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Weed Foraging Gone Wrong

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A tall, leafy plant waved at me from the garden mound my son built last spring. Hmm, I thought, that looks a lot like arugula. Could it be? He planted all sorts of things out there from seed packets, long tossed. I plucked a leaf and took a whiff. Smelled like arugula. Took a bite; tasted like arugula. Excited, I picked a whole bunch of leaves and cradled them in damp paper towels to ward off wilt. For lunch, I used the leaves to roll up some cold rice salad into tidy pipes of spicy deliciousness.

I woke that night with my stomach clenched and roaring. I curled on my side, rocking and moaning. By the next day it was so bad I went to the the doctor, something I hardly ever do. Her first question was, had I eaten anything unusual in the last 24 hours? I sheepishly admitted I had eaten a mystery plant in my garden. I’d taken a picture of tit with my phone, and had brought a few leaves with me which the doctor helpfully took around the office to show the gardeners in the group. She came back with the bad news: no one recognized it. Perhaps it was a weed?IMG_5901

She palpitated my abdomen to rule out appendicitis and took a urine sample. She told me they’d run a few tests, but I’d probably just have to gut it out. And she told me not to eat any more of the plant – doctor’s orders.

We have an abundance of edible weeds around here – who hasn’t heard of the amazing emergence of purslane as the new darling of the farmers market? It’s a weed I have attacked with a vengeance, only to see it pop up triumphantly a few weeks later, tougher and lower profile than before, crawling along the sidewalk like a miniature jade plant mutant. Now I eat it.

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Dandelions, stinging nettles, shepard’s purse, sow’s thistle – all are edible, in spite of their forbidding names. Just make sure they haven’t been sprayed with a pesticide or peed on by a dog. And even more importantly – don’t eat any weed unless you are sure what it is. Just because it looks like a duck and walks like a duck – it might not be a duck. It might be an arugula look alike that’ll give you a belly ache and school you in the art of foraging.

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