In the years I’ve been at the reception desk in the Kemper Center for Home Gardening, I have answered many gardening questions. The question that usually stumps me is ‘if it’s growing in my yard, why can’t I eat it?’ Of course, I did my research and found there are some plants growing in our yards that are edible.
First of all, if you can’t identify the plant or haven't used a reputable book or website to identify a plant - don't eat it! Many common weeds are be easily identified, but make sure you have identified a plant correctly. Sample a small amount of a plant new to you first before eating a lot of it. Avoid any plant the has an almond smell, milky sap, thorns or fine needles, beans, bulbs or seeds in a pod, dill, carrot, or parsley foliage as some poisonous plants have these qualities. Poison hemlock looks like parsley! Be sure you know the difference.
NOTE: Also, make sure that none of the plants you collect have been sprayed with anything. Don’t eat them even if you suspect it.
Following are a few common yard and lawn weeds that are easily identified and are edible:
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are edible, all the plant except the fluffy bits. Dandelion leaves are rich in vitamin A, C and K...a good source of calcium, potassium, iron and manganese. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and so can the flower buds, petals and roots. Eat the leaves when they are still young...mature leaves are bitter. Boil the mature leaves to get rid of the bitter taste then drink the water as a tea.
Clover (Trifolium repens) found in any grassy area is edible. Clover leaves are recognized by their three trefoil leaflets. It can be eaten raw but has a better flavor cooked.
Chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum) has white flowers around May. You can eat the leaves raw or boiled. Chickweed is very high in vitamins and minerals.
Plantain (Plantago major) has oval, ribbed, short-stemmed leaves that grow close to the ground. The leaves can grow up to 6” long and 4” wide. Better to eat young leaves...mature leaves are bitter. Plantain is very high in vitamin A and calcium and also contains vitamin C.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a small plant with smooth fat leaves. It is high in vitamins and minerals. It has a sour taste when eaten raw. Boiling the leaves makes the sour taste leave.
A good garden resource is our Advice, Tips and Resources page found in Gardening Help. It has detailed information on gardening problems, plant suggestions, helpful hints, and FAQ.
Debbie Kirkpatrick, Kemper Horticulture Assistant