Even if you don’t have a garden, your yard is probably full of wild edible weeds. Learn how to ID and use them in recipes to enjoy nutrient-rich, flavorful foods growing right outside your door.
What is a weed?
Perhaps the simplest definition of a weed is a plant growing in a place where a human doesn’t want it.
Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “A weed is just a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
In practical terms, weeds are often non-grass species of plants growing in a lawn where grass is the only plant desired. What a shame!
Personally, we retract in horror when we see an all-grass lawn. Why?
We think grass lawns are one of the most absurd, ecologically rapacious landscape designs imaginable. Rather than use space in this article ranting about all-grass lawns, you can read our musings on this subject here: The new American lawn: monoculture grass farm or organic food farm.
Are weeds edible?
Many common weeds are edible. Other weeds are edible (and maybe even medicinal) but they don’t taste good. Still other weeds are poisonous.
Thus, learning is required before you start eating wild plants…
Before you become a weed eater (ha), a few warnings:
We strongly encourage you to read our article Beginner’s guide to foraging, 12 rules to follow. Perhaps the two most important rules to follow when it comes to eating weeds is:
- Always make 100% certain you’ve correctly ID’d the plant and you’re 100% certain it’s edible.
- Be 100% certain that the plant has not been sprayed by herbicides or other biocides.
Not all edible weeds are worth eating
In this article, we’re not going to outline all the edible plants that you’re likely to find in your yard. For instance, you can technically eat grass and clover, but they’re not very tasty. You can make and eat acorn flour, but oak trees aren’t a “weed.”
Instead, we’ll do our best to identify a list of the most common and useful edible weeds that you’re likely to have growing in your yard at some point during the year.
16 common edible weeds growing in your yard
The common edible weeds below are listed alphabetically:
Edible weed #1. Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
Bittercress edible parts/uses:
The leaves, flowers, and seeds of bittercress are all edible.
Bittercress is a dainty, cold weather plant that tastes like a mustard green (it’s in the same plant family as mustard). We often use it as a garnish or in mixed green winter salads.
Bittercress is common in warm-mild states throughout the US. Bittercress is absent only in the coldest, northernmost states.
Bittercress harvest/growing season:
Bittercress grows from fall-spring, going to seed as soon as the weather warms in the spring.
Edible weed #2. Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed edible parts/uses:
The leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds of chickweed plants are edible. (See: How to identify and eat chickweed.)
Chickweed leaves taste like corn silk. Chickweed is one of our favorite edible weeds, because: 1) our ducks enjoy it even more than we do, 2) it grows in dense, lush patches which makes harvesting large quantities of chickweed easy.
- chickweed radish salad
- chickweed pesto
- chickweed wine (yes, we actually made a darn good chickweed wine!)
Chickweed grows in every US state.
Chickweed harvest/growing season:
Chickweed thrives in cool-cold weather. It grows from fall – spring in our area (Zone 7b), seeding out and dying as the weather warms in late spring.
Edible weed #3. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale and Taraxacum erythrospermum)
Dandelion edible parts/uses:
Every part of the dandelion plant is edible: leaves, flowers, and roots.
- Leaves – Dandelion is a nutritional powerhouse, but many people object to its bitter-flavored leaves. For best taste, pick the leaves when the plant is still young and before it begins producing flowers. Rather than eating an entire dish of dandelion leaves, use them as an accent. For instance, add them to a soup. Or use the leaves in a mixed green salad with a honey-vinaigrette dressing.
- Flowers – Dandelion flowers are used to make wines and jellies.
- Roots – Dandelion roots are typically used to make a tea, due to its medicinal benefits.
- Dandelion bud capers (we’re dying to making this)
- Dandelion green salad
- Dandelion flower wine (tons of great dandelion wine recipes here!)
- Dandelion root tea
Dandelion grows in every US state.
Dandelion harvest/growing season:
Dandelion greens/leaves are best harvested in late winter-early spring before the plant blooms. Flowers are harvested spring – summer. Roots can be harvested any time.
Edible weed #4. Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum)
Dead-nettle edible parts/uses:
The leaves, stems, and flowers of purple dead-nettle plants are edible.
Dead-nettle leaves and flowers have a grassy, slightly mushroomy taste, although the flowers’ nectaries add a bit of sweet. Use dead-nettle in mixed-green salads or in dishes that call for cooked greens.
Dead-nettle grows in all but a handful of US states. (Only the driest hottest southwestern and the driest coldest northwestern states are absent of dead-nettle.)
Dead-nettle harvest/growing season:
Dead-nettle is a cool weather plant that emerges and blooms as soon as the ground thaws in late winter through early spring. It’s a great source of food for early-emerging pollinators as well.
Edible weed #5. Dock (Rumex crispus – curly dock and Rumex obtusifolius – broad-leaved dock)
Dock edible parts/uses:
The leaves of dock plants are edible.
Though dock’s large taproots look like they’d be edible, they’re unpleasantly bitter and fibrous. The roots are used medicinally, but not for culinary purposes.
In our area, dock can grow into an enormous plant. Above ground leaves stretch to 2′ tall and parsnip-like tap roots grow over 3′ deep, especially when growing in rich soil.
Dock can be found in nearly every US state.
Dock harvest/growing season:
Dock is best harvested in cool/cold weather. The leaves have a mild, tangy-spinach flavor when the weather is still cold. As the weather warms and the plant begins growing quickly/producing a flower stalk, the leaves become more bitter and fibrous.
Edible weed #6. Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)
Henbit leaves, stems, and flowers are edible. Henbit is in the mint family, but doesn’t taste at all like mint. It’s closely related to dead-nettle (#4 on this list).
Henbit offers a similar taste to dead-nettle: grassy and mushroomy. In other areas of the country, people describe henbit’s flavor as having notes of celery and pepper. Perhaps our henbit’s flavor is different due to our particular subspecies or terroir.
- substitute henbit in dead-nettle recipes from #4 on this list
- add henbit leaves and flowers to mixed green salads
Henbit grows in every US state.
Henbit is one of the earliest plants to flower in late winter – early spring, depending on where you live. For us, henbit is at peak from February – March, and gone by April.
Edible weed #7. Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
Japanese honeysuckle edible parts/uses:
The flowers are the only edible part of Japanese honeysuckle plants. Honeysuckle nectar tastes every bit as good as the flowers smell.
Hopefully, you have childhood memories of slurping drops of nectar off of the pulled stamens of honeysuckle flowers. If not, you should be angry at your parents for making you miss out on this essential childhood rite.
We’ve got good news: as an adult, you can now easily capture the exquisite flavor of honeysuckle with our honeysuckle flower cordial recipe below.
Recipe: Sparkling honeysuckle cordial
- Honeysuckle flowers, organic cane sugar, water (preferably non-chlorinated), citric acid (or lemon juice)
- Gather a bunch of honeysuckle flowers, doing your best to keep the whole flower intact.
- Measure the quantity of lightly packed honeysuckle flowers (for instance 1 cup), then place flowers in glass jar/container.
- For each cup of honeysuckle flowers, add 1 cup sugar, 3 cups water, and 1 teaspoon citric acid. (Substitute a couple tablespoons lemon juice if you don’t have citric acid.)
- Cover the jar with a paper towel or cheese cloth, held in place with a rubber band or string.
- Vigorously stir the concoction at least twice per day with a spoon.
- After 5-7 days, the mixture will be bubbly/effervescent and the flowers will have released all their honeysuckle flavor. Strain off flowers.
- It’s now up to you as to when to stop the fermentation process. For a sweeter honeysuckle cordial, store in bottles in fridge immediately after straining. For a “dryer” (less sweet) honeysuckle cordial, continue to stir daily for up to 10-14 days so more of the sugar will be consumed.
- Once bottled and refrigerated, honeysuckle cordial can last for up to 1 year. Don’t store bottles out of the fridge or the bottles can explode (refrigeration keeps the cultures dormant which reduces CO2 production).
Japanese honeysuckle range:
Japanese honeysuckle is considered an invasive plant. It has now spread to all US states with the exception of some states in the northwest and midwest.
Japanese honeysuckle harvest/growing season:
Harvest honeysuckle flowers from spring through summer. Due to the plant’s invasive growth habit, consider removing honeysuckle from your yard to prevent its spread and forage the flowers elsewhere.
Edible weed #8. Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album and Chenopodium berlandieri)
Lamb’s quarters edible parts/uses:
All parts of the lamb’s quarter are edible: leaves, seeds, and flower shoots.
Closely related to quinoa, lamb’s quarters were one of the most important Native American crops. They’re highly nutrient-rich, offer flavorful greens in the middle of the summer when most leafy greens have long since disappeared, and produce a protein-rich seed/pseudocereal harvest as well.
Lamb’s quarter leaves taste like nutty spinach. Another great feature is the plant’s size: we’ve had lamb’s quarters plants grow over 6′ tall!
Lamb’s quarters recipes:
- use lamb’s quarters leaves as a substitute in any spinach recipe
- lamb’s quarters gratin
Lamb’s quarters range:
Lamb’s quarters grow in every US state except for Hawaii.
Lamb’s quarters harvest/growing season:
Lamb’s quarters grow in the warm months from spring – summer, before going to seed in late summer/early fall. Place a bag over the mature wind-pollinated seed heads if you want to harvest their seeds.
Edible weed #9. Pigweed Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.)
Pigweed amaranth edible parts/uses:
All parts of pigweed amaranth are edible: leaves, flower shoots, and seeds.
It seems only fitting that pigweed amaranth be next on the edible weed list after lamb’s quarters. Both plants are in the Amaranthaceae family, both were important Native American crops, and both are hated by modern US farmers.
In fact, farmers’ and pesticide companies’ attempts to eradicate pigweed has taken quite an environmental and economic toll. After decades of chemical and biological warfare, pigweed is now resistant to virtually every type and combination of herbicide that has been thrown at it, from dicamba to glyphosate to 2,4-D.
While we certainly empathize with farmers trying to make a profit, one has to scratch their heads at the wisdom of poisoning entire ecosystems in order to kill a traditional food crop that develops resistance to whatever poison you throw at it in order to plant a different food crop (or cotton).
In your home landscape, we’d encourage you to eat your pigweed amaranth weeds, rather than poisoning them (and yourself).
Pigweed amaranth recipes:
- use young tender pigweed leaves as a salad green
- use older pigweed leaves as substitute for spinach in cooked/baked recipes
- pigweed tacos
Pigweed amaranth range:
There are dozens of species of pigweed amaranth, varying by region. Pigweed can be found in every US state.
Pigweed amaranth harvest/growing season:
Like lamb’s quarters, pigweed is a warm weather crop. Raw leaves are best eaten young and tender; older leaves are better cooked. Pigweed flower shoots can be sautéed or stir-fried. Pigweed seeds can be harvested by either cutting entire plant and hanging it upside down over a bucket or placing bags over the mature seed heads.
Edible weed #10. Plantain (Plantago spp.)
Plantain edible parts/uses:
Plantain produces edible leaves and flower/seed heads. The leaves have a strong “greens” flavor and are best eaten young. The flower/seed heads have a pleasant mushroom-like flavor and should be eaten when they’re young for best flavor and texture.
The most common wild plantains are narrowleaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and broadleaf plantain (Plantago major). Both produce edible leaves and flower/seed heads. Both species grow wild in our yard.
The best plantain for culinary purposes is ‘Buck’s horn’ (Plantago coronopus), which we also grow in our garden.
Another great benefit of plantains: nothing works better to dull the pain of a fire ant or bee sting (at least for The Tyrant and me). We chew up a plantain leaf and plop it on the sting. The pain subsides almost instantly.
Plantain (Plantago spp) can be found in every US state.
Plantain harvest/growing season:
Plantain offers the best flavor in cool – cold weather from fall through spring. Our wild plantain usually dies back to the ground after heavy freezes, then re-emerges in the spring. Our domesticated ‘buckshorn’ plantain grows straight through our relatively mild winters, even without cover/low tunnels.
Seed shoots emerge as the weather warms in late winter through spring, and should be harvested while still firm and dense.
Edible weed #11. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Purslane edible parts/uses:
The leaves, flowers, and seeds of purslane are edible. Purslane doesn’t pack a ton of flavor, but the flavor is mild and pleasant, not unlike lettuce. Purslane is a succulent, so it adds wonderful texture to various raw dishes (our favorite way to eat purslane is raw).
Like grass-fed beef and eggs from truly free-range ducks/chickens, purslane packs a lot of omega-3 fatty acids. Purslane is also very high in Vitamins E and C.
Chickens purportedly love purslane. Our ducks, unfortunately, don’t seem to care for it. More for us.
Purslane can be found in every US state.
Purslane harvest/growing season:
Purslane thrives in poor soil. One of the unfortunate side effects of building our soil health over the years is that many edible weeds that grow in poor/degraded soil (like purslane) no longer grow in our yard, so we have to forage them.
Purslane seeds germinate in the spring and the leaves and flowers can be harvested vigorously throughout the summer.
Edible weed #12. Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
Sheep sorrel edible parts/uses:
Sheep sorrel leaves, stems, and flower shoots are edible. Sheep sorrel tastes like lemons and can even be used to make “lemon pies.” When I was a kid, I loved chewing on the young flower stems of sheep sorrel, which also impart a nice lemony flavor.
Like many other edible plants, sheep sorrel has high concentrations of oxalic acid, so people with kidney conditions should avoid eating large quantities of it at once.
As you may have noticed from its scientific name, sheep sorrel is closely related to dock (#5 on this edible weeds list) in the Rumex genus. We love sheep sorrel (and related garden sorrel) so much, that we have another article all about how to grow and use sorrel.
Sheep sorrel recipes:
Sheep sorrel range:
Sheep sorrel grows in every US state.
Sheep sorrel harvest/growing season:
Sheep sorrel goes dormant in the winter and bounces to life in the spring, spreading rapidly via underground runners and seeds. The leaves are best harvested in the late winter – spring before the plants produce flower stalks.
Sheep sorrel stems are best eaten when they’re still young and tender and can be pinched off with your fingernails. Older stems are more fibrous and can’t easily be snapped off by hand – at this stage they’re not very good for eating.
Edible weed #13. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettle edible parts/uses:
The young leaves and growth shoots of stinging nettle are edible.
Stinging nettle is the bane of many hikers and outdoor enthusiasts’ existence. Yes, it packs a painful sting, but it’s also a delicious high protein superfood that’s loaded with nutrition.
Once cooked or fermented, stinging nettle loses its stinging ability and becomes a delicious vegetable. Pulverizing raw stinging nettle in a blender with citrus juice also neutralizes the sting (even without cooking it).
We love stinging nettle so much, we intentionally planted this fast-growing “weed” into a section of our garden where it can’t easily escape. Read: Why and how to grow stinging nettle in your garden.
Stinging nettle recipes:
- Raw stinging nettle soup
- Stinging nettle pesto with green garlic
- Stinging nettle quiche
- Stinging nettle frittata
- Stinging nettle tea: pour boiling hot water over 1 cup of chopped, freshly picked or dried stinging nettle leaves. Let steep for 10 minutes. Strain, add honey and/or lemon juice to taste, then serve.
Stinging nettle range:
Stinging nettle can be found in every state except for Hawaii.
Stinging nettle harvest/growing season:
Stinging nettle is one of the first plants to break dormancy once the ground thaws in winter/spring. You can harvest stinging nettle aggressively from the time it emerges until warm weather triggers the plant to go to seed.
Tender young leaves and growth tips (including tender new stems) are best.
Edible weed #14. Thistle (Cirsium horridulum and others)
Thistle edible parts/uses:
The roots, leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds of most thistle species are edible.
There are dozens of species of thistle, but farmers and ranchers tend to hate them all. Most homeowners with manicured lawns hate thistle too.
Did you know that artichokes (bred for their edible flower buds) and cardoons (bred for their edible stems) are types of thistle? Or that seeds from the milk thistle plant make a delicious tea that has been used to treat liver conditions?
A veterinary pharmacist we met told us, “I’ve seen animals on the brink of total liver failure come back after addition of supportive therapy and milk thistle.” Silymarin is the primary flavonoid in milk thistle seeds believed to offer medicinal benefits.
While some thistle species are better than others for eating, chances are the thistle growing in your yard has multiple edible parts — and potentially even medicinal benefits. Another thistle benefit: there are about 60 species native to the US and pollinators LOVE their gorgeous, nectar and pollen-rich flowers.
- Milk thistle seed tea: grind ~1 tablespoon of milk thistle seeds; let powdered seeds steep in near-boiling water for 5-10 minutes; strain, sweeten and serve.
- Thistle soup
- Recipes for other parts of the milk thistle plant can be found here
There are species of thistle found in every US state.
Thistle harvest/growing season:
Thistle emerges from seed as soon as the ground thaws and produces tall flower stalks with gorgeous showy pink flowers from spring – summer. Thistle plants are very spiny, so wear thick gloves when harvesting or processing the plant.
- Thistle roots can be dug and roasted.
- The midrib of younger thistle leaves is best; compost the spiny outer edges.
- Thistle flowers make great sun teas and ferments.
- The centers of young thistle stems taste like cardoons.
- Thistle seeds are ground and made into delicious teas that taste creamy and nutty.
Edible weed #15. Wild garlic (Allium vineale)
Wild garlic edible parts/uses:
The bulbs, leaves, bulbils, and flowers of wild garlic are edible.
Wild garlic grows prolifically in the southeastern US where we live. It looks similar to wild onion, aka Canada onion (Allium canadense) which also grows in most of the US. Not surprisingly, wild garlic tastes more like garlic whereas wild onions taste more like… (you guessed it) onions.
We like pickled wild garlic bulbs and pickled wild garlic bulbils (the bulbils make an exotic and beautiful garnish). Wild garlic also makes an excellent addition to soups, stocks, stews, and other savory cooked dishes.
Wild garlic recipes:
- Pickled wild garlic – Dig or pull wild garlic bulbs. Clean thoroughly and remove roots. Place in jar with your favorite brine recipe, then refrigerate. Let sit for at least one month before eating for best flavor/texture.
- Wild garlic gnudi (gnocchi-like dumplings)
- Chop and add wild garlic bulbs and leaves with any wild mushrooms (like morels – yum!)
Wild garlic range:
Wild garlic grows in the eastern and western US. There’s a band of states in the middle of the country, from the Dakotas down to Texas, where wild garlic is seldom if ever found.
Wild garlic harvest/growing season:
Wild garlic grows year round in our area. The bulbs are best dug in either late winter (before the plant has started putting energy into leaf growth) or fall (after a full growing season). The leaves can be eaten any time. Wild garlic bulbils/flowers can be harvested in spring.
Edible weed #16. Wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.)
Wood sorrel edible parts/uses:
The leaves and flowers of wood sorrel are edible.
Wood sorrel looks very similar to clover. It shares a common name with sheep sorrel and garden sorrel, and it even has the same lemony flavor. However, wood sorrel is not closely related to either of these plants.
There are innumerable species of wood sorrel in our bioregion alone, and they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. We see wood sorrel with multicolored leaves. We see it with pink leaves and yellow leaves; small, dainty plant habits and mounding plant habits.
Regardless of how it grows, it makes a Vitamin-C packed edible plant with a distinctly citrusy flavor. It’s also a stunningly beautiful garnish that gourmet chefs should pay more attention to.
Wood sorrel recipes:
- wood sorrel and sweet onion tart
- add wood sorrel leaves and flowers to mixed green salads
- wood sorrel, potato, egg salad
Wood sorrel range:
Wood sorrel grows in every US state.
Wood sorrel harvest/growing season:
Wood sorrel is dormant in the winter, but abundant in all other seasons.
Foraging books and more weed recipes
Want to take your foraging and weed-eating game to the next level? Get loads of great recipes and wild ideas about how to eat wild food?
Here are a few great books we recommend you add to your collection:
- Ugly Little Greens by Mia Wasilevich;
- The Wildcrafting Brewer by Pascal Baudar;
- Acorns & Cattails by Rob Connoley
- Forage, Harvest, Feast by Marie Viljoen
Lastly, we hope our list of 16 edible weeds will have you looking at your yard the same way you look at a produce section in the grocery store.
Even if you’re not an intentional gardener, chances are your yard is full of wild edible plants — assuming you don’t treat your landscape like a chemical warfare battlefield. Once you learn to identify your edible weeds, you’ll be able to incorporate loads of new veggies into your seasonal diet!
We hope you enjoy being a weed eater! Also be sure to check out the video summary of this article via our edible weeds Google web story!
Get deeper into the weeds with these related articles from Tyrant Farms:
- Beginner’s guide to foraging: 12 rules to follow
- 7 DIY organic lawn care tips you can start using today
- How to find, ID, and use chickweed, our favorite edible weed
- Edible wisteria flowers, and how to use them
or check out all of our foraging articles.