Pulling the Good Weeds
If you’re trying to lose weight in the Fayetteville and Syracuse area this summer, planting a garden can be a great idea. A vegetable patch in the backyard provides you with tons of fresh and delicious produce for your medical weight loss diet, while getting some flowers in the ground can really spruce up your home. What’s more, gardening can be a huge stress reliever and give you lots of great exercise in the form of digging, planting, and of course, weeding.
But before you go rushing out to put your own plants in the ground, take a look at what nature has already left you. Most gardeners pull up and toss out every ‘weed’ they come across as they get ready to plant, but many of them are actually naturally-growing vegetables and herbs. Though the plants in our yards that haven’t been put there by human hands are often broadly labeled as weeds, many of them are just as healthy and delicious as those you buy at the grocery store—you just have to know what to look for.
This year’s mild weather has encouraged natural edibles to thrive in many places in New York, and your garden could be one of them. Though you should always be extra careful when identifying and preparing these foraged ingredients, here are a few that may be sprouting up in a yard near you.
It’s easy to be skeptical about the value of eating a plant with ‘stinging’ in its name, but this herb has a rich flavor that can be compared to a cross between celery and mint. It has a long history of use in European foods, particularly soups and stews, and is chock full of nutrients like many of its other green, leafy brethren. It’s an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin K, while also containing a significant amount of iron and calcium. Nettle has been used to promote urinary, adrenal and kidney health and relieve joint pain and seasonal allergies.
Of course, even with these nutritional advantages, it has been difficult for stinging nettles to overcome the stigma caused by the horrible stinging sensation caused by touching it barehanded. Fortunately, its hair-like stingers become completely harmless when cooked and wearing gloves and a long-sleeved shirt will keep you safe from its natural defenses when harvesting. These stingers and its jagged, pointed leaves make it fairly easy to identify.
Also known as curly dock, this member of the buckwheat family tastes somewhat similar to kale when cooked. Though the stalk and seeds are edible, the young and tender leaves closest to the plant’s center have the best flavor and texture. The whole plant is full of vitamins and minerals, containing more vitamin A than an equal amount of carrot and significantly more protein, potassium, beta carotene, phosphorus, calcium, iron and vitamin C than spinach.
Dock has been used since around 500 B.C. for its medicinal properties, most of which come from the plant’s roots. These uses range from treating constipation and syphilis to relieving skin irritations (including the rash caused by stinging nettle), while its seeds were once roasted and used as a coffee substitute (hence its other name coffee-weed). Look for its coarse, long leaves, with waxy margins and visible curl near the edges, and spire-like growths of small green flowers.
In Japan, chickweed is known by the much more flattering name hakobe. It’s celebrated there as one of the seven wild herbs of spring, with a grassy taste that pairs well with many foods. A good source of fiber and protein, chickweed also contains vitamin A, potassium, iron, selenium, manganese, zinc, vitamin C and several different B vitamins.
Chickweed can be identified by its oval or elliptic leaves, which come to a point at the tip and are arranged opposite from each other. The leaves tend to be small, only ½ to 1¼ inches long, and are generally pale green and smooth. They grow low to the ground and produce tiny white flowers with five lobed petals, creating the appearance of 10-petaled flowers.
Growing an edible garden can be great for patients of medical weight loss, but learning how to carefully identify these naturally-delicious plants can help you get even more bounty out of your backyard. With a little knowledge and foraging, you too can enjoy the unique flavors of these wild weeds.