How to Eat Weeds: A Guide to Foraging

Backyards and forests across America are filled with incredible, yet edible plants. Even those pesky weeds that invade the side of the road are actually tasty treats. Filled with valuable antioxidants, vitamins, and protein, local weeds can provide a sweet and nutritious twist to your next meal.

First and foremost, research and identify edible weeds, where it is safe to pick, and how it should be prepared. If you’ve not read the book or seen the movie, Into the Wild, it’s a great lesson on why plant identification is so critical to life or death. Foraging, when done properly, can be an educational and delicious experience.

Do some legwork beforehand. Research local weeds in your area by way of a great regional foraging book or mobile app.  Another option is to visit a farmer’s market and ask for help or guidance from local plant experts. Be sure to identify edible weeds correctly. Be aware not all weeds are edible, and it is your responsibility to recognize and know the difference. If you are in the Deep Creek Lake area, visit the Discovery Center for more information on local edible weeds and their nutritional value.

Look for undisturbed areas of fauna and flora. Based on your location, wild vegetation may be limited therefore it is important to access safe areas to harvest. Observe the area for any signs of herbicides or chemical fertilizer. If plants are discolored or droop downward in an unnatural way it is best to move to another location. Avoid weed collection in areas near dog parks or paths with heavy foot traffic as these areas are more prone to contamination. Spend a day in one of the many Western Maryland state forests where weeds are plentiful and fresh.

Wild plants are potent and a little goes a long way. Test your plants. Try a small piece to determine flavor and texture. As a precaution, never eat or taste raw plants harvested in water without cleaning first.  Pull, cut, or carefully remove plants from the earth without disturbing other nearby vegetation. Always rinse and clean your findings under cold running water before preparation or as directed by a recipe.  To prepare weeds, always follow the plant specific recipe directions and recommendations.

Document and record the plants you gather and consume.  A foraging journal helps manage, monitor, and map your findings and recipes. This plant-by-plant account serves a reference and resource for future foraging trips and experiences.  In the event a weed causes illness after consumption, a journal can provide the necessary details needed by healthcare professionals. A foraging journal can be a time-honored heirloom passed on to future generations.

The Deep Creek Lake area is alive with edible plants just waiting to be consumed by adventurers like you.  Here are a few of our favorite local weeds you’ll want to seek out and try:

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is the most recognizable weed in the backyard. Everything on this plant can be used in a delicious way. Harvest the greens in early spring or late fall when the leaves are the sweetest. The bright yellow flower is edible too and has a mild but bittersweet flavor. This plentiful backyard plant actually has more beta-carotene than carrots. Add dandelions greens and flowers to salads, casseroles, and even drinks. Delight and surprise the kids with this Dandelion Flower Cookie recipe.

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) is also known as wild carrot. This deep taproot weed is the wild ancestor of carrots grown in gardens today.  According to folklore, Queen Anne pricked her finger with a needle while making lace, and if you look closely you will see a red tinge of blood in the center of the lacy flower head. With the scent of carrots, the lacy bloom appears on a two-year-old mature plant with an edible root.  Wild carrot has a firm stem with small hairs all around it. The lacy white flower head is edible raw or lightly battered and fried. The seeds from the flower add texture and flavor to soups and stews.  For the untrained eye, Queen Anne’s Lace looks similar to poisonous hemlock which can kill if consumed. Never try any wild plant unless you are absolutely sure it is safe and edible. Make something fit for a queen with this Queen Anne’s Lace Jelly recipe.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are found in the Appalachian region in early spring.  With a stinky reputation, ramps are known for their strong and pungent onion-like smell.  A favorite with locals, ramps are a focus of festivals, folk lore, and restaurant specialty menus.  Ramps are high in vitamin C and A with the capacity to lower cholesterol. A healthy ramp should have two or three bright green leaves about six inches long.  Grip the plant where the leaves meet the ground and pull firmly from the round. The ramp will reveal a small white bulb attached by a purplish stem.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is a weed found all over the US.  In moderation, this hearty plant has been found to remedy some cancers.  Like anything, too much of a good thing is not good for you and the same is true with red clover.  Packed with protein, red clover flowers are rich in beta-carotene, bioflavonoids, and vitamins C and B. Use this cheery weed in tea, salad, or even a stir fry.  If sharing with guests, be aware many people are allergic to clover but don’t know it.  Prepare and serve this summertime favorite, red clover lemonade at your next picnic.

Roses (Rosaceae) are the most recognized flower in the world.  What most people don’t know is that roses are edible. The more fragrant the rose the more flavor it offers.  Only use organic rose petals free of pesticide or chemicals for consumption. Be aware, most commercial roses are treated with some form of chemical and are not recommended for consumption. Roses are ready for harvest when the dew dries up. Refrigerate rose petals immediately until ready to use. Discover the possibilities of rose petals and use fragrance as your guide. Beneficial to good health, rose petals contain terpenes, glycosides, flavonoids and anthocyanins. Add rose petals to your favorite desserts like ice cream, cake frosting, or smoothies for a fragrant and unforgettable dose of vitamin C.  Stop and smell the roses,  then cook them into something delicious with these rose inspired recipes.
Plan a foraging field trip this summer to Deep Creek Lake as a weekend getaway or a week long vacation.  Stay with us at the Blue Moon Rising Resort and cook up your culinary creations in a rustic cabin kitchen.  Step out your cabin door and explore the resort trail system and forage for weeds, nuts, and other natural surprises.  See you in the mountains, reserve now!



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