A Guide to Edible Weeds in Los Angeles
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.
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:
- a valueless plant growing wild, esp. one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.
- 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?
A weed is but an unloved flower.— Ella Wheeler Wilcox
These Are the Edible Weeds That I Have Written About so Far
Fun facts and recipes for the dainty chickweed.
Information, folklore, recipes, and resources -- all about the delicious, nutritious clover plant.
Information, recipes, and fun, all related to the lovely dandelion, one of the world's most famous weeds. To a lot of people, in fact, they are the poster girl for all weeds.
Mallows are an annual plant, and sometimes they are nowhere to be seen. But when they are in season, they dominate the streets here in Los Angeles, tall and plentiful.
- Nettle-Leaf Goosefoot
This oddly named weed, nettle-leaf goosefoot, is one of the low-profile members of the Amaranth family, the Chenopodiaceae. It is less talked about than other members of its genus, but it is plentiful here in Los Angeles.
The minute you look at purslane, you can tell that it wants you to eat it. The plump leaves and stems give an obvious invitation. It's sturdy, growing in huge patches at the edges of yards and sidewalks, a treasure to urban foragers.
- Sow Thistle
One of my favorite weeds, the sow thistle, is one of the most plentiful wild plants you'll see in the Los Angeles area.
- Stinging Nettle
Information, recipes, folklore and fun, all about the wickedly fascinating stinging nettle plant.
- Wood Sorrel
Wood sorrel is one of my favorite edible wild plants. It's lemony taste is a great addition to a morning salad.
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
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
Field guides make foraging easier
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
Everything in this bowl came from my yard. Can you spot all the ingredients?
- Sow thistle
- Wood sorrel
- 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;
Through the smallest chink of hope
In the absolute of concrete...— Phillip Pulfrey
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2014 Joan Hall