Weeds are God’s Gift: Powerhouse Nutrition in Your Backyard

If you are like most people, the chances are you are unnecessarily spending thousands of dollars a year buying store-bought greens and other vegetables that often wilt and get thrown away in the garbage (hopefully at least composted) when you could simply walk outside and pick just enough fresh, nutrient dense greens in your own backyard for your family’s immediate needs? Here are just a handful of my favorites here in the Southeast.

“…Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” Genesis 1:29-30

If you are like most people, the chances are you are unnecessarily spending thousands of dollars a year buying store-bought greens and other vegetables that often wilt and get thrown away in the garbage (hopefully at least composted) when you could simply walk outside and pick just enough fresh, nutrient dense greens in your own backyard for your family’s immediate needs?

Here are just a handful of my favorites here in the Southeast. I do recommend buying several books on plant identification before eating anything you are not 100% sure of. I have many books and phone apps, but I do not rely on just one source until I am familiar with the plant. I provided some suggestions at the bottom of this blog. Only harvest from places you are sure aren’t contaminated with pet urine or feces, pesticides, lead or other toxins

  1. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): Look for younger leaves to eat raw or cooked. The roots can also be used to make a coffee substitute. Dandelion leaves, flowers, and roots can all be used to make dandelion tea. The result is a nutritious herbal tea that’s packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals—such as vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. It is especially good for liver support and as a diuretic. TIME OF YEAR: Spring through Fall. METHOD OF PREPARATION: Bitter young greens in salads, slightly older leaves as a potherb, root boiled or roasted, blossoms — yellow parts only — as a flavoring for wine. Flowers dipped in batter fried (no green parts.) When you cook the leaves drop them into boiling water. They will taste better than if you warm them up in cold water. The best salad use is cooked, cooled greens. Incidentally, the root can be roasted or boiled like a vegetable and eaten that way. It is bitter but edible. Dandelion roots were eaten by man as long as 25,000.
  2. Chickweed (Stellaria media): Chickweed is super-nutritious, succulent, and has a very mild flavor, unlike a lot of wild, bitter greens. Unlike many wild edibles, the chickweed’s stems, leaves, flowers and seeds are all edible. It contains ascorbic-acid, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, niacin, potassium, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, zinc, copper, and Gammalinolenic-acid. It’s great raw or cooked like spinach though the texture is different. It can be added to soups or stews but in the last five minutes to prevent overcooking. TIME OF YEAR: During the cool weather of spring. Dislikes heat and germinates in the winter. METHOD OF PREPARATION: Numerous, usually chopped and boiled or fried, or added raw to salad. Chickweed can be stringy, so it is often chopped. Has many herbal uses, too numerous to mention. Note: Does NOT have milky sap. If you have a plant, you think is chickweed and it has milky sap, you have the wrong plant.
  3. Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata): Kudzu is highly nutritious and has a very high protein content (18% plus). It can be eaten in many ways. The young leaves can be consumed as a green or juiced. They can be dried and made into tea. Shoots can be eaten like asparagus. The blossom can be used to make pickles or jelly — a taste between apple and peach — and the root is full of edible starch. Older leaves can be fried like potato chips or used to wrap food for storage or cooking. With kudzu you can make a salad, stew the roots, batter-fry the flowers or pickle them or make syrup. Raw roots can be cooked in a fire, roots stripped of their outer bark can be roasted in an oven like any root vegetable; or grated and ground into a flour to make a thickener, a cream or tofu. Kudzu is used to make soaps, lotions, rope, twine, baskets, wallpaper, paper, fuel and compost. TIME OF YEAR: Shoots in spring, young leaves anytime, blossoms July through October, roots best in fall or early spring. METHOD OF PREPARATION: Nearly too numerous to mention. Most of the plant is edible in some way except the seeds and seed pods which are NOT edible. It is used in Chinese medicine to treat
    alcoholism, cardiovascular disease, menopausal symptoms, diabetes, migraines, fever, the
    common cold, and neck or eye pain. There are several species of kudzu, and both the flowers and root extract are used for their medicinal properties.
  4. Greenbriar (Catbriar) or roundleaf greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia): All species are edible. The new growth in the spring is an abundant and delicious vegetable. The texture is reminiscent of small asparagus, but the taste is very mild with a hint of acidity. The new greenbrier growth can be eaten raw or cooked, just make sure it is new growth that hasn’t aged to the point that the thorns have hardened. The leaves are also edible in the spring and summer, but they get tougher in the summer. The leaves too have a pleasant mild taste and can be eaten raw or cooked. They also have edible berries that persist through the winter. Tea made from the leaves was traditionally used to soothe upset stomach and a poultice made from the leaves was used to soothe different types of external pain. TIME OF YEAR: Starts putting on shoots in March-April, later in the season as one moves north. Seeds germinate best after a freeze. Once you know what to look for, this plant is nearly
    unmistakable. Greenbriars and Catbriars are the only vines with both thorns and tendrils. METHOD OF PREPARATION: My favorite is to grill the young tips like asparagus or sauté in a stir-fry. I cannot resist to munch on the younger leaves raw as I walk in the woods.
  5. False Hawksbeard (Crepis japonica or Youngia japonica): Young leaves can be eaten raw, better cooked as a potherb, it’s very mild — when picked young and tender. It has anticancer and antiviral “activities.” A 2003 study in China showed a hot water extract of Crepis japonica inhibited cell proliferation and growth with human leukemia cells, mouse cancer cells, influenza A virus and herpes simplex type 1. TIME OF YEAR: Look for it in the Springtime and Fall but can persist into winter as well as warmer months in southern states. METHOD OF PREPARATION: added raw to green salads, added to egg dishes, soups or sauteed.
  6. Plantain (Plantago spp.): There are a few different species of plantain, but Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) and English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) are the most common in our area of the Southern Appalachians. In addition to being edible, Plantago has a long history of use in folk medicine for snake bites, insect bites, cuts and rashes for ages. It’s also a common component in healing salve. TIME OF YEAR: Best In early spring but can persist through winter in warmer states. METHOD OF PREPARATION: Gather young plantain leaves while they’re still tender enough to eat raw in salads. Use young plantain leaves as you would spinach–raw or cooked. The flavor is mild and they’re tender when young. Older leaves can be used, as well, but the fibrous veins should be removed before eating. The seeds, which form on spikes later in the season, are also edible. Steaming tougher leaves will make them tender, but the fibrous veins and midribs will need to be removed from older, stringier leaves. Gather young seed heads throughout summer and use them in stir-fries. Older seed heads are too tough to eat. Plantain leaves and seed heads may be dried for tea
    or used fresh. To make tea with fresh leaves, shred leaves and pour boiling water over them. Plantain tea can also be frozen for later use.
  7. Basswood Tree, Linden, Lime Tree (Tilia americana): Besides the buds the young leaves are a prime “wild green” of the forest. Young shiny shoots are also tasty. Edible raw or cooked you can make a salad using the leaves as the main ingredient like lettuce. Cooked they lose flavor and shrink in size considerably. The cambium, between the outer bark and the wood, in spring time, is moist and tastes of cucumber. It’s good for soups or when dried can be powdered and used for bread. You can also eat it raw off the tree, the least amount of work for the nutrition and flavor. However, don’t destroy the tree for it. Take vertical pieces. While the flowers are edible raw or cooked and tea can be made from them. Two tablespoons per cup. They also produce a lot of nectar creating high-quality honey. For that Basswood is sometimes called the “Bee Tree.” The tree also has a small nut, more like a seed. Fill one pocket with them as you wander through the woods, crack ’em with your teeth and spit out the shell. A paste made from the seeds and flowers of the Basswood tree is a good
    substitute for chocolate. TIME OF YEAR: Spring, early or mid-summer farther north. METHOD OF PREPARATION: Season new young leaves, smaller than mature leaves, lighter in color and shiny. Raw or cooked. Young shiny shoots, raw or cooked. The buds raw or cooked, a bit mucilaginous. Cambium raw or cooked, seeds raw or cooked though usually eaten raw on the trail. Sap boiled down to sugar.
  8. Dock (Rumex spp): Particularly Curly dock, also known as yellow dock, (Rumex crispus), can be eaten raw or cooked, although it contains high levels of oxalic acid, which inhibits the body’s ability to absorb calcium and forms kidney stones. So, it’s best eaten in moderation (not a pound of it daily). Use only the smaller, younger leaves, as bigger leaves tend to be bitter and tough and contain more oxalic acid. Curly dock can be eaten in salads, soups, and as a cooked green. TIME OF YEAR: From early to mid-spring. METHOD OF PREPARATION: young leaves are tasty raw or cooked.
  9. Purslane (Portulaca spp.): Any purslane plant can be harvested and eaten, as the leaves, stems, and flowers are completely edible. Its freshly foraged crisp leaves are perfect for raw salads. Toss it into stir-fries, pickle the stems, nibble on it raw—purslane is an edible weed adventure. When preparing wild purslane, it’s important to wash the plant carefully to ensure that no pesticides are on the leaves. Purslane is tart and a little salty, making it a great addition to salads and other dishes. It can be eaten raw or cooked. When added to soups and stew, it thickens the broth nicely. Purslane is really good for you, too. It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which is uncommon in plants, and loaded with vitamins and minerals. It also provides an ecological service for the nearby plant community as well. It has both a deep taproot and a fibrous root system and is very effective at mining water and nutrients from deep in the soil. TIME OF YEAR: Any time in season, spring and summer in northern
    climates, year-round in warmer areas. METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves and stems raw in salads, cooked in soups, thick stems pickled. Wild versions invariably taste better than cultivated versions. Has a slightly sour/salty taste.
  10. Stinging Nettle (Urtica doica): Leaves, stems and roots are edible. Young leaves are preferable however, no matter how far into the growing season be sure to remember that until dried or cooked, stinging nettle leaves will have those stinging hairs – never eat them raw! Nettles make an excellent spinach substitute and can also be added to soups and stews. Nettle beer is brewed from the young shoots. Nettle root is used for medicinal purposes including enlarged prostate and when there is difficulty in urination due to BPH. Nettle tea made from the root can help urinary ailments. Tea made from the leaves is rich in iron and can aid coagulation and the formation of hemoglobin. TIME OF YEAR: Spring and fall, depending upon the climate. METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves raw or cooked but eating raw requires much skill to reduce stinging. Usually the young shoots and leaves are boiled for 10 to 15 minutes. Reserve the resulting water for nettle tea. Once cooked, use it like
    spinach or basil. Very nutritious. Cooking water is good as a tea or soup base. Dried leaves
    can be used to make tea.
  11. American Beech Tree- (Fagus grandifolia): Nuts ripen in fall, young leaves in spring while tender. Inner bark is edible, young leaves edible, mature seeds (best to remove their brown covering.) Can be roasted and or made into nut butter although it is very time-consuming. TIME OF YEAR: Nuts ripen in fall, young leaves in spring while tender. METHOD OF PREPARATION: Inner bark is edible, young leaves edible, mature seeds (best to remove their brown covering.) Can be roasted and or made into a nut butter. The oil is good for cooking.
  12. Wild onion (Allium spp.): or onion grass, and wild garlic tend to look like little clumps of really green grass scattered throughout the the duller, still fairly dormant grass of late winter/early spring. The slender, tall leaves of wild onion are flat, while wild garlic leaves are round and hollow. The bulbs of wild onion are similar to cultivated onions, only smaller. Both leaves and roots are edible and can be used just as you would use store-bought onions or scallions. Just make sure it has an oniony or garlicky smell before eating. TIME OF YEAR: Depends where you live. Ramps in spring, onions through the summer, bulbs in fall. Locally we see bulblets in April then into the spring. METHOD OF PREPARATION: The entire plant is edible raw or cooked, in salads, seasoning, green, soup base, pickled. You can pickle them using red bay leaves, peppergrass seeds, and some vinegar.


  1. Southeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Angelica to Wild Plums (Regional Foraging Series) Paperback – April 22, 2015.
  2. Edible Plants in the Southeast: A Guide to Foraging Wild Edibles in the Southeast United States (Off The Grid Living, Survival & Bushcraft) Paperback – October 22, 2022.
  3. Wild Herb Gardening: How to grow wild medicinal herbs in your own garden and create herbal remedies at home by Suzanne Shires.
  4. Great app for plant identification to get on your cellphone: Pl@ntNet.
    Website: https://identify.plantnet.org/
    Get for Desktop: https://identify.plantnet.org/k-southeastern-u-s-a/identify
    Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.plantnet&pli=1
    Apple App Store: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/plantnet/id600547573

The information provided on the site is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if they’re seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment

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