Purslane: You might also have heard this tiny, creeping succulent called pigweed or hogweed. Not very nice names for a very nice little plant. Again, it’s only us in North America that are blind to its charms and virtues, while the rest of the world has been enjoying the slightly bitter, salty flavour as a leafy green and herb. Bonus: purslane boasts more omega-3 fats than any other leafy green.
Burdock: Yes, burrs. Those irritating prickly balls of spikes that stick to clothes, hair and dogs are the seeds of this plant. It’s annoying to us, was the inspiration for the inventors of Velcro and a delicacy to many, especially the Japanese. Related to thistles and artichokes, it’s the long, slender, crisp taproot—look for gobo on Japanese menus—that’s harvested and relished, tasting mildly sweet and earthy.
Stinging nettle: Rub up against this plant and oh, the pain, the sting, the itch. Cook it and all that goes away. Enjoyed since Roman times, nettle is still used to make a refreshing herbal tea—hot or cold—and once the leaves and stems have been soaked in cold water, they loose their sting. Tasting like spinach, nettles pack a vitamin and mineral punch: A, C, iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium, but only harvest plants before they flower. After flowering, plants contain a gritty chemical that can cause urinary tract irritation.
Wild grape vines: Yes, the ones that grow all over houses and old buildings, producing tiny, dark purple grapes the birds love—and NOT to be confused with the lovely Virginia creeper. The grapes aren’t very palatable—to humans, anyway, too bitter—but the tender, glossy, new leaves are a culinary treasure. Blanched, then stuffed with ground lamb and rice for dolmades or wrapped around little sardines for the grill, leaves can be gathered in the spring then preserved (lightly pickled) for later use.
Lamb’s quarters: Stems are tough but leaves are quite spinach-like, raw or lightly steamed and enjoyed just as you would any green.
Grapevine photo taken by Signe Langford.