Nasty or Nutritional? Edible Weeds That Support Your Health
By Doug Jaser, Nutritionist at Renaissance ClubSport Walnut Creek
Eating weeds is probably one of the last things on your mind. In fact, they are, by most accounts, undesirable. Consider this dreary definition: “A valueless plant growing wild.” But the dictionary isn’t always correct, and in this case, something we detest may actually be more precious to us than we think.
So why in the world would you eat weeds? Well, as a food category, edible weeds are vastly more nutritious than most other categories. A shortlist of common edible weeds include dandelion, watercress, wild garlic, purslane, burdock, red clover, nettles, and amaranth. Many have been used in the ancient healing tradition of herbalism to balance the body and restore health. In other words, these plants have so much nutrition in them that people took notice and over time began to use them medicinally.
Before you decide to get free groceries by ripping wild plants out of the ground and bringing them back to the kitchen, you should really know what you’re doing. The best option is to hunt for weeds at the grocery store. Dandelion, burdock, and watercress are commonly stocked in natural markets and even traditional grocery stores. Out of the three, dandelion and watercress are perhaps the easiest to find and hold up as bona fide nutritional superstars.
Dandelion leaves have a characteristic bitter flavor. That may not sound appealing, but it’s important to know that these bitter compounds aid in digestion and can assist with blood sugar regulation. In addition, dandelion is considered a liver tonic and can invigorate the organ. And on top of that, just one cup gets you 535 percent of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin K, 32 percent of vitamin C, and 10 percent of calcium. It’s also one of the highest known plant sources of vitamin A. These greens taste quite good sautéed with raisins and/or blueberries, which provide a sweet contrast to the bitter flavor.
Watercress is one of the most underappreciated foods. It has a slight peppery flavor, not unlike a more subdued and delicate arugula. Because it grows in marshy areas, it should be washed thoroughly. You can soak it in water with hydrogen peroxide (a tablespoon per quart) to remove impurities. It keeps well for 2-3 days and is best kept by being submerged in water and refrigerated.
Hippocrates, the famed ancient Greek physician, is said to have erected his first hospital near a stream growing watercress so that it would be available for his patients, as it contains over 15 essential vitamins and minerals, as well as cancer-protective phytonutrients such as isothiocyanates. Research done on watercress has shown that daily consumption can significantly reduce DNA damage to blood cells, reduce blood triglycerides, and lower incidence of cataracts and macular degeneration.
It’s also an extremely versatile ingredient in the kitchen. Add it to salads and smoothies, or blend it into soup. However you choose to consume it, watercress will powerfully upgrade the quality of any meal.
So there you have it. Maybe now you’ll reconsider the (nutritional) value of weeds and entertain the idea of them appearing at your dinner table on the regular.
Doug Jaser began Health and Lifestyle Coaching in 2011 and moved from Connecticut to Walnut Creek in 2014. Before joining ClubSport, Doug worked at Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy helping customers make the best nutrition and lifestyle choices.