Unexpected edibles: Your back yard is a supermarket
From dandelions to aloe, everyday plants can add diversity to dinner.
Friday, June 10, 2011 - 00:17
I can't say I'm an expert on plants, and I can guarantee that if left to my own devices in the wilderness, I would surely die. But that doesn't mean I don't like to supplement my diet with wild things I find in my back yard.
Have you ever considered some of nature's more unique culinary contributions? Eating things that come from your yard may seem like a strange concept. But it's not too far off from eating clovers as a kid. (And before grocery stores existed on every corner, most people had to grow their own food.) Quite surprisingly, there are many different kinds of edible weeds.
Tasty yellow flowers
Take dandelions for example. They are my dad's worst nightmare. He battles them at the beginning of every summer before yielding to the overwhelming ranks of yellow. I, on the other hand, enjoy dandelions. And I'm not talking about aesthetics; I'm talking about taste. They taste good! Now, there are, of course, conditions to dandelion consumption. Once the flowers reach maturity, they are a bit bitter. I recommend indulging while they are still budding. Also, dandelion leaves bring variety to any salad.
Another salad ingredient
One of the greatest treasures of the Midwest is wild onions. Why pay for scallions at the supermarket? Not only do wild onions taste better, they are completely free. I realize that not everyone is inclined to forage for onions in the back yard, but I personally think it's worth the effort. Throw them in a salad, use them in a stir-fry ... I promise you won't be disappointed.
It's not a buffet
Before you get all gung-ho about eating weeds, it's important to note that you can't eat everything outside. Something to watch for is pesticide use. If you spray your grass with chemicals, I would not recommend eating any remaining dandelion or wild onion survivors. I mean, weed killers are able to kill weeds for a reason.
If you don't have a back yard
So what about those who lack green space? There are some great indoor edible options. The aloe plant is wonderful. Not only is it decorative, it's good for you and your digestive tract. I learned about the wonders of the aloe plant while on vacation near the Equator when I toured a factory that manufactures aloe vera gel. There are two important things to know if you are going to eat aloe. The first is that you shouldn't eat the skin. Once you remove the skin, the inside is a clear, jelly-like substance. Make sure to rinse it before eating. If you do these two things, you are golden.
A final edible plant that can be kept indoors or in the garden is nasturtium. These are great flowers because they come in both climbing and normal varieties — not to mention the colors. You can eat the flowers, leaves and seeds. I personally pick the flowers and toss them into a salad to add some color and flavor. There is no need for pepper when you have this plant around, trust me.
If you're interested in learning more, there are many books about edible plants. And if you are feeling adventurous or are looking to try something new, start with your back yard or the potted plants on your windowsill.
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