Why Today’s Foragers Think Weeds Are Wellness’ Kept Secret

Weeds for dinner? Yes, please!

Dec 23, 2019
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Those beautiful bright pink to lilac flowers that come with those prickly thorns aren’t just nice to look at from a distance. They can also be a part of your dinner salad.

It turns out, these sharp-edged plants are part of an ongoing discussion that involves making use of some of Earth’s undervalued resources for a well-rounded diet.

Katrina Blair, the 50-year-old founder of Turtle Lake Refuge, a Colorado-based nonprofit that promotes the benefits of  foraging and eating weeds, believes weeds can make for a healthy addition to one’s diet. “I love to take [Thistle] root, fresh or dry, and blend them into a chai,” she told TIME.

“I think eating weeds is a fantastic addition to someone’s diet,” Blair, who’s enthusiastic about foraging as both a hobby and lifestyle said.

Though foraging is clearly spiking in popularity –  YouTube’s foraging-related videos have thousands of views –  and one United Kingdom park saw a 600 percent increase in foraging incidents. It's not merely a trend. Researchers at Biodiversity International believe that just 103 crop varieties make up 90 percent of the calories in the average person’s diet. 

“We have this incredible biodiversity on earth; [unfortunately] our human diets have become more and more dependent on a very limited number of species,” Ina Vandebroek, an ethnobotanist at the New York Botanical Garden told TIME. With climate change posing a real threat, we could need some alternatives in the near future.

When foraging, Vandebroek insists we proceed with caution; hemlock and nightshade are poisonous or even deadly and some mushroom species are incredibly dangerous when consumed raw, yet perfectly safe when cooked. Because of these easy foreseeable mistakes, its essential foragers know exactly which plant they’re picking up before consuming it.

One easy way to ensure safety is to forage alongside an expert with years of Botanical Identification experience who will instruct participants to eat very small amounts of the plant to see how the body handles it, and encourage those to avoid particularly congested green areas (such as city parks or other green areas) for harmful bacteria or pesticides. It’s especially important for foraging enthusiasts to take every precaution and be mindful of what’s happening on the land.

Thankfully, there are risk-free ways to take part in the hobby. Vandebroek suggests trying varieties like purslane, epazote and amaranth that can be found in Caribbean and Latin American groceries. “Commerce is a very safe way to introduce yourself to many plants considered weeds,” she said

Although we never thought we’d say this, maybe it’s time to eat our weeds. Salad anyone?

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REBECCA WOJNO, CONTRIBUTOR
Rebecca is passionate about reading, cooking, and learning about people doing good in the world. She especially loves writing about wellness, personal growth, and relationships.
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