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A Guide to Edible Weeds in Los Angeles

Author:
Plantago major, photographed on a sidewalk in Carson

Plantago major, photographed on a sidewalk in Carson

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

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!

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.

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.

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.

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

— Slim Acres

Weedies: Breakfast of Champions

edible-weeds-in-los-angeles

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

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: In the photo of your salad, what is the spade-shaped leaf in the upper left?

Answer: That's sow thistle, a close relative of dandelion.

Question: Do you know whether goat head plants are edible?

Answer: There are a few different plants that are called goat head. You would probably need to find out the Latin name of the plant you're asking about in order to find out if it's edible.

© 2014 Joan Hall

Leave a greeting!

Imogen French from Southwest England on June 13, 2020:

It's interesting to see that you have a lot of the same weeds as us in the UK, eg dandelions, chickweed, etc. I grow a lot of my own veg, but really should make more of the free, wild stuff.

Interesting reading, thanks.

Keith Campbell on May 26, 2017:

Thank you. Very interesting reading.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 06, 2015:

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

Great hub!

Musu Bangura from Nation's Capital on October 23, 2014:

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!

Fay Favored from USA on September 26, 2014:

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.

frank nyikos from 8374 E State Rd 45 Unionville IN 47468 on September 23, 2014:

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

Andrew Smith from Richmond, VA on September 23, 2014:

You can be on my zombie survival team.

Mel Carriere from San Diego California on September 23, 2014:

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 Geertman from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands on September 22, 2014:

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

David Paul Wagner from Sydney, Australia on September 22, 2014:

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

darkprinceofjazz on September 22, 2014:

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

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 22, 2014:

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