I’ve been a gardener for more than 20 years, and during that time I’ve heard all sorts of ways to describe weeds. “A plant out of place,” “An herbaceous pest,” “A plant that has mastered every means of survival except for growing in rows.”
The definition I tend to quote all the time is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said “A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” I try to pull weeds by this mantra, and more often than not, I will allow certain weeds to grow in my garden — as long as they are not shading out my primary crops: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and flowers.
Here I’ve listed a few of my favorite weeds growing in the garden now — clover, purslane and lemon balm — with some great ways to use them in the kitchen. Just make sure you pick weeds in areas that aren’t treated with pesticides and give them a good wash or soak in a bowl of water before cooking with them.
Though you won’t know it unless you get down and sniff it, clover flowers have a beautiful floral fragrance that attracts pollinators to the garden. The entire plant is edible and can be used in salads, stir-fries or baked goods. Clover leaves are best eaten when they are young and tender — before the plant flowers. Try drying out flowers to steep in tea, bread and fry them as fritters, or toss them into any recipe that calls for fresh herbs!
Purslane is an under-rated weed that I have seen gracing the menu at a high-end restaurant. It’s a drought tolerant succulent plant that tends to grow best around rock gardens or in cracks of sidewalks. The paddle-shaped leaves have a light lemon flavor and are great for jazzing up a traditional garden salad.
I also have a ton of lemon balm in my garden, which is considered an herb, but grows like a weed! I let lemon balm grow wherever I can’t grow anything else — such as the damp area of the garden where water runs off the roof of my garage. Currently, it is in bloom with tiny white flowers that the butterflies have been visiting. I know this means I will have more lemon balm all over the garden, but I enjoy pulling it because of the beautiful lemon fragrance it leaves behind on my hands. Try tossing some chopped lemon balm leaves into any recipe that calls for citrus. You can chop leaves and add them to salad dressing, pasta dishes and baked goods!