How To Turn Garden Weeds Into Delicious Meals | Basic Instincts | WIRED

published on July 2, 2020

– Here is a plant that I just picked

from a crack in the sidewalk

It may not look like much,
but if prepared properly,

it can be transformed into a
nutritious and delicious meal

[whimsical music]

I'm Dr Bill Schindler

I'm a food archeologist,
chef, and director

of the Eastern Shore Food
Lab at Washington College

Now most of us go to the grocery store

to find our vegetables

But what we may not realize is
that the nutritional profile

of wild plants, or to most of us, weeds,

far exceeds that of domesticated plants

I'm gonna spend the next several hours

walking around my town, my neighborhood,

and even my yard, to show
you where you can find

some of these plants,
and how to harvest them

Then I'm gonna take
them back to my kitchen

and show you how to transform them

into some nourishing and delicious meals

Let's get to it

Before we begin, a few words on safety

Now the first thing
that we need to realize

is that all plants contain toxins

But when we're foraging, the
responsibility falls on us

to properly identify and understand

the plants that we're harvesting

The other thing that
we need to keep in mind

is what's happened to the
land on which we're foraging

Have people sprayed
insecticides or fungicides

or herbicides and if so,
how does that impact quality

and the safety of the food
we're trying to harvest

and include in our diets?

[understated music]

I'd like to introduce
you, or reintroduce you

to this plant right here

Many of you have seen
this growing in waste lots

or maybe even in your own yards

and have probably tried
really hard to get rid of it

Often considered a class A noxious weed

in many parts of this
country, this is in fact

one of the most nutritious wild
edible plants in the world

It's known as garlic mustard

And as its name implies, it
tastes like a combination

of garlic and mustard

Now it's very easy to identify

for a number of different reasons

It starts its life off
with these young leaves

that look almost like an arrowhead

that are somewhat toothed

Later on, these leaves turn
into a more heart-shaped leaf

that are scalloped on the edge

It has distinctive seed pods,

white flowers with four petals

But the most distinguishing characteristic

is that when any part of
this plant is crushed,

it gives off an odor that is a combination

of garlic and mustard

Every part of this plant is edible

The underground roots can be used

as a horseradish substitute

The seeds can be used to make mustard

And the stalk, the leaves, and the flowers

can all be used either cooked
and sauteed, or eaten raw

And really the best thing
to do with this plant,

to make the most of its
garlicky mustard flavor,

is to use it in pesto

When harvesting the
leaves from this plant,

we want to assure that we get

the most tender leaves possible

And we do this by
focusing on the new growth

young leaves at the top of the stalk

[understated music]

Here we have a common dandelion

These plants grow in just
about everybody's yards

and people work really,
really hard to get rid of 'em,

but this is just another example

of an incredibly nutritious and
delicious wild edible plant

Now the name dandelion comes
from the French Dent de lion,

which means the lion's teeth

And what that's referring
to are its leaves

that have deeply notched teeth

And the points actually
point back to the center

of what we call a basal rosette

See a dandelion, it's just
like many other spring plants

that when they first appear
in the early part of the year,

they send out a whole bunch of
leaves in a circular pattern

to attract as much sunlight as possible

at a time of the year

when there isn't that
much direct sunlight

Now other plants, when the stalk
comes up out of the ground,

it picks up those leaves
and carry them up the stalk

But a dandelion is fairly
unique in that it always keeps

its basal rosette leaves at the ground

the entire time it's alive

Dandelion greens are full
of high-quality nutrition,

but they're also a little bit bitter,

and that bitterness fluctuates
throughout the year

In early spring like now
or later on in the fall,

that bitterness is greatly reduced

But in the middle of the summer,

that bitterness is at its peak

and most people avoid dandelion
greens that time of year

just for that reason

So what chefs will often do is combine

the bitter dandelion greens
with high-quality fat,

particularly high-quality animal fat,

because that fat will cut the bitterness

And that's why often when you
see a dandelion green salad,

it's often cooked with
some sort of bacon grease

or have some sort of a
bacon grease dressing

You can also eat the dandelion flower

Well, this dandelion flower
is actually not one flower,

but it's a composite
flower made up of a ton

of tiny little flowers

It's sweet, slightly crunchy,

and you can use it to make wine

You can use it as a garnish for salads,

or you could also take
this, dip it in some batter,

and fry it up for a fantastic fritter

The below-ground parts of
this plant are edible as well

Let me show you

And there's two parts I
want us to pay attention to

First are the roots

Now the roots by
themselves are a little bit

too tough to eat raw, but when
cooked, boiled or steamed,

they actually are an
excellent cooked vegetable

On top of that, if roasted,
they take on a flavor

that's just like your roasted coffee beans

and make an excellent
caffeine-free coffee substitute

In fact, during World War II
when there were food shortages,

people in eastern North America

used to take dandelion roots,

roast them to taste like coffee,

and pair them with Yaupon
holly leaves, ilex vomitorias,

and by putting those two things together,

people could make a coffee substitute

that actually not only tasted like coffee,

but packed the caffeine
punch that coffee does

The other part of the dandelion, in fact,

my favorite part of the dandelion,
is this part right here,

between the base of these
leaves and the top of the root

This is called the crown,
and this is my favorite part

because especially in larger dandelions,

it is the most delicious and
crunchiest part of a dandelion,

and they work really,
really well raw in salads

[understated music]

Okay, right here at the base of this wall,

at the base of this hydrant
in cracks in the sidewalk

is another common,
delicious edible wild plant

known as wood sorrel

Now this plant has heart-shaped leaves

and small flowers with five petals

And it is not only
chock full of vitamin C,

but it has a delicious, sort
of acidic lemony quality to it

Now it doesn't hold up well to heat,

so it's not great for cooking, per se

But it's great for a lot
of culinary applications

for garnishing and to
use a little bit of it

to impart that wonderful lemony flavor

A word of caution, however

Wood sorrel, a member of the genus oxalis,

is one of many plants with
a high oxalate content

Oxalates are plant
toxins that can build up

in our bodies over time and
cause all sorts of issues

from joint pain to kidney stones

So this plant should be
consumed in moderation,

just like other plants
with high oxalate contents,

such as spinach, almonds and potatoes

One of the best ways to harvest this plant

is with a pair of scissors

With these scissors, I can
trim off the tops of this plant

where they're the most tender

But the entirety of the above
part of this plant is edible,

from the stems, to the leaves,

to the flowers, to the seed pods

[understated music]

This is one of my favorite
edible plants ever, chickweed

And it grows everywhere!

Now its genus, stellaria, refers
to its star-shaped flowers

and those flowers are super cool

They look like they have ten petals

but in fact they're five
petals with really deep clefts

The leaves are teardrop-shaped
and they grow opposite

on the stem from one another

And when it grows with just
the right amount of moisture

and shade, it can grow
large, succulent stems,

with just the right amount
of crispy bite to it

The entirety of the aboveground portion

of this plant is edible

That means the stems, the
leaves, and the flowers

But when I harvest it, I really
only wanna harvest the tips

because they're the most tender

We can use it raw in salads
and we can even saute it,

just like spinach

This plant is not only nutritious,

but I find it incredibly delicious

In fact, when I close
my eyes and eat this,

I think it tastes a lot like raw corn

[understated music]

Here we are on the side of this footpath

at the base of this tree,
and I'd like to introduce you

to this plant, known as field garlic

Now field garlic is an incredible
first-time foraging plant

for a number of different reasons

First, it's ubiquitous

It grows all over the place

and probably everybody watching this

has some of this growing in their yard

Second, it's very easy to identify

And one of its identifying characteristics

comes from the fact that
it contains a compound

known as allicin, which
produces a garlicky onion smell

when the stems or any part of this plant

are crushed or broken

Now this part above the
ground, these stems can be used

just like chives, but the
part that I'm really after

exists under the ground

Let me show you what they look like

One of the things I'd like you to notice

is at the base of this plant
are small cloves of garlic

that are growing and separating

from the main part of the plant

And this is one of the
ways that it propagates

And that's why this grows incredibly well

in disturbed soils

So actually by disturbing this soil,

I'm helping to spread new
plants, and also aerate the soil,

which is good for it as well

This is the part that I'm after

This garlic at the base can be used

just like regular garlic
in culinary applications,

and it has a ton of
flavor, but not the punch

that a lot of garlic actually has

Here we are actually in my own backyard,

right next to my garden beds

And I wanna show you this plant

that is a common wild edible
plant that we're gonna eat

that's actually not in my garden bed

but actually on the side of it

That is the common violet

The common violet is not only
delicious and nutritious,

but when it's in flower,
is absolutely beautiful

The flowers, the corollas, can occur

in all sorts of different
colors from purple to white

The leaves themselves are heart-shaped

with tooth margins and have
no hair on them whatsoever

The leaves have been used for everything

from reducing blood pressure
to aiding in digestion,

relieving coughs, as a blood purifier,

reducing fever, treating skin
problems, treating cancer,

and even to treat hemorrhoids

In fact, the leaves
contain salicylic acid,

which is the principal
metabolite in aspirin

And not only that, but these
leaves are high in mucilage

and that's a soluble fiber

And so by consuming these leaves,

the soluble fiber not only soothes,

but acts as a prebiotic that helps support

healthy population of
probiotics in your gut

The leaves can be cooked and sauteed

or they can be eaten raw
in things like salads

And the flowers, well, they
can be used as a garnish

that add a splash of color and
a nice crunch and sweetness

to anything you put it on

In just a few short hours,

by walking through my neighborhood,

my town and even my own backyard,

I was able to collect
all of this fresh food

Now I'm gonna show you how to process it

and transform it into
incredibly nutritious

and delicious dishes

For the first dish, we're
going to highlight the flavor

of the garlic mustard

We're gonna combine that
with the wild field garlic

that we collected, and
make an incredible pesto

And we're gonna use
that pesto to combine it

with homemade mozzarella
cheese, olive oil, and salt,

to top a long-fermented sourdough crust

For the second dish,
we're going to use fat

to cut the bitterness
of the dandelion greens

Traditionally that's done with
bacon grease or even bacon,

but we're gonna use a different fat

We're gonna take marrowbones,
beef marrowbones,

roast them in the oven to
liquefy the incredibly satiating

and nourishing bone marrow on the inside

And then we're gonna take and
make a very quick vinaigrette,

dress the dandelion greens,

arrange them around the
roasted marrowbones,

and serve that with a
long-fermented sourdough bread

Finally, for the rest of the greens,

we're going to saute them

Sauteing is a great way to
take almost any wild green

and turn it into
something that you can use

in almost any dish

For us, we're going to combine that

with homemade ricotta cheese,
made from the whey left over

from making the mozzarella

We're gonna put that
inside of fresh pasta dough

and top it with an egg yolk

We're adding an egg
yolk for three reasons

First, because it adds a ton of nutrition

Second, because it also
adds a little bit more fat

to help cut any residual bitterness

that's left in the greens

And finally, we're adding
the egg yolk to this ravioli

because it transforms the basic ravioli

into something decadent

Foraging can provide access to all sorts

of unique flavors and textures

that you just can't get
in the grocery store

And, foraging can connect
you with the world around you

in some unique and powerful ways

Once we realize that
these edible wild plants

exist all around us, even
in our own backyards,

and that they have the ability to provide

the highest-quality nutrition
possible for plants,

then maybe instead of
trying to eradicate them,

we can actively try to propagate them

and once again return
wild plants into our diets

like they've been for millions of years

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