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March 28th is Weed Appreciation Day! No no…not “the wacky weed,” but weeds. You know, the things that annoy gardeners everywhere? Yup – THOSE. Why? Did you know that some weeds are actually beneficial to us and our ecosystem? It’s true!

Remember the dandelions you had fun with as a small child? Well, these bright yellow flowers serve a purpose. While humans eat young dandelion leaves and enjoy tea and wine made from the leaves and flower, dandelions are a food source for insects and some birds. The Native Americans used dandelions to treat certain ailments. Nutritionally, dandelions contain a source of vitamin A and C, calcium, iron and fiber. But there are others:

  • Lamb’s Quarter (aka goosefoot): The leaves are excellent added to lettuce salads or cooked and used as a replacement for spinach. The seeds are also edible. They are a good source of protein and vitamin A.
  • Amaranth (aka pigweed): Pigweed is cultivated and consumed as a leaf vegetable in many parts of the world. The leaves can be cooked, and its seeds can be harvested and cooked just like quinoa. The root of mature plants is used as a vegetable (usually cooked with tomatoes or tamarind gravy). It’s high in vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, K, B6, calcium and iron, and the seeds are a good source of protein.
  • Purslane: Sometimes eaten as a leaf vegetable in other parts of the world (generally as a salad, stir-fried or cooked as spinach is), it’s considered a weed in the United States. It’s an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and is high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Dollarweed (aka pennywort): This aquatic plant thrives in a wet, sandy habitat. It is native to North America and parts of South America. It can also be found growing as introduced species and sometimes a noxious weed on other continents. It is an edible weed that can be used in salads.

Of course, before using ANY weed as a food source, make sure it is correctly identified and that it’s free of herbicides and pesticides. Research the safe edible part of each weed and find useful cooking and preparation tips.

The dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is an abundant “weed” plant that also happens to be edible. In fact, nearly the entire plant can be consumed in one way or another. The only inedible part is the stem, which contains a very bitter, milky substance

What is the healthiest way to eat dandelion?

Try tossing some fresh, washed leaves into a salad. To take the edge off the bitterness, you can also cook them. Soak the leaves in cold, salted water for 10 or 15 minutes, then cook them in boiling water until tender (no more than five minutes)

Bon Appetite

Some dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) flowers  in the foreground on a background of more flowers in a meadow.

Photo: Getty Images

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