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids have a wide range of health benefits.
Also present in purslane are two types of betalain alkaloid pigments, the reddish beta-cyanins and the yellow beta-xanthins. Both of these pigment types are potent anti-oxidants and have been found to have anti-mutagenic properties in laboratory studies.
The medicinal and health benefits of purslane are well documented in literature and range from its calming properties for burns, trauma, headaches; stomach, intestinal and liver ailments, to an anti-inflammatory, a muscle relaxer, a purgative and diuretic.
So before you trample on these ‘pests’ or throw them on the compost heap in disgust, give a thought to how they may benefit you!
Please remember, as with any fresh produce, always check with an expert that they don’t contain any innate poisons. Or that they haven’t been sprayed with toxic chemicals. Ensure you thoroughly wash them first.
For some great recipes, see http://www.eatweeds.co.uk/