Can We Live Off the Toughest Plants on Earth?

Weeds are defined by many dictionaries as “a valueless plant growing wild, especially one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.” Whenever most people hear the word weed, they imagine a pest, a plant that is meant to hurt crops, food supply and overall environment. But could weeds also be an easy to grow source of important nutrition?

Thewittygrittylife.com. (2021). Retrieved 24 September 2021, from https://thewittygrittylife.com/wp-content/uploads/EDIBLE-WEEDS-pin2.jpg.

Back in the day most plants served a purpose, however the term “weed” developed as means to define a specific plant that affects known cash crops or important agricultural crops like corn. For example, a well-known weed in many landscapes and corn fields is morning-glory. Even though it has beautiful flowers colored purple, blue or pink this weed can be detrimental for corn as it tends to vine up reaching up to 10 feet long. These vines wrap around the corn, and when not fully grown past its vegetative growth can cause the corn to be pulled down. Besides this problem they also tend to cover sunlight for corn which stunts growth, they make it hard to harvest corn as they get stuck in combines and many more issues.

Although weeds have a bad reputation and can be a nuisance, they have qualities that can make them useful as well. First, weeds have genetic advantages such as, drought tolerance and pest resistance that make them harder to kill compared to food crops. They are less likely to get affected by insect pests as much as crops like corn and soybeans which are devastated by insects like corn-root worm, bean leaf beetle and Japanese beetles. Weeds require little water to live and can grow as easily in tilled soil as in soil between the cracks of sidewalk. This gives them an advantage for growing in less than favorable conditions

Secondly, weeds are loaded with phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are natural chemicals that can help human health by preventing various diseases. According to Michael Pollan’s, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” two of the most nutritious plants in the world are lamb’s quarters and purslane, which are two well-known weeds. Weeds like these that are loaded with phytonutrients can help prevent illnesses like cancer, diabetes, and dementia. In the book “Eating on the Wild Side,” Jo Robinson’s states that dandelions outcompeted the phytonutrient content of spinach. Additionally, eating weeds can prove to be beneficial as they do not contain any synthetic chemicals if not sprayed with pesticides or herbicides, additives, or genetic modifications. These benefits along with the fact that there is a growing population of people that need to be fed increase the importance of considering making certain weeds as potential edible crops.

There are many weeds that are safe to eat. When considering what types of weeds to eat you should consider which weeds are common, and which provide nutrients. One common weed that is edible and is found in a lot of regions are dandelions. With good amounts of potassium, Vitamin A and C, you can eat the greens from dandelions in a salad. Other commonly found weeds can be eaten for their health benefits:

  • Broad leaf plantain high in calcium
  • Purslane high in Omega-3 fatty acid
  • Red clover contains potassium
  • Lambs quarter is rich in protein and amino acids
  • Chickweed has been used for its healing properties

https://www.familyhandyman.com/article/purslane-weed/
Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago Major) | Herbalism
https://dspermaculture.wordpress.com/2015/03/28/broadleaf-plantain-plantago-major/
Red Clover: Pictures, Flowers, Leaves & Identification | Trifolium pratense
https://www.ediblewildfood.com/red-clover.aspx

Many of these weeds can be eaten raw form and thrown in salads, mixed into other foods. Dandelions can be mixed into pancake or dessert mixes due to its natural sweet taste.

Before eating weeds however, people need to make sure they are edible or there can be dire consequences. For example, a common weed in the Northwest region is water hemlock. The water hemlock has a toxin that can cause delirium, nausea, convulsion and even death 60 minutes after being consumed. This is not the only weed that if consumed can cause negative effects on a person’s health. Pokeweed is a common weed found in many undisturbed areas throughout Illinois. While it can be prepared for eating, it can be toxic if not prepared properly. If not prepared properly can cause convulsions and rapid heartbeats that can be very detrimental to a person’s health.

With the population increasing exponentially every year, the number of people that depend on crops for food also increases. With limited space, pest resistance and other obstacles the number of agricultural crops will reach a point where they cannot catch up. This can become a serious issue if not addressed. This is why edible weeds should be looked at more as a potential sustainable decision that could benefit a lot of populations. More research should be done on whether it can become a reliable source, what are the long-term effects and how to mitigate the dangers of it. 

References:

Definition of weed | Dictionary.com. http://www.dictionary.com. (2021). Retrieved 21 September 2021, from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/weed.

Thompson. (2021). UGA weed scientist helping corn growers combat morning glory weed. Newswire.caes.uga.edu. Retrieved 21 September 2021, from https://newswire.caes.uga.edu/story/5374/Morning-Glory.html.

5 reasons we need to start nurturing – and eating – weeds. World Economic Forum. (2021). Retrieved 21 September 2021, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/weeds-good-food-control-climate-change/.

Projects.sare.org. (2021). Retrieved 21 September 2021, from https://projects.sare.org/wp-content/uploads/EDIBLE-WEEDS-ON-FARMS-2020-1.pdf.

Pollan, M., & Brick, S. (2008). In defense of food. Penguin Audio.

Alternative Uses of Weeds | Sustainability. Sustainability. (2021). Retrieved 21 September 2021, from https://www.slc.gov/sustainability/pesticidefree/alternative-uses-of-weeds/.

Dandelions for food. MSU Extension. (2021). Retrieved 21 September 2021, from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/dandelions_for_food.

Plantago major (Broad-leaved plantain, Cart Track Plant, Cuckoo’s bread, Doorweed, Dooryard plantain, Englishman’s-foot, Great plantain, Plantain, Ripple grass, Roundelay plantain, Slan-lus, Snake-plant, Snakeweed, Waybread, Waybroad, Whiteman’s-foot) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. Plants.ces.ncsu.edu. (2021). Retrieved 21 September 2021, from https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/plantago-major/.

The Health Benefits of Red Clover. Verywell Health. (2021). Retrieved 21 September 2021, from https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-benefits-of-red-clover-89577.

Lamb’s Quarters. Forage For Health. (2021). Retrieved 21 September 2021, from https://forageforhealth.wordpress.com/season/summer/lambs-quarters/.


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