Eating Weeds on the First Day of Spring

Little Bittercress thriving in my driveway

Don’t you just love it when you get a full, long day of gardening in?  Thank goodness for a break in the rain and daylight savings time.  As I type this my back is tight, but my mind is clear and my disposition cheery.  The poor garden has been neglected all winter and I have missed the fresh air and the meditative action of weeding.  It actually felt like the beginning of spring today.

A carpet of shotweed in well mulched soil

Some of today’s garden chores: un-staking trees planted last year, turning the compost, cutting back perennials and weeding.  The weeds are having a heyday, mostly grassy weeds, chickweed and shotweed, also known as little bittercress.  The wet, cold winter has been just to their liking.  Bittercress is coming up in my gravel driveway and everywhere in the garden.  A little sunshine this week has coaxed it into bloom and I was hoping to get to it all before it propels its seed all over.

Tiny shotweed flower

I moved about the beds with my kneeling pad, trowel and two tip bags—one for the bittercress without flowers and one for those with flowers and/or seed.  Tender and easily composted, it gets tossed into the bin if it’s flowerless.  At the end of the day, I turn the pile, making sure all the bittercress is buried.  It’s quite durable–rooting again if allowed.  This means that it’s not a candidate for hoeing—it simply re-roots and goes on its merry way shooting seeds with a force that is impressive; hence the name shotweed. 

The bittercress in my gravel driveway is subjected to leaner conditions and so is smaller and farther along in flowering and setting seed.  Most of what was growing in gravel went into the tip bag meant for the yard waste recycling.  The county facility is heated far hotter than my own, haphazardly tended compost pile.  In beds where the compost mulch is thick, the rosettes of shotweed are lush and large with tall flower stalks.  With all the nutrients, they have been putting out more foliage and delaying their flowering.  This is great news for me because it allows me more time to snag them and because the luxuriant foliage makes an excellent salad green.

I brought a small bowl of bittercress, with the fine, soil clogged roots pinched off indoors for a rinsing and spinning.  Little bittercress is in the mustard family and the flavor reminds me of arugula.  It is stronger tasting later in the season.  I added about a quarter cup of shotweed leaves to lettuce, carrots, red cabbage, pine nuts and garlic croutons and doused it with my favorite Goddess dressing.  Simple, but delicious. 

Naturally, if you are considering eating any weeds, you should exercise care—first to correctly identify what you are picking.  Then make sure whatever you are eating has not been exposed to herbicides, pesticides or pet waste.  Always try a small amount initially to make sure that it sits well with you—everyone is different.

For more weeds to eat, see: Edible Weeds by Bobbi Gustavson & Corrina Marote http://skagit.wsu.edu/mg/2008AA/022908.pdf 

© Colleen Miko, 2011

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About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is a freelance garden writer and speaker who regularly writes "The Perennial Bookworm" where she reviews garden and natural science books, as well as a regular contributor to "WestSound Home & Garden Magazine" on a variety of horticulture topics.
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2 Responses to Eating Weeds on the First Day of Spring

  1. If you need some meditative joys let me invite you to California for some more weeding! I like how you’re finding some edibles mixed in with the less useful weeds. The bittercress sounds delicious and your salad looks ready for a feature spread. I have some Japanese mustard greens that have self-sown for the last X years since I planted them and let them go to seed–very tasty, but way less invasive than some other mustard cousins.

    • Colleen Miko says:

      Apparently this is the season for eating weeds–my friend Tami brought me nettle brownies on Friday. She had harvested just the new shoots with first 3 sets of leaves from stinging nettle plants and blanched them for soup and for brownies. She told me nettles have more protein than many plants; the brownies were yummy.

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