Why We Should Eat Wild Greens
As a group, wild greens are higher in nutrition than domestic produce grown on farms. This is true even for organically grown produce. The generations-long process of domesticating a plant involved selecting for a specific size, color, flavor or ripening date. This happened at the expense of reduced fiber and nutrition, specifically vitamins and minerals. See this chart for specific data in this area.
They are free, making high quality produce affordable for anyone.
They are “unofficially organic” if harvested from clean places in nature.
They are abundant in many areas and life zones of the world. While not every plant on this page is found everywhere, many of these plants are frequently encountered around the world in a variety of climates, seasons, elevations and rainfall.
They are safe from being overharvested. As many of these greens grow best in disturbed soil, the act of picking them works to perpetuate the best soil environment for them to freely reproduce.
They are palatable which is much better than simply being edible. These are not foods that need to be forced on anyone. They are welcome and nourishing additions to the daily diet.
They are easily harvested and prepared. For the most part, no special tools are needed to gather these foods and no complicated cookbooks are required. They can either be added raw to salads and sandwiches or cooked in ways similar to domestic leafy greens.
Safety and Palatable Issues
Always, always, ALWAYS be 100% sure of the ID of a plant before putting it in your mouth. While the actual number of deadly plants is small, it only takes one mistake to be fatal. I have serious issues with the many versions of the “Plant Taste Test” to determine edible safety. There is no substitute to learning the individual plants in one’s home region.
Poison Hemlock is one plant every forager needs to know and avoid. It is highly toxic and can be deadly.
Only wildcraft plants that are free from pollution. This means avoiding plants near roads and golf courses or downstream for agricultural or industrial runoff.
In general, younger greens taste better than ones that have gone to seed. This often means spring or early summer is best. An exception for the Southwest is the July and August monsoons at higher elevations. Many greens make an appearance with the seasonal moisture in July and August above 5,000’ in Arizona.
A good rule is to avoid eating greens that have gone to seed. Taste and nutrition deteriorates then and the seeds should be saved for next year’s crop.
The increased fiber of wild food has many health benefits including helping to stabilize blood sugar and promoting regular bowel movements. Short term, many people feel some digestive discomfort when beginning the wild food journey. Initially, take it easy on the wild stuff. It is best to nibble some and then gradually add them to garden greens in a salad.
Here are some of the greens available in the Southwest.
Additional Plant Profiles will be added as they are written.
Wild Mustard (Sisymbrium irio)
Amaranth (Amaranth spp.)
Goosefoot, also known as Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album)
Dandelion Leaves (Taraxacum officinalis)
Purslane (Portulacca spp.)
Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus)
Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Yellow Dock, also known as Curly Dock (Rumex crispus)
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis spp.)