Weeds: Real Nutrition, For Free
If you’re walking over chickweed and dandelion in your lawn or ignoring a nettle patch by the garden wall as you hop in the car and drive to the grocery store and pharmacy, you’re passing up opportunities for a quality of nutrition that no supermarket or pharmacy can ever provide.
When our grandparents were told, “eat your veggies,” that was good advice. But nowadays there are veggies, and then there are other veggies. In terms of nutrition, they’re not all created equal.
Imagine a graph that measures nutrition. At the bottom there is very little nutrition, and at the top there’s lots.
On this graph, I’d place supermarket vegetables at the bottom, heirloom varieties of vegetables and herbs from home gardens, community gardens, and small, diverse farms in the middle, and wild/undomesticated plants (many of them known as “weeds) at the top.
Supermarket Veggies – Seriously Lacking In Variety And Nutrition
The food plants we see in the supermarket represent a tiny sliver of all the food plants available to us.
There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food.
Besides being a very narrow representation of the plant foods available to us, supermarket vegetables are the least nutritious veggies you could be eating. They almost (through no fault of their own) shouldn’t be called by the same name.
Most likely you already know all the reasons why, but just in case, two of the main reasons supermarket vegetables are unable to do a good job of nourishing us are:
- they’re bred for appearance and keeping ability over nutrition, vigor, or anything else remotely useful, and
- they’re usually grown in monocultures using synthetic, petroleum-based inputs, in impoverished soil that has nothing to offer them in the way of real nutrition.
But hey, so long as there’s a pharmacy next door to the supermarket we should be right – we can make up with pills for what’s lacking in the veggies…
Heirloom Veggies From Gardens And Small, Diverse Farms – A Big Step In The Right Direction
Just in case you dislike pills as much as I do, let’s explore some more options.
Heirloom food plants grown in home and community gardens or on small farms that focus on things like diversity, nutrition, and soil health, are a big step in the right direction.
These veggies would never cut it on a supermarket shelf because this is real food. Real food means that:
- you get to enjoy odd shapes, sizes, colours, and quirkiness – these veggies weren’t bred for consistent appearance;
- you have to eat it or put it in a jar quickly – these veggies weren’t bred for keeping ability;
- optionally, before you eat it or process it, you might want to pick out the caterpillars and shake off the spiders – these veggies come from an environment that’s wriggling, kicking, and teeming with life.
Most importantly, you’ll get lots of nutrition out of these veggies, because they grew in a nourished and nourishing environment.
Wild Plants Take It Up Another Notch
Wild plants that have not been domesticated take nutrition up another notch again.
Domestic plants do what we think they should do, so long as we give them the right conditions in which to do it. They need a little helping hand in that way.
Wild plants care much less what the conditions are, and they’re not so much into doing what we think they should do. (I often feel I could use a little of that kind of initiative and resourcefulness.)
Wild plants are pro-life. They’re vigorous. They know how to do abundance. They know how to handle adversity. They take advantage of opportunities and they have ways of hanging on through hard times, ready to burst forth with new life again when the time is right.
(I don’t know about you, but I could do with some of that kind of energy and resilience.)
Some wild plants consistently hang around where people are. They move in rapidly whenever we make a mess of things. They thrive in soils and circumstances that domesticated plants call uninhabitable.
Some people call these wild plants “weeds,” but other people call them “nourishing herbs.”
A Match Made In Nature, A Very Long Time Ago
Humans co-evolved with wild plants.
Domestic plants (obviously) are relative new-comers. We first began to cultivate and develop them about 11 to 12,000 years ago.
Which seems like a long time, until you digest the idea that humans and our ancestors thrived as hunter-gatherers—eating wild plants (and the animal fats, proteins and co-factors that enable us to utilize the plants’ gifts)—for about 2 million or so years before that.
Some of the plants we’ve relied on for all that time were here before us. Dandelions, for example, evolved over 30 million years ago[i].
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, dandelions are still going strong. They’re still popping up through cracks in the pavement, laughing at the chemicals people spray on their lawns, brightening our days with their sunny flowers, and waiting for us to remember the nutritional and medicinal gifts they have to offer.
The wild, edible plants that insist on following us around, with all their vigor and tenacity, are full of bio-available nutrients that our bodies can easily assimilate. They’re a concentrated source of real nutrition, abundantly full of vitamins, minerals, and healing compounds, and they’re readily available, very often for free.
In another article coming soon, we’ll take a look at an element of nutrition that’s sadly lacking in modern diets and is abundantly available from wild edibles, especially if you know a few simple approaches to preparing them.
Kate writes at ARealGreenLife.com about thinking differently and living a more natural, connected, and sustainable life. Check out her free downloads page or her blog.