edible wild plants, science, Wildcrafting

Wild, Safe, non-Organic Greens

So I hang out in several online groups intended to help people learn to identify plants. Some of those are tilted toward identification and determination of edibility. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time lurking (and occasionally offering an ID) it’s that people ought to be dead, a lot. Misidentification of wild edible plants is rampant. And, mind you, most of the time it’s only going to give you a bellyache, or worst case, make you wish you were dead while your body evacuated the unwanted substance with all speed. But there are some plants that should not go in the mouth, on the skin, or (dear ghu, people, do you have to get high on everything and anything?) in the lungs.

However, that being said, the thing that made me facepalm in the last little while was the cautionary addendum someone made when talking about eating backyard weeds ‘did you use pesticides or fertilizers? It might not be safe to eat!’

Lady, not everything natural is safe and nutritious. Good on you for realizing that much. However, not everything organic is instantly safer and more nutritious than the green stuff you can pick in your own yard. Being available swaddled in Organic stickers at the high-dollar supermarket does nothing other than make your pocketbook slimmer. So yes, eat the dang weeds from your yard. Even if you did happen to use fertilizer and pesticides. Because if you used those according to the directions, and you wash what you pick, it’s fine. Really.

Check out this study of urban weeds, some growing in heavily contaminated soils, which were found to be perfectly safe when washed with tap water. Your yard, I can almost guarantee, is cleaner than San Francisco is. Organic growers also use pesticides and fertilizer, and you should wash that expensive produce, too, because a lot of what they use is likely to be more harmful than the ‘non-organic’ synthetic chemicals traditional farming relies on. Organic farms use animal manure for fertilizer, and if they do so improperly, fecal bacteria is going to be on your produce – even if they use it properly, your contamination risk is higher than with conventional growing methods. Improper fertilizer and pesticide use is always a problem, in any method. But nothing about ‘organic’ makes it safer than conventional modes. As for the presence of Salmonella and E. coli on your organic produce? Well, if you feel better spending the extra money, just make sure you wash it and practice sanitary handling habits. Just like you would if you picked weeds in your yard to eat.

Moving past the superficial, this study on the urban weeds also provided some data I had been looking for. The nutritional value of weeds, versus the currently faddishly popular Kale. Want iron? Dandelion and Oxalis (wood sorrel) make Kale look like a piker. Trying to up your protein intake? Consider Mallow, or Dock. Keep in mind with Dock, however, that it’s Vit. A content is sky-high, and it is possible to overdose on Vit. A, so don’t consume it often. Looking to build bone structure with more dietary calcium? Nasturtium and Mallow are the weeds you want (and both have pretty flowers, so they are worth working into your edible landscaping).

As for me, I use a combination of organic and conventional growing methods. There’s something to be said for free horse manure, no matter the possible microbial load. And you really, really ought to age it for at least a year, or you will have weeds like nobody’s business when you spread it on your garden. It’s also convenient when you want to control weeds over a large area to use pesticides: and use according to the labeled directions is perfectly safe, no matter the chemophobic hysteria of the media.

So eat your weeds!

17 thoughts on “Wild, Safe, non-Organic Greens

  1. By report, Kale is very godo at concentrating iron. However, it is also by report really good at concentrting cadmium, arsenic, lead, and other fine heavy metals. If you are in Massachusetts and your dirt is fill, you might want to worry about this issue.

    In other bright news, my strawberry bush from last year appears to have survived the winter and is coming up. Perhaps this year I will double my yield and get two strawberries out of it.

      1. If memory serves, the people who got in trouble from too many leafy greens were the ones eating two pounds a day, and got selenium toxicity. So not the plant’s fault if it “fixed” metals, but the people’s fault for eating, drinking, and (who knows—mainlining?) way too much of it.

  2. The organic label is being taken to silly places. I recently saw some New Hampshire maple syrup labeled ‘organic’. Never knew there was another kind.

    1. Technically if you fertilized your maples it could lose organic certifications. I don’t know if any sugar bush that would do it, but ok?

      The FDA is making moves toward limiting gratuitous labels of GMO and organic, which I am very glad to see them doing!

  3. Nice article. I liked your mention of the misidentification of edible plants. A few years ago I used to watch some of the TV shows about preppers. Some episodes contained good info. Some were rather entertaining. Some made me LMAO. One episode that stuck in my head featured a so called edible plant expert. While walking along the road with the host he stopped and pointed out a plant and said that it was a dandelion and ate a couple leaves and some blossoms. It wasn’t a dandelion, it was prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola). While they are in the same family and both are edible I’ve never seen a 4 ft tall dandelion with multiple flower heads on the same main stem. I almost hoped that he found some Canada Moonseed thinking that they were wild grapes. No, not really. I would never wish him any ill, but I can see Darwin’s ghost walking along side him taking notes………..

    1. I was out with my field botany class and a kid stopped and pointed. ‘A wild strawberry!’ My professor replied ‘yes it is, you can eat it.’

      It wasn’t a wild strawberry. It wasn’t poisonous, but still, False Strawberry is not a wild strawberry, and we were totally out of season for strawberries (this was early October). Even experts can lead you astray. I teach to use multiple sources on edibility before starting to forage.

  4. AFAIK, there are no wild strawberries in Ohio; it is all false strawberries. And really, you could eat a pound of false strawberries without getting any taste or food value, as far as I can tell. Bah. They are pretty, though they will try to take over your garden.

    Sorrel is delicious – a little peppery.

    1. Not true. I remember a whole hillside covered with wild strawberries at Boy Scout camp in SW Ohio. It took an hour of picking to get a cup of strawberries, but the flavor was strong and sweet.

  5. First came plants. Then came animals. Animals have fight or flight. Plants can’t flee. So they chemically fight. Find something that kills animals, and as a species of plant, you increase your odds of survival.

  6. I haven’t eaten ‘wild’ greens since my mother died years ago. She was very good at knowing all the good ones in our local area. I just loved a salad of ‘wilted’ wild greens, whatever she had found that day. I miss it. She even paid her doctor bills with greens. He refused to take money from her, only bags of greens. That was in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He said he loved them and didn’t have the time or expertise to harvest them himself.

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