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A Guide to Edible Weeds in Los Angeles

Updated on February 9, 2017
Plantago major, photographed on a sidewalk in Carson
Plantago major, photographed on a sidewalk in Carson | Source

My Personal Guide to the Wild Foods of Los Angeles

A lot of people think of weeds as undesirables that have no purpose but to ruin our lawns. But many of the wild plants that we see around us are edible, tasty, and highly nutritious. There are free, organic vegetables growing right at our feet!

The varieties of wild edibles we find will vary from one region to another, but these pages are dedicated to the common edible weeds that I find around me in the urban neighborhoods of the greater Los Angeles area.

Purslane, an edible weed
Purslane, an edible weed | Source

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.

— A. A. Milne

What Is a Weed?

Let's open our minds to the value of wild plants!

This is what Dictionary.com says:

Weed (noun)

  1. a valueless plant growing wild, esp. one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.
  2. any undesirable or troublesome plant, esp. one that grows profusely where it is not wanted.

The word "valueless" is very subjective. Some people would feel that the dandelions and clover growing in your yard offer much more value than the grass (unless you have livestock!). If someone is farming and trying to get the largest possible yield of one particular plant, then anything else that grows there could be considered valueless.

The second definition is more in line with our usual feelings about weeds: Undesirable. Troublesome. Not wanted. Not what we planned for this space.

A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.

— Doug Larson

Identifying Wild Plants

Of course, you want to be very sure that you know what a plant is before you consider eating it. But identifying weeds can be learned and it's really fun!

There are lots of resources that provide information about wild plants. Study the descriptions you find and compare them to the plants you see around you. You'll know you've made the right identification of a plant when all of the characteristics match the official description. The leaves, the flowers, the roots, everything should match.

I spent a lot of time looking at weeds that I had gathered in my backyard or found while foraging in the neighborhood, comparing them to pictures and descriptions from books and websites. Now I have my familiar favorites that I could recognize anywhere. Once you know a plant, it's like seeing a cherished friend in an unexpected place. Chickweed! Fancy meeting you here!

Have you ever eaten a weed?

See results

A weed is but an unloved flower.

— Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Chickweed, photographed outside a medical office in Downey.
Chickweed, photographed outside a medical office in Downey. | Source

Internet Resources for Identifying Plants

There are lots of weed identification websites. Be aware, however, that some of these are agricultural sites whose purpose is to find weeds in order to kill them instead of making salads with them. Along with these sites, you can often find the information you need by just typing some descriptive phrases into Google (for example, "weed with purple flowers and fuzzy leaves").

The UC Davis Weed Photo Gallery has descriptions, photographs, and a handy search function.

The University of Illinois: Weed Science has a photo gallery of common weeds. It's not a searchable site, but if you already have an idea of what a plant might be, you can look it up and confirm the identification.

But a weed is simply a plant that wants to grow where people want something else. In blaming nature, people mistake the culprit. Weeds are peoples idea, not natures.

— Author Unknown

Hungry Yet?

Whole grain pasta with mallow, stinging nettle, sow thistle, and mustard green leaves, all taken from my backyard.
Whole grain pasta with mallow, stinging nettle, sow thistle, and mustard green leaves, all taken from my backyard. | Source

Foraging Tip

One of the great things about edible weeds is that they are organic— we hope!

Make sure that you gather your wild edibles from areas that are not sprayed with pesticides!

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson
A mallow leaf, picked from my backyard.
A mallow leaf, picked from my backyard. | Source

Field guides make foraging easier

Southern California Food Plants: Wild Edibles of the Valleys, Foothills, Coast, and Beyond
Southern California Food Plants: Wild Edibles of the Valleys, Foothills, Coast, and Beyond

Field guides are books that are used as tools in the identification of wildlife. This one specifically targets edible wild plants in Southern California.

 

Roses are red, Violets are blue; But they don't get around Like the dandelions do.

— Slim Acres

Weedies - Breakfast of Champions

Source

Everything in this bowl came from my yard. Can you spot all the ingredients?

  • Mallow
  • Sow thistle
  • Wood sorrel
  • Chickweed
  • And one disassembled dandelion flower


Soon after posing for this photo, these greens were garnished with pumpkin seeds, feta cheese, and dried cranberries, splashed with vinaigrette dressing, and consumed.

I learn more about God

From weeds than from roses;

Resilience springing

Through the smallest chink of hope

In the absolute of concrete...

— Phillip Pulfrey

© 2014 Joan Hall

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    • profile image

      Keith Campbell 6 months ago

      Thank you. Very interesting reading.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      I'm very interested in the concept of urban foraging.

      Great hub!

    • Zainab Tarawali profile image

      Musu Bangura 3 years ago from Nation's Capital

      This is so interesting! I remember when I was visiting the L.A. area and was fascinated to see Aloe Vera plants growing in a neighborhood that wasn't too far from one of the beaches. I guess I need to pay attention to what's growing in my own yard on the east coast!

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 3 years ago from USA

      Each year there are Dandelion festivals where I come from so it's pretty much a common food. Although it is a big deal for some, I think it's an acquired taste.

    • hostaguy profile image

      frank nyikos 3 years ago from 8374 E State Rd 45 Unionville IN 47468

      Good job Joan! I've book marked this to look at more closely this winter. FYI most of these weeds grow in south central Indiana too

    • goatfury profile image

      Andrew Smith 3 years ago from Richmond, VA

      You can be on my zombie survival team.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      I'm not much of a vegetables guy to start with, so eating greens from a store or a sidewalk doesn't appeal to me. But I do like learning about wild plants because I like to understand my environment, and since I live just down the coast from you in the San Diego area I am sure we are seeing mostly the same weeds. Great hub!

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 3 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      I reguarly eat weeds from my garden and my mom used to make an ointment from dandelions.

    • David Paul Wagner profile image

      David Paul Wagner 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      These plants look good. I'm putting my bib on! And I'll also be reading your other hubs on edible weeds.

    • profile image

      darkprinceofjazz 3 years ago

      Very interesting. Not something I would have thought of, these don't look much different than items on a salad bar.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love it. I am big on self-sufficiency, and learning to fend for ourselves...this is the perfect article for my lifestyle beliefs.