In our search for more healthy, affordable and sustainable greens in our everyday meals, we should consider taking a second look at our weeds. After all, weeds are a little gift from nature’s garden that lie literally right under our feet. You can DIY without even needing to plant, water, fertilize, spray, or prune.
The only thing that holds us back from tapping in to this local food is our modern prejudices about what is food and what is a weed.
Why does good food have to come in a package or with a label? Why do sought after ingredients have to equate with ones that are rare and therefore expensive?
I have been lucky to be able to work with some of the top chefs in this country who strive to find exquisite flavors from local, small-scale produced ingredients. And the result of this project with Chef Eddy Leroux at Restaurant Daniel in New York City has been weed know-how - which weeds taste good. And even more, just as we wouldn’t bake a cantaloupe or eat green peaches, when is the peak season for harvesting, which parts to eat and how to prepare them (cooked, raw, stir fried, etc.)
Our cookbook Foraged Flavor is about turning wild “weeds” from edible in to delicious. Many of these weeds in fact came from other countries, such as
Europe or Asia where they are culinary delicacies.
One example is gallant soldiers or galinsoga, one of the most dominant agricultural weeds in the country. I first found this plant as I was foraging in between the vegetable rows of my neighboring Comeback Farm. I couldn’t help but notice the tender young plants, already spreading out like a battalion over and above the inch high parsleys. And my farmer friend’s eyes lit up when I started taking away some of these weeds, after which I started to notice them in my neighbors’ vegetable gardens and even in the planters by the subway terminal.
Galinsoga is originally from Central and South America. It is known as guascas and is the highlight of the Columbian national Christmas dish where it is enjoyed in a chicken soup with sides of pickles, corn and avocado or as a cooked vegetable. Chefs here love it - tender and young as a wild cooked vegetable with a mild taste with a flavor profile slightly of kale or sunchokes.
Weed know-how is just a matter of connecting the dots, not eccentric dieting or man vs. wild survival food. Taking care to leave to nature the fallow spaces in our backyards, farmers’ fields, and community gardens and to start to notice and cook with the edible weeds that grow - there is really good risk management. Our neighbors came over to enjoy our weeds when we all lost power for a week last year and when blight killed their entire tomato crop, but left the purslane.
Tama is a professional forager and was awarded the New Jersey Forest Stewardship Award for her work with plants on her property. She is the author of Foraged Flavor, a wild plant guide and cookbook, co-written with chef Eddy Leroux of Restaurant Daniel NYC. Her weed work has been profiled in the NYTimes and CBS Sunday Morning News, among others.