Weeds are often viewed as undesirable and unwanted plants in our gardens. After you read this blog you will hopefully come to realize that some weeds are not only edible but are also a great addition to urban gardens and your local diet.
At ChocoSol we recognize that edible weeds are a great asset for our local and eco-gastronomic production kitchen because they are resilient, easy to grow, nutrient dense, and have a significant culinary history both in Europe and the Americas. This growing season has been exciting! We doubled our mint and lemon balm production and cultivated hardy leafy greens such as Lamb’s Quarters, Sorrel, Epazote, and Watercress for the first time. The next 2 blog posts will focus on our research and experiences cultivating these edible greens. This first post we’ll be taking a look at lamb’s quarters, mint and sorrel.
Lambs Quarters – Chenopodium album
Lambs Quarters (also known as Pigweed) is a prolific seed producer and has become one of the most abundant weeds in parks, roadsides, back alleys and backyard gardens across Canada. Although it may seem like a nuisance, lamb’s quarters is very nutritious – the leaves and seeds are great sources of beta carotene, calcium, potassium, iron, they also provide trace minerals, b-complex vitamins, vitamin C and fiber. The young upper leaves and flower can be eaten raw or cooked. You can continue to eat the tops even after flowering, making this a long lasting seasonal food.
During the middle ages in Rome, it was a popular wild vegetable and was used as spinach before it was cultivated and brought over to North America by the Europeans. Although not native to Canada, many indigenous peoples used it after it was brought over from Europe in horse feed during the gold rush. The Iroquois peoples poulticed it onto burns and the Ojobwa peoples used it in mush or bread.
Because of its prolific seed production, all of the lamb’s quarters that we cultivated on our roof this summer came from sprouts that we discovered in our containers in May. As they sprouted voluntarily we transplanted them into two of our EarthBoxes and harvested them in a ‘cut and come again’ manner, waiting a week or 2 between harvests.
To our dismay the leaves on each plant seemed smaller than ones seen around the city. We suspect that it got a later start in the spring, and that its roots may not like the constant moisture it received while growing in the self-watering EarthBox container. Nonetheless, the leaves and seed heads were very tasty when served in our corn tortillas at markets!
Mint – Mentha
Mint has a rich and diverse history. In ancient Greece it was the main ingredient in the drink Kykeon which was served at the spring festival celebrated to awaken the fields, and the fall festival celebrated to put them to sleep. In ancient wedding rituals it was woven into the headdresses to wish them happiness and was also reported to have aphrodisiac properties. Since the 1700s, mint has been cultivated for medicinal use, specifically for calming the digestive and respiratory system. It thrives in rich, moist soil and can be found flourishing near ditches, streams and meadows.The varieties that we are growing on the roof are Korean mint, Black Peppermint, Egyptian and Chocolate mint.
Anyone who has experience with growing mint in their garden knows it can be aggressive. Mint is an ideal addition to our rooftop because it is easy to grow, its growth is contained, and it enjoys the consistent moisture of the EarthBoxes. To provide them with additional shade, we intercropped them with with sunflowers, squash, zinnia, lemon balm, and borage. This summer we have used the mint in our tortilla and tamale masa, in our eating and drinking chocolate, and cold tea brews.
Sorrel – Rumex acetosa
Sorrel (also known as sour dock) is a common weed found in grassy Europe and North American fields, meadows and pastures. In the wild it can be a sign of poor soil conditions, and is often found on roadsides and sandy soils. It is thought to originate in Asia but is found growing as a perennial across North America and Europe. It has a high vitamin C content and was once thought to cure scurvy.
We started the sorrel seeds under our grow lights in late March and transplanted them in 5 EarthBoxes. We planted some in organized rows and scattered planted the rest. This seemed to be a better fit because its leaves were able to leaves were able to spread out more comfortably. It grew quickly in the full sun on the southeast corner of our roof top, and reacted positively to being harvested in a ‘cut and come again’ manner. After each harvest it grew back quickly and produced a lot of seeds that we will save for next year. Our customers love the tangy taste that it gives to our corn tortillas!