Eat your vegetables is a common command at dinner tables up and down the land. The message is simple: vegetables are good for you, and they should not be going in a bin.
That same thinking could easily be applied to a wide range of plants growing wild up and down the British Isles. Here are a few superfood level weeds that deserve to be on a plate rather than in a compost bin.
Weeds that are good for your health – NETTLE (Urtica dioica)
The stinging nettle is amazing. Containing essential amino acid levels comparable to chicken. Nettles also contain similar amounts of Omega-3 that you’ll find in spinach. And 100% of your recommended daily intake (RDI) of Vitamin A, up to 50% of Calcium, 20% of Fibre and up to 12% of Iron (1) can be provided by nettles.
How to use it – Nettles do require some preparation before they pass your lips. To render the sting harmless, drop the nettles in a pot of boiling salted water for a few minutes, or they can be dried using a dehydrator, or they can be soaked in water for a few days. After this they can be converted into nettle pesto or soup, or as an infusion in tea. If that seems like too much effort, pick up a can of Emunity ─ a new healthy soft drink that harnesses the healing and immunity-boosting effects of nettle.
Weeds that are good for your health – BROADLEAF PLANTAIN (Plantago Major)
If you see a leafy weed by a roadside, there’s a good chance it’s broadleaf plantain. So, no, not the green banana relative used in African and East Asian cuisine. Broadleaf plantain has been associated with health benefits for centuries, and recent studies back up the old wives’ beliefs that it is useful for enhancing the immune system, reducing the size of tumours, and protecting the gut (6). It is also an anti-inflammatory, anti-infective, antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral and antioxidant (6), and it is also high in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K (7). It can also be used to heal the skin when applied locally.
How to use it – Both leaves and the seeds of the broadleaf plantain can be eaten raw or cooked in stew or simply baked on their own.
Weeds that are good for your health – COMMON PURSLANE (Portulaca Oleracea)
Common purslane is found in gardens and public spaces across the UK, and its succulent leaves are an excellent source of nutrients and antioxidants. It is incredibly rich in potassium (494 mg/100 g), magnesium (68 mg/100 g) and calcium (65 mg/100 g) and it contains four different types (8) of omega-3 fatty acid (9) ─ useful for controlling cholesterol. Common purslane has some of the highest amounts of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and gamma-linolenic acid (LNA) of any green leafy vegetable (8).
How to use it – Once washed, the leaves of purslane can be eaten raw in a salad, or you can blend it with basil and pine nuts for a healthy pesto.
Weeds that are good for your health – CHAMOMILE aka Matricaria recutita L.
This common flower has long been championed as a way to ensure a good night’s sleep, but its fan base is larger than just old wives. Strong scientific evidence suggests that Chamomile has a range of health benefits. Its flowers contain chemicals that have been shown to be moderate antioxidants and antimicrobials. Additionally, animal model studies indicate potent anti-inflammatory action and some cholesterol-lowering activities (4).
How to use it – Chamomile flowers can be washed, dried and used on their own, or as a blend, in herbal teas. For desserts, such as panna cotta, Chamomile also makes an attractive and healthy garnish.
Weeds that are good for your health – SHEEP SORREL (Rumex Acetosella)
This perennial small flowering plant is commonly found growing in back gardens across the country. As a good source of vitamins C and E, sheep sorrel can contribute to a healthy immune system and glowing skin. It is also a very good source of antioxidants (10).
How to use it – Sheep sorrel is best harvested in summer or early autumn, and it has a tart, almost lemony flavour. Add it to salads or add it to a stir fry.
Beware: due to its high levels of potassium oxalate, it should only be eaten in small amounts.
Weeds that are good for your health – DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale L.)
As common as the nettle, but kinder to bare legs, the dandelion is an important nectar source for many pollinators in early spring, and for humans, recent research has shown that dandelion can reduce cholesterol, blood glucose levels (2), and inflammation (3). As a mild diuretic, it can also help if you are suffering from a UTI (urinary tract infection) or thrush.
How to use it – All of the dandelion plant can be used in various recipes, from petal-infused wine or honey to simply eating dandelion roots whole, just like carrots or parsnips.
Weeds that are good for your health – Weeds that are good for your health –LAMBSQUARTERS (Chenopodium album)
Also known as White Goosefoot, this is a fast-growing plant commonly found in gardens and the countryside, and raw, it has the highest amount of folate (97.5 μg/100 g) of any commonly found weed. It is also rich in carotenoids (commonly associated with carrots) which can be converted into vitamin A, which is essential for growth, immune system function, and eye health. Lambsquarters also contains over 10% of your RDI of iron and magnesium, as well as both vitamins B6 (when steamed) and K (11).
How to use it – Lambsquarters should be washed thoroughly to get rid of the white powdery bloom and other debris, but after that, it can then be eaten raw in salads. However, steam or sauté and you’ll unlock more vitamin goodness. Any recipe that includes spinach, can include Lambsquarters instead. It is also scrummy roasted on its own with some fresh garlic.
As you can see, your back garden can be an excellent source of nutritious green goodness that can be easily added or substituted into your recipes to give meals an extra healthy boost.
By Roy Lamb, pharmacist and co-founder of Nasslor Health Drinks.