You want to feed your family nutritious foods, but can barely afford a head of cabbage, much less organic anything. Time to consider the free wonderful foods that are everywhere. Weeds. That's right. Those so called "pesky" plants that people spend millions a year to get rid of, so they can have a chemical filled "lawn". Unless you have kids that have no where else to play, lawns are a left over relic from when we actually kept grazing animals, like cows and sheep, on our land. Lawns today are mostly a chemical filled, soil destroying green area, that is barely used ( too much activity can destroy those pretty things), and is a major contributor to the pollution of our water and soil. Not to mention the amount of fossil fuel related products needed to keep it up.
Not everyone is ready to turn their lawns into a garden ( I know how some of you are about your pride and joy green spot), there are ways to start getting the best of both worlds. Lets start with edible and tasty wild foods that are everywhere. Dandelion, violets, red clover, the mustards, chickweed, burdock, sorrel- all simple to identify, wild foods that most of you are probably busy pulling or spraying out of your gardens and lawns. The nutritional impact is great with these wild foods. They grow where they are happy, and since they are not stressed out, they are full of nutrition.
First a couple of ground rules ( no pun intended). One, if it is NOT your property, always ask permission from the rightful owner before picking anything. Two, make sure that the area has not been sprayed with herbicides ( plant killers) or pesticides( bug killers) recently -like in the last six months or so, at least. Three, KNOW WHAT YOU ARE PICKING!!! That is why you start out simple. You know what dandelions look like. Good,start with dandelions. Although they are more bitter than most Americans are used to eating, they are something you recognize. Dandelion greens are less bitter when they are young, and the flowers have not appeared yet, but the whole plant is edible, except the seeds ( the "puffy" ball of fluff that we loved to blow around as kids). To try Dandelion the first time, add a few of the greens into a raw salad, or saute some in with other greens your family is already eating, like collards, spinach, broccoli rabe, kale or even cabbage. Violets are now in bloom, so they are pretty easy to find. Use the flowers ( and the whole family is edible, so pansies are good too, just make sure that they have been treated as a food plant,not an ornamental or that they are raised organically). The flowers have almost no taste, but really make for a pretty salad. The leaves are good, high in vitamin C and other nutrients, and have a mild flavor. I would not use a lot of the leaves at one time- they can cause loose stools in large quantities, especially if you are new to eating them. The violet family is an ally for breast health as well. For more information, look to Susun's Weeds Books. She has a wealth of information on these two plants, as well as other green allies and their properties.
Find some one local who knows what plants are thriving in your area, and who does classes or walks in identification of useful plants. Become a protector as well. Most of the plants I will discuss here are plentiful, but even with plentiful plants, we must respect them. Never take all the plants you find in one area. If you do not see many, do not take any! Someone else harvested the area first, or they are just getting established. The best is to start naturalizing your own property if you can. If you live in the city, and do not have a green space, there are plenty of places to forage, just be careful of where you pick. Lead is a concern in city soils. City parks are a possible source, but it is against the law in some places to pick from parks, nature centers or sanctuaries-always ask!!! That being said, most places do not mind if you pick or use most of the plentiful weeds, in fact they may welcome your efforts. Get yourself a guide book or two. Peterson's series are very good, and they have books based on regional plants, so you can look for things that are particularly fond of living where you do. There are many plants out there just waiting for you to discover them. So what are YOU waiting for?