By Violet Green
Have you been seeing dandelions and clovers popping up in your lawn or along the side of the street? Spring comes early here in San Diego and the tender green plants are everywhere you look. You might not know it, but these plants are good for you and delicious too. Now, you might be thinking, “Eat the weeds? What?” Until a few years ago, I would have said the exact same thing, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some local teachers share them with me and teach me a thing or two about eating these nutritious plants.
You can stroll through your yard munching on leaves from dandelions. While you’re there, take a minute to stop and blow the seed heads to scatter those little bundles of plant goodness so they continue to grow and bloom to help support our bee population. Maybe you’ve also got some sour grass (oxalis). Just look for the three heart-shaped “clover” leaves with yellow flowers. Grab some of that too and bring it inside to add a light lemony, sour kick to your salad.
Another “weed” to seek out is nettle, also known as “stinging nettle” or urtica dioica. It grows all over San Diego at this time of year. Its nutritional constituents include protein, calcium, magnesium, vitamins B, C, E, and K and others. You can add fresh nettle leaves to soup or an omelet, as you would spinach, or dry it and make a delicious, nutritious tea.
I recommend wearing gloves with long sleeves and pants while harvesting to keep the stinging to a minimum and using gloves even when pulling leaves off of the dried plant. The stinging is usually a mild irritant, although some people are more sensitive than others. There’s even a therapy called “urtication” where you intentionally sting yourself to increase blood flow to an inflamed area which actually reduces the inflammation. Some people have reported arthritis relief using this method.
To be sure you’ve correctly identified that plant you’re about to pick, use one of the many plant finder apps on your smartphone that can quickly confirm a plant’s identity from a photo. When harvesting “weeds” from private property remember to do so only with permission and be sure to ask about pesticide use. You’ll only want to pick leaves from plants that are protected from chemical exposure, including road side exhaust.
Enjoy your nibbles!