(Wild) Edible Plants in Our Backyards

wild edible plants, fiddleheads

Fern fiddleheads are just one of the wild edible plants in Birmingham area yards. Photo by jdwfoto/Shutterstock

A sure sign of impending spring, the bright yellow flowers popping up overnight usually prompt the question ‘how do I get rid of them’? Well sure these and other “weeds” can be herbicided to death, but there are other options, one of which is to eat them!*

In fact, early spring offers the most prolific, accessible, most tender and tastiest wild edible plants, appearing in our landscapes at a time when fresh greens are most appreciated.

In addition to the aforementioned dandelions, we can safely consume healthy products from our lawns and landscapes, including them in soups, salads, and stir-fries. Fiddleheads (the furled fronds on young ferns) can be harvested as a vegetable; if left on the plant, each fiddlehead would unroll and become a new frond.

wild native edible plants

Fiddleheads before sauteing. Photo courtesy of Ellic Edelson

fiddleheads, wild edible plants

Fiddleheads after sautéing. Photo courtesy Ellic Edelson (who also consumed the fiddleheads)

Chickweed is another plant whose value as a wild edible is experiencing a re-birth as an ingredient in stir-fry, lightly sautéed and eaten as a side dish, or combined with other spring greens in a salad. The leaves are most commonly used but stems and flowers can be added to cooked dishes.

EdibleWildFood.com offers a recipe for Buttered Chickweed that is quite tasty but simple, combining chickweed, onion, butter, salt and pepper.

We despair of green patches of wild onion and garlic in our lawns when turf grass is still dormant. However, although the roots are small, they are edible as are the leaves. Leaves of wild onion are flat while garlic leaves are round and hollow. Use them as you would scallions or small onions. Make sure the plant has a definite garlicky or oniony smell as there are small lilies that are toxic but whose roots resemble wild garlic and onion.

If the idea of eating your weeds has appeal as a source of fresh nutritious greens and as an option to treating to control or kill them, you are part of an increasing number of people eating what they grow or what grows naturally in the yard.

“The Farm Stand: 11 Edible Weeds Found in Chattanooga”  is another site describing edibles and their nutrition levels.

Even Kudzu (dare we mention) is edible, fibers are used for basket-making, clothes, and paper; plus kudzu jelly tastes like apple or grape jelly depending on who you ask.

Mushrooms are not mentioned in this article due to the number of edible mushrooms that closely resemble toxic ones.

Sorrel, red clover, curly or yellow dock, plantain, and pokeweed are other edible options. In fact, pokeweed has been eaten as salad greens for many years but our ancestors knew what to harvest and how to prepare leaves and stems. Poke sallet (greens) still shows up in cans on shelves in a few grocery stores while the plant’s purple berries are consumed by birds.

Eating wild has been around for many years, we’ve forgotten how nutritious and available some of these food sources are, but renewed interest is emerging. Be adventurous but cautious, and take advice of those who have been there:

*Never eat any wild plant unless 100% sure it’s an edible species. Several plants look alike but only one variety is tasty enough or safe to eat. Herbicide treated plants should not be consumed, and all crops harvested from yard or garden should be thoroughly washed before preparing and eating.

By Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  Contact Sallie at leesall@aces.edu.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.  Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Alabama Extension

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities and answers home-gardeners' questions each week on Birmingham Gardening Today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *