Why weed out what's naturally tasty and nutritious? Healthy, edible plants are flourishing across the country -- and potentially even in your own backyard. So toss those fussy herbicides and dig in. Foraging for your own food proves that the best things in life really are free.
Here are 5 delicious foods you can find in your backyard:
Dandelions. The bane of many lawn owners, green leafy dandelions are chockfull of anti-oxidants and many times higher in Vitamins K, E, and A than spinach (plus, the blossoms can be transformed into delicate jellies and sweet-tasting wine, and the roots boiled for tea). Cook as you would any bitter green, and you'll have a nutritious side dish for supper.
Violets. Not to be confused with the houseplant, African violets, which are not edible, the pretty flowers and heart-shaped leaves of Viola sororia make a colorful addition to salads. Sugar the blossoms and you've got the perfect toppings for cupcakes.
Ramps. All the rage in haute cuisine, this wild plant in the onion family favors wet areas near streams. In the spirit of "what grows together, goes together," succulent ramps are often pared with savory morel mushrooms. [Note: Ramps release a heavy oniony odor when picked, unlike lilies, which are odorless and not edible.]
Chickweed. One of the few wild edibles that grow throughout the year in many areas, gentle sprawling chickweed has a flavor reminiscent of corn. Add liberally to salads or on top of fish as a micro-green, although don't cook with it--delicate chickweed wilts at the slightest touch of heat. It can also be rendered into a soothing skin salve for bug bites or rashes.
Garlic Mustard. This garlicky-tasting plant sweetens up as the days grow warmer, transforming from a low-to-the-ground rosette into a willowy stalk. While others spend hours trying to weed out garlic mustard, you can blend the young leaves and white flowers into a tasty pesto with walnuts and lemon.
[Note: If you're going to forage from an area on a regular basis, it's always a good idea to get the soil tested, the same way you would do for any vegetable garden.]
Ava Chin is the author of Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal [Simon & Schuster, $25.00].