Wild food is growing all around us, even in the city. During the past year we’ve done a lot of urban foraging and brought home bushels of free food!
It’s truly incredible how much free food you can find if you just take the time to look around. I bet you even have some edibles growing in your backyard right now!
We found the following foods on our property, in friend’s backyards, and in parks all over the city. Eating wild foods cut down on our grocery bill, and was a lot of fun too!
It’s no mystery that dandelions grow in abundance practically everywhere. Since we’ve never sprayed for weeds on our property, we have an unbelievable number of them that pop out of the soil every summer.
It blew my mind when I went to the grocery store and saw ‘Dandelion Greens’ selling next to the lettuce for 4 dollars a pound. I heard someone wonder aloud what they were. I wanted to say: those are those weeds growing for free in your yard, that you pay someone $50 a month to come spray with pesticides so they’ll go away. Yes, those very same plants. You could walk out your back door and pick them yourself, saving you gas, time, and money. How silly these humans can be.
Did you know every part of the dandelion is edible? We pull up the whole plant, root and all.
Here’s how we use them:
The root is washed, cut into pieces, roasted in the oven, and brewed to make dandelion root tea, a local alternative to coffee. If you ask me, I’ll take the coffee any day. The tea is quite bitter, but it is extremely healthy. I choke it down while trying to remember it’s like swallowing my daily multivitamin.
The leaves of the dandelions are great in salads, in fact you’ll frequently find them peppered into fancy mixed green salads at restaurants.
The leaves are also great sautéed in butter with salt and pepper. They’re high in vitamins and great fiber!
We used thousands of dandelion flowers to make a 5 gallon batch of dandelion wine. It took hours and hours to pluck the petals out of all those flowers and six months of waiting after that for the wine to be finished. We’re hoping it’s worth the effort!
Who knew you could eat these pesky little pests? They’re even more invasive in our yard than the dandelions! These adorable little weeds are best eaten young. They can be sautéed with butter or tossed into a salad. They’re utterly delicious, it’s a wonder more people don’t know they’re edible!
Decades ago, someone planted an herb garden in our backyard. I found the remains of it when clearing weeds and leaves out. The once loved patch was bordered by bricks, and plant markers with the words “pineapple mint” and “Lemon Basil” were found. The Lemon Basil lasted one season and died off forever, but the pineapple mint decided to stick around, as mint so often does.
We find it popping up all over the yard every season. It’s a delightful addition to lamb roasts, and morning tea. There’s so much it every season that we end up dehydrating big handfuls of it to use over the winter, and what’s left goes to the chickens for a healthy snack.
Chives are perennials and pop up in backyards and parkland all across the US and Canada. My parents had wild chives growing in their backyard. As kids, we used to make it into onion soup and try to feed it to the dog. He was much too intelligent to fall for that nonsense, and we after tasted it, we understood why!
As an adult I’ve come to realize just how delicious and versatile this wild food can be. We toss bits of it into salads, chop it up to top potatoes, add it to homemade dressings, and pop it into soups and marinades.
Garlic Mustard is everywhere, to the point that it’s become an invasive species in many parts of the country. We found it growing in abundance around my parents house, and jumped at the opportunity to bring down the population a bit. We chopped the fresh leaves up in the food processor and added lemon, olive oil, and spices to make a zesty pesto.
This glorious weed pops up all over our lawn. It grows more heartily than the grass! Plantain is finding new recognition as a miracle plant. It’s chock full of vitamins and can be eaten raw or cooked. It can also be mashed up and used to treat wounds, stings, and bites.
Berries & Fruit
Teeny, bright red wild strawberries pop up on the ground in June in parks all across the city. These are a treasure to find and are sweeter than sweet. The flavor is much bigger and bolder than that of those giant mutant grocery store strawberries. We look forward to them every summer!
Our darling friend took us on a foraging expedition in the city where we found Juneberry trees in a large park. We picked the berries for hours, more ended up in our mouths than ended up in our baskets. They tasted like a mix between a blueberry and a plum. We used them to bake muffins and tossed them into smoothies.
In the same city park, we found wild fox grapes climbing the fences and trees. We picked them by the bushel, harvesting over 10 pounds in only an hour. People looked at us like we were nuts. We turned them into 15 gallons of practically-free wine and several gallons of wonderfully sweet grape juice. We bottled them up in some free Fiz bottles and enjoyed them all year.
Who’s nuts now, strangers?! Probably still me, but whatever.
There’s a great big mulberry tree growing in the atrium of our local hospital. It’s only about a mile from our house. This tree gets so weighed down with fruit in the high season it dumps the juice-filled berries all over the walkway. We considered it a service to society to pick as many mulberries as we could fit into our buckets. We also managed to fit some into our bellies as well.
Black raspberries grow like weeds in the backyards of many of our friends. There were several days over the summer spent sitting around a campfire, sipping on beers, and leisurely picking raspberries to stuff in our mouths. We also turned them into ice cream with our delightful ice cream churner attachment for the mixer!
I don’t know if you’d consider collecting maple sap to be foraging, but I sure do. Maple trees aren’t cultivated or cared for, they just reside in our yard and their sap is there for the taking in the spring. We make syrup from our two maple trees every spring, it’s the best syrup we’ve ever tasted!
You can read that post here: Making Maple Syrup in the City
Throughout all of Autumn we harvested black walnuts falling from trees in our yard and pouring onto sidewalks all over the neighborhood. I bashed them between rocks in the backyard to remove the husks, much like my cave woman ancestors would have.
Our terrified neighbors stared at me through their windows, but what else is new? It’s just the crazy lady, bashing nuts in her bathrobe again.
I’m so excited that spring is finally here, and we can once again harvest the fruits of the land. Hopefully we’ll find some new plants this year!
Have you ever gone foraging? What did you find?
This post is not a guide to foraging and doesn’t include information on how to identify these edible weeds for a reason. There are many guides both online and in books to help you identify wild edibles, use them (cross reference at least three!) to be absolutely sure you have positively identified a plant before eating it.
This post is meant for educational purposes to open your eyes to the world of weeds sitting right in your backyard. If you do choose to go foraging for weeds, it would be wise to take along someone who knows how to positively identify them, or several foraging guide books to help you make a proper identification.
Our Favorite Field Guides to Foraging:
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