Michael Tierra L.Ac, OMD, AHG founder

It is everyone's birthright to learn how to use the common wayside weeds that may be indigenous or naturalized in their immediate vicinity because they possess special nutritional and healing powers that often surpass cultivated plants.

If there is any question regarding the superior nutritional value of weeds over leafy vegetables, I would direct you to the following chart:

COMPARATIVE NUTRITIONAL VALUES OF LEAFY VEGETABLES AND WEEDS

NUTRIENT

LAMB'S
QUARTER

PURSLANE

AVERAGE WEED

AVERAGE LEAFY VEG. (SPINACH, KALE, LETTUCE, ETC.)

(PER 100 G)

Calcium

309 mg

103

186

106

Beta-carotene

7 mg

1.5

5.6

3.6

Fiber

2.1 g

3.5

2.7

2.4

Niacin

1.2 mg

0.5

0.9

0.45

Iron

1.2 mg

3.5

2.7

2.4

Phosphorus

72 mg

39

57

46

Potassium

--

--

382

445

Protein

4.2 g

1.7

2.8

2.7

Riboflavin

0.44

0.1

0.24

0.16

Thiamin

0.16

0.03

0.11

0.08

Vitamin C

80 mg

25

68

57

(Source: Duke, J.A. and Atchley, A.A., CRC Handbook of Proximate Analysis Tables of Higher Plants, CRC Press, 1986)

Weeds are particularly high in minerals. The value of weeds lies not only in their superior healing and nutritional content but also that they are present to correct various soil imbalances. Dandelions, for instance, have roots that extend deep into the subsoil to bring up important trace mineral nutrients for use by the higher plants. Other weeds such as purslane condition the soil by extending tendrils and filaments to provide shade, soil aeration and moisture.

There is an entire study of soil fertility based on weeds as indicators of soil condition. A vigorous crop of daisies or chamomile may appear in soil that is lacking in lime since these are particularly rich in calcium. Corn marigold and spurrey are found on light acid soils but mayweed, plantain, dandelion and many others indicate a heavier type of acid soil. Horsetail can indicate a badly drained acid soil. Groundsel, a common garden weed is a weed indicating a general lack of soil fertility. Thistle occurs in soil that has been overworked and depleted. Coltsfoot with its penetrating rootstock is an excellent subsoiler useful for heavy clay soil needing aeration and drainage. Clovers, vetch's, peas, lupin and other leguminous weeds have the ability to fix nitrogen from the air into the soil and often thrive in soil lacking in nitrogen. Weeds serve an important good purpose in soil health and they should be composted and returned to the soil. Many wise gardeners learn that rather than keep a garden free from weeds, it is better for soil fertility to simply thin them out around the desired plants.

One of the most satisfying and healthful things to do is to include edible weeds as part of one's regular diet. There are many books offering a variety of wild food recipes but the simplest is to steam fresh edible young shoots and leaves from purslane, malva, evening primrose, amaranth, wild mustard greens, wild radish, dandelion, or nettles. Add a bit of olive oil and Bragg's amino acids and let these stand on the counter so everyone in the family can 'graze' on them throughout the day. If desired, one may add some garlic powder for added benefit and flavor. Another simple method is to sauteé them in a skillet or wok with a little olive oil and chopped garlic.

Following is a brief group of weeds that we harvest and consume from our garden:

Amaranth

There are many species of amaranths and the one I have in my garden is pale green in color with a fine magenta powder at the base of the mature leaves. This powder gives rise to the common name 'magenta amaranth.' The powder is easily removed from the hands and seems to disappear after the leaves are steamed or sautéed. Amaranths are among the most nutritious of all wild greens. Amaranth is very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. It is also a good source of dietary fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper.

Have you ever noticed that with the exception of lettuce and spinach, most of the green vegetables eaten in the United States come from the cruciferae family that includes cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, kale and collards? While these are rich nutritionally, they are also known to have goitrogenic properties, especially if they are not thoroughly cooked, making them unsuitable for individuals with a tendency towards low thyroid. All the more reason to include leafy green plants from different botanical families such as dandelion, purslane, evening primrose leaves, nettles and amaranth.

Purslane (Portulaca Oleracea)

This is a recurring weed in our garden and before I learned how delicious it was as a potherb, I spent hours and days in the hot sun trying to 'weed it out once and for all' (I have since heard that the seeds can lie dormant in the soil for decades). My Mexican gardener suggested that I eat this weed and since then I found that it is sold as a vegetable in France, Mexico and South America. Among over 13,000 known food plants, purslane is one of fewer than 20 plants with the capacity to meet most of our nutritional requirements. It is a uniquely rich source of fatty acids including omega 3, and is high in antioxidants and glutathione. It is also a good source of coenzyme Q10. It is high in easily absorbed vitamins C and E. It contains pectin known to lower cholesterol. It can be taken internally or applied topically to promote wound healing for boils and burns. It is a rich source of all minerals and is particularly high in potassium.

Steamed, added to soups, or sautéed, purslane is a rich source of alpha-linolenic-acid, tocopherol, magnesium and potassium.

Dandelion

the young leaves can be sautéed or steamed and are a wonderfully antiinflammatory diuretic useful for urinary tract infections. The roots can be finely chopped and sautéed or dried and roasted to make a wonderful coffee beverage. Dandelion root tea is one of the most effective herbs for treating acute and chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, and gall bladder disease. Finally, Chinese medicine considers dandelion root to be specifically useful in the treatment of breast cancer.

Nettles

Stinging nettles make a delicious potherb. Of course one should wear gloves when picking the young leaves. The sting is completely neutralized when they are dried, steamed or cooked in soup. Nettles are rich in minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, iron and a wide variety of vitamins.

There's poetry in learning to value what was formerly considered useless. While very few weeds are toxic, it is prudent to consult one of many reputable sources before experimenting with ingesting them.

Michael Tierra is the author of many respected books on herbal healing. He is also the author of the East West Herb Course.

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