I’ve been exploring the world of edible weeds, and so found a new layer of bounty in the garden!
Edible weeds from left to right: Fireweed shoots, young galeopsis,
lamb’s quarter, chickweed, thistle shoots peeled, and corn spurry.
Things in the garden even way up here in Finland are well on their way now, including many plants that most gardeners would condemn as weeds, or things to get rid of. For me a bed full of weeds has become a salad bar, and weeding has gotten a fresh new perspective to it!
Many weeds grow early and fast, especially on tilled soil — pioneers as they are. They’re vigorous and don’t require any additional care. Their seed bank in the ground is often full, so the resource quickly replaces itself. With guidance from a skilled wild forager I’ve begun exploring the world of edible weeds and thus multiplying harvests from the garden and surroundings.
For example, where the broad beans were growing, there were tons of hemp-nettle (Galeopsis spp), chickweed (Stellaria media), lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium album) and corn spurry (Spergula arvensis) covering the bed. In the greenhouse there were some beetroot seedlings ready to go into the ground. Weeding created a niche for the beetroots to go in, and the plants that got removed provided plentiful amounts of wild greens for a salad. Chopped fine, and topped up with salad dressing and some grated cucumber, lettuce or something more "conventional" makes a delicious and nutritious addition to any meal.
Another new friend of mine are the local thistles we have (Cirsium arvense). Their young shoots have a nice tender stem that after peeling can be used like asparagus, either raw or cooked. They also make a yummy filling for a cabbage rolls type meal made from coltsfoot leaves (Tussilago farfara). Harvesting thistles from the veggie patch can also help soil moisture conditions, since the big taproot of the thistle is able to collect water from deep down in the soil. When the thistle is harvested, the water in the root is released in the ground, providing a nice drink for surrounding plants.
On a dry summer a friend made an experiment in his potato field, weeding one half completely, and letting the thistle remain on the other half, harvesting the shoots along the summer for food. The side that was completely weeded was suffering from drought, whereas the side with an ongoing thistle harvesting was doing great with the extra water provided by the tap roots.
The journey to the land of weeds and wild edible plants continues throughout the summer. Interestingly the lessons on weeds have lead me to wish for more of them, and making neat and clean beds (and lawns) look somehow deserted, especially this time of the season when there aren’t really many "proper" vegetables to harvest yet.