University City

Mecklenburg County class shows you how to be a human weed eater

Most suburbanites equate a perfect yard to millions of green grass blades standing tall and saluting the sun. To Brown, it’s a yard brimming with dandelions, chickweed and wild violets.
Most suburbanites equate a perfect yard to millions of green grass blades standing tall and saluting the sun. To Brown, it’s a yard brimming with dandelions, chickweed and wild violets. COURTESY OF ANNA BROWN

We mow them. We pluck them. We poison them. We curse them. But according to Anna Brown, the best way to handle some weeds is to eat them.

Brown, a master composter trained through Mecklenburg County’s Wipe-Out Waste division, will share her knowledge of weeds – how to identify the safe ones and why they’re so beneficial – during Eco-Friendly Gardening: Eat Your Weeds!

The free program, open to ages 12 and older, takes place 6 p.m. July 13 at University City Regional Library and is sponsored by Mecklenburg County’s Solid Waste Management department.

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding weeds is that they’re of no use.

“Basically, a weed is just a flower that’s growing in a place you don’t necessarily want it to grow,” said Brown, who typically grants squatters’ rights to any vegetation that wants to lay down roots in her yard.

Her reason stems from their nutritional benefits: long used by other cultures, certain plants such as dandelion, chickweed and violets can play a positive role in our diets, she said.

“There’s really nothing in the grocery store that has as much nutrients,” said Brown, of those three common weeds. “For example, a quarter cup of violet leaves has about the same amount of Vitamin C as four oranges, and it’s something that’s just in your backyard.”

One cup of dandelion greens, the most commonly recognized weed, provides 9.5 percent of our daily, recommended amount of iron, and 1.5 grams of protein – all in 25 calories.

“So much nutritional power they have just sitting out there, and you’re trying to get rid of them,” she said.

Brown began dabbling in edible landscaping about seven years ago and in that time has found a lot of ways to prepare weeds – sprinkled on salads, blended in smoothies and infused into dressings.

She’ll share some of those recipes, along with examples of common edible weeds native to the region during the program at the library.

Most people hesitant to try weeds in their diets say it’s for fear of ingesting something poisonous. With the number of harmful plants out there, that’s a realistic concern. USDA.com lists 124 noxious species of plants growing in North Carolina alone.

The key is to stick with simple, easily recognizable plants.

“I tell people, walk out in your yard and when you see something that looks prolific, look it up or find somebody to ask,” said Brown. “Typically, it’s going to be one of the big ones that’s easy to identify. Pretty much everybody has chickweed and dandelions in their yard.”

When in doubt, don’t eat it. Some plants resembling the edible ones grow nearby and can easily be confused with those that are nontoxic. Carolina’s Poison Center also warns that cooking plants doesn’t rid them of their toxins – a common myth.

With a little education, Brown hopes most homeowners will begin to welcome edible weeds just as much as roses or tulips. Maybe not for their beauty, but for the benefits they bring to the table.

“Nutritionally, they are so strong,” said Brown.

Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at lisathornton@followmylede.com.

Want to go?

Eco-Friendly Gardening: Eat Your Weeds! will be held at 6 p.m. July 13 at University City Regional Library, 301 East W.T. Harris Boulevard. Ages 12 and older. Free. Register at www.cmlibrary.org

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