Undoubtedly, there are a plethora of weeds—plants people don’t generally like—that are edible, nutritious, and often tasty. Some favorites out there include dandelion, chickweed, lambsquarter, and purslane. These “weeds” and others, like sorrel and stinging nettle and plantain, are worthy of growing as crops, but they just don’t get the love.
On the other hand, there are certain crops that famously—sometimes infamously—grow like weeds. These crops are things we plant on purpose, knowing they’re edible-y delicious, and then, they simply go wild. Most grow vigorously. Many can plant themselves. Some can even spread like wildfire across a garden or lawn.
All of that is to say when planting some of these, it’s not a bad idea to take some caution. They might not go away once they got a good set of roots in the ground. In fact, they may start to take over the place.
Nasturtium is commonly planted as an ornamental for its beautiful flowers. Some gardeners like to plant it as a companion plant to deter pests from prized crops. Whatever the case, nasturtium spreads vigorously be vines that stretch out along the ground. The leaves are edible (taste like arugula), as are the flowers and seeds (substituted from capers).
The good thing about growing horseradish is that it is basically limited to where its large root can take it. The trouble is, if that root gets chopped or tilled, all the pieces start to sprout a new horseradish plant. Nevertheless, horseradish is a nice addition to many dishes, and the young leaves are great for spring salads. The leaves have a horseradish-like flavor but are less intense than the roots.
Mustard greens are a great crop, and they are beloved by many, particularly in the South. The greens are nice and spicy, with young leaves suitable for salads and older, larger leaves great for cooked greens. A good stand of mustard will seed itself anew every year, and of course, some of those seed pods good be harvested for use in the kitchen.
Like mustard greens, arugula is great for use in early spring salads, and it can also be tossed into stir-fries. It has a fantastic nutty flavor and a perfect little spiciness. Arugula grows well in the spring and fall, but it bolts in the heat of summer. Rather than pulling out the mature arugula, plant it somewhere where it can be left alone to go to seed and replant itself.
Jerusalem artichoke, aka sunchoke, actually a type of sunflower rather than artichoke, is a notorious weed-like crop. It produces an abundance of edible tubers to enjoy both raw and cooked, but once those tubers get into the soil somewhere, they are nearly impossible to get out. And, any tidbit tuber left in the ground will grow a new plant will grow.
Of course, mint can be a great herb to use with desserts, as tea, or in jellies. However, as a plant, it is a relentless spreader and, in the wrong place, a perennial pest. In the right setting, mint has the capacity to take over a lawn. Lots of people choose to plant it in a pot to avoid fighting it from getting all over the garden.
Another favorite fresh herb, and one with lots of medicinal qualities, is oregano. A member of the mint family, it can make itself very comfortable, sprawling out in all directions, in a garden. That said, it is much easier to control than mint. But, one good oregano plant can provide fresh oregano all summer and plenty to dry for the winter.
Strawberries, when they are happy, are nuts. They send out runners in every direction and can overtake walking paths, invade other garden beds, and multiply themselves to such a degree that some new plants just have to be eradicated. The beauty of it, though, is that there are strawberries on those plants! That’s gardener’s gold.
Blackberries & Raspberries
Though they are distinctly different in flavor and are easy to differentiate in appearance, blackberries and raspberries both grow on canes, and they both have the tendency to get a little out-of-hand with the new shoots. New plants spring up from roots underground, or when a cane bends down to the soil, it can root, too. But, they are easily controlled—to a degree—by simply keeping the area around them mowed.
That’s ten awesome edible plants, legit stuff that people plant intentionally, that grow as if they are weeds. Even though they can require some effort to subdue from time to time, they are great allies in the garden because they also put out an amazing amount of food every year. Why wouldn’t we cultivate weeds like that!
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- Comfrey, a Weed We Should Learn to Love
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