What's the best way to get rid of weeds? Eat them, of course! And we are hitting prime dandelion season, so it's time to get digging. And roasting. And sauteing.
While weeding the older dandelions out of the yard which are ready to bloom right away (continuing to spruce up the area after a tenant's prior neglect), I filled a 5gal tub with some decent sized taprooted dandies and nice tender young ones for their leaves. Naturally I needed to pluck out the pristine ones for cleaning and eating later.
Continuing with spring-cleaning, I revamped some patio pots and found a nice salsify plant that was hidden among strawberries. Those also have edible long taproots like a white wild carrot and are very invasive around our open disturbed areas in the PNW, so I was very willing to eat this little hidden naughty gem as it was just starting to leaf out for spring.
Not to be outdone, a sort of mystery plant I was eyeing last year turned to not be the toxic foxglove, which looks pretty similar but this plant growing back for a second year was a dead give-away since foxglove are annuals. But it also was not the balsamroot prairie sunflower (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) I was hoping for. Some seeds of those definitely snuck into shoes and pockets, etc. from working out on the prairies and even helping the seed farm harvest their balsamroot seeds, so of course I tossed them in a patio pot. But as it got bigger it was clearly not the sunflower. One conclusion- this large-leaf youngin' is a burdock! And burdock root is a tasty vegetable in Asian countries! That also has very VERY sneaky seeds but really not sure how it got into a patio pot. Mystery... It's not as fun as being a native balsamroot with its lovely and aromatic (tootsie roll) sunflower but it was still a win to forage a weed out of a pot. I've been looking for a chance to dig a big one up that's growing unwanted. I shall eat my own weeds!
A little weeding (actually a lot, but that was only 1/2 the yard) plus some patio-pot renewing and I have a plethora of tasty wild roots to sample. Next- all the cleaning and such to get the weeds ready to eat. Pop in a movie and scrub away...
Dandelions (Taraxacum offinale)
Native to Eurasia but very common weed all over the world. This plant is a great starter for foraging. Very identifiable and most people have seen them in their own yards or parks and can at least recognized them in flower. Nothing similar to them would be harmful if misidentified and bonus- every part of the plant is edible. Plus pretty good for ya. It's got the classic slight bitterness of a lot of wild edibles like mustards. A little bitter means it's better for ya. Super bitter can mean spit that out, it's bad for ya!
Named for their deeply lobed long leaves (see small on in pancake above) with slight curves usually, like a lion's teeth (I guess, if you were French- "dente de lion"). While the whole plant is edible (well except the seeds), the sap from the stem (you'll see a ring of white exuding from the hollow stem) can cause some skin irritation from it's latex components and taraxinic acid. Usually it's the flowers/buds, young leaves (older are very bitter), and roots that folks eat. The roasted roots can also be used as a coffee stand-in and I like to add a bit to my own coffee grounds for a more nutty flavor and health boost. The roots can help boost your immune system as I've seen when I drink it with tea plus honey when I feel a sore throat coming on from over working myself.
Salify (Tragopogon dubius and T. porrifolius) aka- goat's beard, yellow salsify/purple salsify.
Native to Europe and western Asia, can be highly invasive and a bit noxious even in sunny disturbed areas and is all over the US and into Canada. Like a giant and juicy-grass-leaved dandelion, salsify makes seeds with a dry cypsela much like the dry achene (the hairs on top of the seed that catch the wind) of a dandelion. What IS the difference?? Well, just that an achene is from 1 carpel of the fertilized flower's superior ovary (meaning above) while a cypsela is from 2 carpels from inferior ovaries (meaning below). Too much botanizing??
With that dispersal method, the seeds get around and that's why you can find them in any sunny unkempt landscape (well, that's down wind of an older population). It is generally a biennial but can also act like an annual or even a perennial, so who knows with these goats. The flowers are also like a giant flatter dandelion bloom, and yellow (for T. dubius). The species I had is a more ornamental one (still fairly invasive) with a pretty purple bloom- T. porrifolius. Their flowers do have a distinct feature of very long narrow bracts that stick out green underneath and well beyond the yellow ray florets (the more exterior ones that look like plain petals) and they have distinct inner disk florets from the outter ray florets, while dandelion flowers look pretty much the same through the whole yellow head. Salsify also make a milky white sap in their stems. The roots however are more tapered like a carrot (dandelions are a bit more straight).
Burdock (Arctium lappa, & A. minus)
Very large and wavy-margined triangular leaves can be as big or more as a large man's foot, with lower rosette leaves having the deep indent at the petiole of a heart-shaped leaf like elephant ears. They can get tall (A. lappa can be up to 9' tall while A. minus only about 6' plus hollow leaf stalks/petioles and that's the one I see around my PNW area) multi-branched flower stalks with bristly hooked flower. The undersides of their leaves are more woolly with hairs, looking lighter green than their tops. Some of their taproots have been found to go 3' deep (90cm). That's a lot of digging in the wild!
The thing about burdocks is their awful no-good super clingy hooked fruits. I mean, they stick to your shirt, then to the hand you pull it off with and then the OTHER hand. Ah!! It could be in a creature horror film. And being very invasive in a lot of the US, I say- eat it before it seeds!! Apparently some wildlife will eat the roots as well as the seeds. Takes a careful bird beak to not get stuck. Actually, they are known to kill small birds who land on the seed heads and literally get stuck and die there. So not quite great for wildlife.
In Japan, burdock is widely eaten (correct us if you have lived there and know otherwise, I always wonder how accurate all these references are). It goes by "gobo" there and is quite tasty, used sliced or grated, even put on salads.
How do these compare to home-grown parsnips, you probably didn't ask??
Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa)
A parsnip was also left over in a pot from last year, so I threw that into my cooking-pile too. A plethora of healthy nutritious tap roots to sample now! Would six-year-old me have believed they would get so excited about eating root vegetables? Maybe. That was an odd kid.
But back to parsnips- they came from Eurasia (seeing a theme here), have much deeper and serrated huge leaves compared to dandelion. They feel lighter/thinner and really are pinnately lobed (going all the way in to the mid-rib vein) while dandelions are sort of unevenly lobed with at least some leave blade around the mid-rib. The flowers are more like a carrot's but yellow, in an open umbel instead of compact composite flower head (like dandelion). This big floral (and leaf) difference is because parsnips are in the carrot-family instead of dandelion's "composite" or aster family (see table below).
Important to note: parsnip leaves are not really edible. I mean, there's a bit of confusion over them on the web, seems not many have tried so what did I do last year?? Yep. Cooked some up and ate a bit. And no. Not classified as edible though I was fine. My mouth and bit of my throat though were all a'tingle. It was weird, but not to a concerning degree. The leaves have compounds that are fairly common in some of the toxic carrot-family's species which make your skin burn under exposure to sunlight. These are furanocoumarins! Try pronouncing that... Carrot family has some bad species you do NOT what to f..dig with, so be very careful with them! Parsnip leaves are very different from poison hemlock. That's good.
Apparently parsnips can go feral and escape into the wild becoming a bit invasive. I would love to have that problem and have to "control them". Yum. Except for handling those tingly leaves. Hmm...
Now we dine on ROOTS! I had these samples to compare as a little appetizer and brain simulator before whatever I was making for actual-dinner. Would you eat at a fancy restaurant that served you plain sauteed roots of various species for your app?
Sampling dishes of parsnip, salsify, and burdock to compare to my usual dandelion. Those dishes are cute right? The prettiest (top 2) are courtesy of Mamma-Clark the very talented potter. I indeed have a few mugs for sale. Roots will not be included...
fairly bitter, reduced when crispy (like a crunchy French fry), but also slightly sweet
bland but nearly potato-like, savory, slightly sweet
carrot-like but very mild, slightly nutty & sweet
tart sharp with slight carrot-like, warm & tangy, lingering
slightly starchy, crisping nicely sauteed in olive oil
light, almost spongy
Eat your weeds!
I thoroughly enjoyed my newly spruced up yard and patio pots that yielded the tasty spring weed treats and a flavor sampling through four species. Interesting that 3 of 4 and the weediest ones were from the Aster family. I recommend eating your edible weeds too. It's a fun win-win and then you don't risk them regrowing in the compost pile. Next- dandelion wine making?? Well, no flowers in my yard, so that will require a stroll in the neighborhood.
Remember- don't eat the parsnip leaves and wash your hands/arms after you harvest them so you don't get a severe sunburn from the sap.