You don’t eat your lawn —- but you could. What is a lawn, after all? We consider land to be precious, especially our own land, right? The pioneers worked hard on their piece of land in order to provide for and sustain their families. Today we feed, water, weed, mow, rake and pray over our lawns, which give us nothing in return. Our kids run and jump on them occasionally, but other than that, don’t we, bottom line, keep lawns lush and green to impress our neighbours and visitors in the neighbourhood? How many hours are spent pruning and perfecting that piece of land that is cultivated for no real practical purpose? To look at it? There are many other things more pleasant to look at than a blade of grass, as you can see from the pictures posted on this blog.
Imagine never having to mow a lawn, or pay to have it mowed. Or never having to bag up and dispose of grass clippings. Imagine never having to call in experts to rejuvenate it, to lay new sod, or dig and replant – or worse yet, having to do it yourself. Imagine eating the weeds instead of having them pulled out and discarded. After all, what is a weed except a perfectly normal plant growing where you didn’t put it?
Emerson wrote, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
There are many righteous and virtuous ground cover plants in this world that don’t need such tender care as grass. A horticulturalist friend told me of a grass developed here in Ontario that grew about four or five inches, was quite hardy, and would never have to be mowed. The only problem – it was purple in colour. Great! Instead of green grass stains, you would get purple ones, and it’s still grass, with not much purpose in life.
There are other, really great substitutes for grass, like White Clover, or Periwinkle, or moss, or Speedwell, or Purslane, Chamomile, Creeping or Woolly Thyme, the Mints (Spearmint is my favourite), or hah! even Creeping Charlie! I walked on an exquisite lawn years ago, made up of a variety of herbs growing flat to the ground, cushiony to walk on, and wafting an amazing variety of fragrances wherever you stepped.
Clover is a great alternative to grass for lawns. It’s affordable, easy to grow, simple to maintain, and drought-resistant. It requires no fertilization, grows in poor soil, requires very little attention, no mowing, and can be seeded over top of an existing lawn. And – you can eat clovers raw, (but they taste better boiled.)
When water is such a precious resource, why would we in North America alone, use 50 percent of our residential (drinkable) water on landscaping and lawns? If we’re going to water our backyards, why not use water to nourish edible plants instead?
Why not feed a weed?
A weed is a super-plant, because once it arrives in your lawn or flowerbed, it propagates like mad, produces an abundance of seeds, mysteriously distributed everywhere, puts down hardy roots, and resists its own extinction. Lawn police have to be hired to constantly dig or poison them out, over and over and over again – and they keep coming back. We’ve all had our battles with dandelions, haven’t we? But why not have dandelion wine instead?
Weeds can be our friends; they can grace our dinner tables with their presence. We can use their greens, rhizomes, roots, pollen, stalks for food, medicine and utility, so why not let them move in?
Being selective is the way to go. Close our borders to some weeds, like poison ivy or stinging nettle or ragweed, or ones we don’t have a taste for, but leave our doors wide open for those we like which are good for us. Bring Plants of the Wild into our own back – and front – yards, and create our own Backyard Supermarket. We could even bring them indoors to windowsills, growing rooms, or mini-greenhouses – why not?
Check out Some Of Nature’s Shopping Aisles
Apple, Asparagus, Beech, Black Cherry, Blackberry, Blueberry, Burdock, Butternut, Cattail, Chickweed, Chicory, Chokecherry, Clover, Currants, Dandelion, Elderberry, Garlic, Ginger, Lamb’s Quarters, Leeks, Milkweed, Mustard, Onions, Plantain, Purslane, Rose, Saskatoon, Spearmint, Strawberry, Sugar Maple, Thistle, Violets, Walnut, Wood Sorrel
Asparagus is the same kind as that found growing in Ancient Greece and Rome, and Egyptians cultivated it from wild 2,000 years ago. The name comes from the Persian word “asparg” which means shoot. It was considered an aphrodisiac. You can dig up the crown and plant it in the spring, or transplant smaller plants. You can also plant from seed (the red seed pods), but it will take a couple of years for you to benefit. Here’s a “How-To/When-To” site.
Beech Tree inner bark has been dried, ground and used for flour in hard times. Mattresses used to be stuffed with the springy leaves, lasting several seasons. Kernels, roasted and ground are pleasant coffee substitute. (Seeds aren’t produced until the tree is around 40 years old.)
Black Walnut‘s tough green globe has a long-lasting yellow-brown dye, which can’t be removed from clothing, so wear gloves and it-doesn’t-matter clothes. The covering is removed to get to the edible nut which should be stored, or cured, for two weeks in a cool, dry, dark, and well ventilated area. The nuts can be used in baking and the sap can be boiled into syrup and sugar, like the maple.
Berries growing on low bushes or ground creepers, want to be eaten by birds, not humans, because birds aren’t bothered with having to be on hands and knees on the ground, or trying to avoid needles and prickles from bramble bushes, and they spread the berry’s seeds far and wide for new growth.
My little Blackberry patch was started by some generous bird, and I have reaped many harvests of berries to freeze or eat fresh off the prickly cane. New shoots come up in the spring, so you do have to keep cleaning the brambles out – cover your arms and hands to avoid pokes and scratches.
Blueberries – in the wild are smaller, with a deeper colour, and are a lot more flavoursome than their cultivated cousins. Can be eaten all through the summer, and grow in abundance in cottage country.
Every part of the Cattail or Bulrush can be harvested. A staple in many American Indian tribes’ diets, cattails were also used to make mats, baskets, and torches from the cigar-shaped head dipped in oil or fat.
You can eat the delicate parts of the lower stem, and the compact green spikes can be eaten like corn on the cob with butter, salt & pepper), you can also obtain high protein flour from the roots and spikes (when golden) and mix with other flours.
The fluffy wool of the head was used as diaper material because of its softness and absorbency, being similar to down. It has been used to insulate clothing, pillows, mattresses, quilts, and life jackets. Brown heads are excellent fire-starters because they are dry inside even after heavy rain. Another benefit, if on your property – red-winged blackbirds love to nest in the bulrushes and will sing to you all through the summer.
Chickweed is an annual wild edible, hardy but delicate. Healthy to eat, it produces flowers throughout the growing season even in hot, dry conditions. It’s presence decreases insect damage to other plants. It’s full of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients, with leaves being used raw in salads and sandwiches, in soups and stews, using the stems and flowers too.
Chicory and Dandelion roots roasted can be used alone or combined when roasted and ground as a decent coffee substitute, which I have done. You can eat the entire Chicory plant, plucking off young leaves, eating raw or boiled. Pop the flowers in your mouth for a quick snack.
Dandelions – Europeans brought the highly valued dandelion to North America. First mentioned in the works of the Arabian physicians of the 10th and 11th centuries, alluded to in Welsh medicines of the 13th century, largely used as food around the world. You should plant dandelion horizontally in vermiculite, or sand and water, place in dark place, and the roots will send up non-bitter shoots, white in colour, for use in a Winter Salad – prized by French restaurants.
Elderberries‘ flowering bloom of dozens of white blossoms, called “Elderblow“, is delicious dipped in a light egg batter, fried in butter to make fritters. A uniquely American fruit, Native Indians used the whole plant, not just the fruit, crafting arrow shafts and pipes from branches.
The dark red-purple berries are used for jelly, flavour for apple wine, cordials or syrup. Said to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and anticancer properties. Externally flowers are used as antiseptic washes and poultices to treat wounds, eye wash for conjunctivitis and eye inflammation. Flower water softens, tones, restores skin and lightens freckles, or steeped in oil, makes a lotion to relax sore muscles, soothe burns, sunburn, rashes. Good source of fiber, Vitamins A & C, iron, potassium, B6 and lots of beta carotene.
Ginger – easily grown in average, medium to wet, well-drained soil, in part to full shade. Flowers and rootstock are used as flavouring, roots (fresh or dried) can be a ginger substitute. To candy, boil roots in sugar water until syrup forms, roll the root in sugar. Syrup is used on desserts and ice cream, or into a tummy-settling beverage. Native Americans used ginger to treat poor digestion, swollen breasts, coughs, cold, typhus, scarlet fever, nerves, sore throats, cramps, heaves, earaches, headaches, convulsions, asthma, tuberculosis, urinary disorders, venereal disease, as a stimulant, birth control, seasoning and charm. Wow!
Lamb’s Quarters provide one of my favourite wild greens, with a wonderful taste similar to spinach or chard. Eat young leaves and stems raw in salads, or cook (steaming is best) for a veggie side dish (I like a little lemon and butter), in stir-fry, soups, egg or vegetable dishes, in Italian-style recipes with cheese and stuffed in pasta, substitute for lettuce on sandwich, or make as an infused vinegar. Freezes well. Seed heads are edible with their relationship to Quinoa clearly visible. Nutritious – one cup of raw plant has 80 mg Vitamin C, 11,600 IU Vitamin A, 72 mg Phosphorus, 309 mg Calcium, good amounts of Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, & Iron.
Maple Syrup – yum! As kids, my brothers and I tapped every maple tree we could find within walking distance of home and lugged home buckets and buckets of sap, which Mom and Dad boiled down into the most delicious, dark syrup I’ve ever enjoyed. Some was boiled down into sugar as well. The thick dark sap pored over a dish of pure white snow is a treat no one ever forgets. A truly “homemade” sundae and frozen delight! My maple trees are my friends.
Milkweed plant supplies tough fibers for making cords and ropes and weaving a coarse cloth. Monarch butterflies and their caterpillars love this plant, so if you want to attract butterflies to your yard, start here. They are immune to the mild toxin in the sticky white sap, but alas, we humans are not. The leaves are mild tasting and edible but only if boiled. The sap from the milkweed has long been used to get rid of warts in folk medicine. It works, too.
As with the head of the cattail, the fluffy white floss of the matured milkweed plant, attached to it’s flat brown seeds, has been used to stuff pillows, mattresses, and quilts and was carried as tinder to start fires.
Mustard, a native of Eurasia, is everywhere, in the arctic circle, in Greenland, and even near the magnetic north pole. It’s been cultivated for over 5,000 years. Table mustard comes from the seed, by grinding them, mixing with vinegar (salt optional) and Voilá! Each plant can produce 2,000 to 3,500 seeds. Leaves, flowers, seed pods and roots are also edible. Experiment to find your favourites, taste varies. Young leaves are used raw in salads or cooked as a potherb, the younger the better. Flower buds are tasty when boiled, and adding raw mustard flowers to your favorite vinegar gives it a pick-me-up – use about half a cup of blossoms per pint of vinegar.
Onion or Garlic look and smell like the cultivated foods, a clue telling you it’s edible. Flattened leaves, hollow stems, can have bulblets on top, underground bulbs about the size of pearl onions. Wild Leeks have wide leaves, used the same way.
Plantain was used in Anglo-Saxon days as an ointment to heal wounds of all types, known to draw out toxins, reduce swelling, inflammation and itching. Bruise fresh leaves, or chew them, apply to a minor burn, insect bite, minor wound. Leaves are usually blanched in boiling water before using in salads, to make them more tender, and can be frozen to use later in soups or stews, or sautéed with butter and garlic as a side dish. Dried leaves make a healthy herbal tea. Seeds look like quinoa, and can be eaten raw or cooked, or ground into meal, mixed with flour.
Rose Hips were gathered by my Mom, her sisters and brother, for my Grandma to use through the winter in recipes, tea, and a dried nibble, a good source of Vitamin C. The flesh is used, not the seed which irritates our digestive system. Cut in half, scoop out seeds, the flesh is dried and made into Rose Hip jam or relish. Check internet for recipes.
Saskatoons or Serviceberry, used in baking and to season meat dishes, has given me wonderful taste memories of Saskatchewan-grown Saskatoons baked into superior pie by our Aunt Reggie, with more preserved in jars to be eaten as a winter fruit.
I was pleased to see one of my favourite Toronto parks had planted a few of the bushy trees. When ripe, I picked some, thinking I was not noticed, but alas! returns to the park found the berries all gone. Someone else has a taste for Saskatoon pies….
Spearmint or Peppermint from the wild are much more fragrant than the cultivated, which you’ll soon discover when bringing them home after harvesting, as the aroma fills the car. Mint is an ancient herb, traditionally used for refreshment and to aid digestion. They make excellent fresh tea or lemonade, and mint jelly. Chocolate-dipped wild spearmint leaves are delicious.
Strawberries: – I hunted for these little wild treasures every June, because I love the flavour. I made jam, “Euell Gibbons” style, by placing crushed and whole raw berries in cooled-down syrup, then freezing, to be retrieved later in the year, bright red colour and full flavour intact. The berries alone can be frozen, of course, and so worthwhile collecting. I shared berries and nuts and seeds with seven chipmunks which came every morning to share my breakfasts. (For the rest of that story see my 2015 blog “My Little Beach House”).
Violets – I have a nice patch in my yard, and toss the colourful, sweet flowers in my spring salads. I nibble on them raw too. Good in sandwiches, or for decorating desserts. Rich in vitamins A & C (more C by weight than oranges) and other vitamins and minerals. Flowers can be used to make violet vinegar, jelly, tea, syrup, candied violets, frozen into ice cubes. Leaves can be used in salads, and can be cooked, with a bland flavour, so a stir-fry or added to others might be better. Violets stimulate the lymph glands, helping to eliminate waste. Violets strengthen the immune system, and as a tea, reduce inflammation, ease sore throats, colds, sinus, and help insomnia. Native Americans used violets to treat headaches (violet flowers contain salicylic acid, as in aspirin). Violets have antiseptic properties, used in salves or ointments for minor scrapes and bruises. Oh, and yes, they also act as a mild laxative. Dry some leaves and flowers for a restorative tea, using 2 tsp. leaves, one of flowers in a cup of boiling water (steep 5 minutes).
Wood Sorrel, found in all parts of the world, has been used for food and medicine for millennia (leaves are a great source of Vit. C). Kiowa Indians chewed it to alleviate thirst, Cherokee ate it to cure mouth sores. Boiled roots are starchy and taste a bit like a potato.
AND FINALLY – What’s Out There For You?
Check the plants available to you. Take a couple of field guides with you, and/or download plant pictures to your smart phone or tablet for identification. Avoid areas sprayed recently with herbicide (usually early in the growing season – dead vegetation is an indicator…) Is it growing at the right time of year, in the right place, getting clean water?
Guides: – A Field Guide To Edible Wild Plants: – Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide – The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants – lots of good references, check online. A good online site “Eat The Weeds”. There are many interesting and informative sites.
Gathering Tips: Be courteous to Mother Nature by gathering at most 10% of the plant stand where you are, so reproduction is maintained. Harvest – in general – leaves in spring and summer, roots in winter, and for some, late fall and winter, fruits in late summer and fall, seeds after flowering in late summer and fall. Take a cutting tool, digging tool, basket or bag to contain the plants. Take little bags for seeds or transplants, and some moist paper towels to wrap roots.
Tryout: Try them in small quantities, to be certain you like each other, and are agreeable with each other and can live together year ’round. Then make a place for them, or forage for them and keep your lawn….
This blog is a tad long, but I love the subject matter so much I just got carried away…. I have spent many hours in the outdoors, providing an abundance of wonderful memories – searching for wild plants, identifying birds and flora and fauna, fishing with my husband, sketching and writing, soaking ourselves in fresh air and sunshine, and picnicking. I could have taken any one of the plants above and created a blog just featuring that one plant. I have lectured on the cattail (Euell Gibbon called it “The Supermarket Of The Swamp”). I felt the urge to paint the blog with a broad brush, to entice and encourage you to go exploring in a group (safety in numbers), trekking in the wilds or a favourite park or trail, your children or grandchildren with you, so they can experience wonderful hikes of discovery, and memories that will stay with you, and them, forever, as mine do for me and mine.
Happy hiking/hunting/tasting/seeding/transplanting/ – or if it’s boring – ignoring.
Signing off, ej.
Hello! It’s Joyce’s daughter here with my small contribution to Mom’s “Backyard Supermarket” blog. To start off, I give you our usual “Paws For Awhile” section, but this time with some “Backyard Supermarket” shoppers from the animal kingdom…
To finish off I have picked two videos that I know you’ll enjoy because they pair-up so well with the theme of Mom’s blog. The first takes you on a tour of the smorgasbord of edible wilds found in the videographer’s own yard. From “Primitive Pathways” here is “Wild Edible Plants in your Backyard!”
The other video I’ve chosen is actually a series of 29 videos gathered together in a Playlist from “OutsideFun1” called “Wild Edibles”. If you have the time and inclination, you can watch them all consecutively, just by pressing play. However, you can also choose to watch one, a few, or many by clicking the top left Menu icon for a list of all 29 videos in the playlist. Check out the Menu, then jump right in…
Bye for now from EJ’s daughter, till next time…