How to Spot Edible Weeds

Could weeding be the bane of any gardener’s life? Maybe – but what if you could eat them? Yes, I know we’ve talked about edible flowers on Mr Plant Geek before, but edible weeds are also a thing!

Charlotte Petts is an organic gardener and all round biophile based in East Sussex. She pops up on the radio quite a lot, whether it be with her own monthly show Growing Wild or chatting about foraging with BBC Sussex and Surrey.  

Edible Weeds: Charlotte Petts
Charlotte Petts
Here, Charlotte lists her top five edible weeds…

Weeding is not a job I relish. If you can relate to this then behold!  I have great news.  Many of the so-called weeds we yank out in each gardening session are, in fact, edible, delicious and often highly nutritious.

Here are my top edible weeds for chomping, not composting – which once picked and eaten means you can be deemed not only a gardener, but a forager.

Sticky willy/cleavers/goosegrass (Galium aparine)

Edible Weeds: Goosegrass
Goosegrass

The many-named clingy plant.

The shape is akin to a chimney sweeps’ brush, reflective of the cleansing benefit it has for us on our lymphatic system.  When added to a nice, cold glass of water it tastes not unlike cucumber.

Young shoots, before the characteristic stickiness becomes too prevalent, are delicious plucked straight from the ground and into your gob.

Ground Ivy/Alehoof  (Glechoma hederacea)

Edible Weeds: Alehoof
Alehoof

The every herb.

Its aromatic hoof-shaped leaf tastes like a mixture of rosemary, sage, thyme and, being a member of the mint family, (unsurprisingly) a hint of mint.

Not so great uncooked but if dried and made into a herby rub, it’s truly delicious. Back before the days of the hop, it was used to clarify and flavour ale. Clever weed.

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

Edible Weeds: Stinging Nettles
Stinging Nettles

Ah, the nettle.

One of the most recognisable and nutritionally dense wild plants we have, packing in plenty of Vitamin A, C, K and lots of lovely iron too.  If you can get past the thrill of the sting (which disappears when heated), this plant is truly worth harvesting.  Throw aside the spinach and eat this instead.  Your body will thank you for it.

Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

Edible Weeds: Hairy Bittercress
Hairy Bittercress

Born of the cress family, this little fella pops up all over the place whether it be beds, planters, lawns or pots.

For such a small plant it packs quite the peppery punch and makes a great addition to most sandwiches.

Jack-by-the-hedge/Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Edible Weeds: Garlic Mustard
Garlic Mustard

This slightly oily leaf really does taste like both garlic and mustard in equal measures.

It’s pungent, peppy, full of nutrients and if left to flower, looks rather fetching in the garden.  It has made its way into my lunchbox on many occasions, no preparation required.

Foragers Disclaimer:  When ID’ing these plants, be sure to use of all your senses, including common. There aren’t many plants in the UK that will make you poorly (80% are in fact edible) but it can happen. Check out not only what the plant should look like, but also smell and feel like and thats it’s growing in the right place.  A great book to start you off is Roger Phillips’ ‘Wild Food – A Complete Guide for Foragers’. Enjoy!

Charlotte recently won the New Talent Award at the Garden Media Guild awards, an accolade that sits proudly alongside her Under 10s ten pin bowling trophy from the nineties. You can find her monthly show, Growing Wild, on iTunes, audioboom and Spotify. You can also find Charlotte on Instagram and Twitter.

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