Foraging for edible weeds

By Ethan Proud
SUN Columnist
I frequently get asked about whether or not noxious weeds can be eaten, used medicinally or as herbs. The short answer is yes (poisonous plant extracts are often used in modern medicine), though it is not an effective management strategy.
However, if you want to forage and try some weeds, do not harvest them from the rights of way as they may have a chemical residue, do not trespass and, if you plan on harvesting from the National Forest, check with the local office regarding the legality of such activities.
Planting and intentionally cultivating noxious weeds is against state law. However, if you want to try to eat some of your garden invaders, many can be added to a salad and are quite palatable. Hoary cress is in the brassicaceae family (mustards such as cabbage, broccoli and kale are in this same family) and tastes like a cruciferous vegetable with a spicy flavor, but some literature indicates that it may be poisonous. Dandelion and chicory greens may be added to a salad, though the leaves of mature plants often taste bitter. Dandelion wine is fairly popular and may be a good use for all the yellow flowers that are competing with your lawn. Chicory root is also used as a coffee substitute, though it is bitter and doesn’t really taste like coffee.
Thistles are in the clade carduoideae and have a popular edible cousin, the artichoke. Some individuals eat thistle by peeling the skin off of the stem, though it seems labor-intensive and prickly for such a small morsel. Common mullein has also been used in teas for respiratory ailments, though its trichomes are a skin and mouth irritant and should not be eaten. Many noxious weeds also contain poisonous compounds or have highly poisonous look-alikes and foraging should only been done under the direction of an expert.
Many of our native plant species can also be great additions to a salad or a quick pick-me-up while hiking. The spurs of columbine contain nectar and are very sweet.
Misidentifying plants can lead to disastrous, if not fatal, repercussions. A native plant to this area, death camas, has an edible relative, blue camas, and smells and appears similar to a wild onion when not in bloom. It only takes three ounces of the bulb to kill an adult.
Foraging for wild foods is a great way to expand your palate and eat an “exotic” diet, but should not be undertaken without a reputable guide book and expert advice.
Archuleta County Weed and Pest is your local resource for managing noxious weed populations and controlling other pests.
Electric cooker 101
Do you have an electric pressure cooker at home, but don’t know what to do with it? Are you thinking about buying one? Then come learn about how to use one and make fabulous meals.
The Extension office will be offering two classes on Oct. 2, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Call the Extension office to register. Classes are $15 each. Child care will be offered for the 6 p.m. class only and supports 4-H.
4-H open house
There will be a 4-H open house at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 23 at the fairgrounds. Come see what 4-H is all about. Call the Extension office at 264-5931 for more information.
Health Lands Workshop
There will be a Healthy Lands Workshop from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 6 at the Extension office. Please call the San Juan Conservation District office at 731-3615 to register. There will be a free lunch.
CPR and first aid classes
CPR and first aid certification classes are offered monthly by the CSU Extension office on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6 to 10 p.m. Anyone needing to receive or renew certification can register by calling the Extension office at 264-5931.
We will also attempt to schedule classes on additional dates with five or more registrations. Cost for the classes is $80 for combined CPR/first aid and $55 for CPR, first aid or recertification. The type of first aid information provided will vary by the needs of the audience.

This story was posted on September 30, 2019.