Discovering the urban-wild edible plants in your backyard
Growing up, gardening always felt like a chore. My Birthday always landed on May 24 weekend which always impeded on my self centered beliefs that, well, everything should be about me. Hours were spent preparing the garden soil and weeding…So much weeding!
Fast forward to now, as an adult, I’ve come to realize many things. Gardening is a beautiful practice and pastime. Not only is it a great way to connect with nature but it’s highly rewarding. My true love for gardening was ignited in my mid 20’s after successfully growing classic herbs like Thyme, Oregano, Mint and Basil etc. These little action packed petals had me shook because in comparison to store bought dried spices, these fresh herbs actually had flavour. From that point on I was excited to experiment with the odd tomato and zucchini plant among a few others.
In more recent years I was introduced to the world of foraging for wild plants. I was amazed by the amount of edible food that can be found here in southwestern Ontario.Yet, what was even more shocking was the amount of edible weeds, ornamentals, shrubs and native plants that could be harvested in my own backyard.
From that point on I’ve been exploring how conventional urban agriculture combined with landscaping can co-exist to grow food.
Here’s 3 tips to discovering the wild in your backyard:
- Let them grow – Often more than not, an unknown plant will pop in your yard and it’s easy to just get rid of them while young. Sure it may be a weed but it’s possible it could be a delicious one. Start by watching and learning its life cycle. Get a positive ID on your newly discovered plant. Watch and learn which bugs and pollinators it attracts or maybe even deters. Read up on particularly nutritious ones like Purslane, Wood sorrel, and Lambs Quarters.
- Do an inventory of the trees, shrubs, plants and weeds growing on your property. You may be amazed by what’s already growing and its culinary potential! I discovered this with a few plants that were established on my property for the curb side appeal, specifically with Hosta, Daylilies, Spruce trees, Rose of Sharon and more…
- Move the new volunteer plants to a location in your garden that is safe from the lawn mowing, foot traffic or simply a more desired/designated location. I did this in early spring with a bunch of the wild violets growing in the grass. Which otherwise would never reach its full potential as we kept interrupting its life cycle by mowing the lawn. This year I saw them go to seed which is highly unusual but allowing them to grow for longer than a week, beside other flowers in the garden, the bees caught wind successfully pollinating the plant.
Don’t be shy to break the traditional gardening rules a little bit. A garden doesn’t have to be a perfectly manicured square section of your backyard. Look at your entire property (front, side and backyard) as potential to grow unconventional foods through edible landscapes designs and letting edible weeds grow.
Disclaimer: It’s always important to learn and get familiar with each plant thoroughly before harvesting, especially before consumption. This article was written to serve as inspiration to get you started with little wild epiphanies, opening our eyes to beauties all around us. Some plants are poisonous, some are combined with edible parts or deemed safe with proper preparation. Integrate wild food into your diet slowly to monitor how your body reacts and take extra precautions if you have allergies. Do not consume wild food unless you are 100% in your plant identification, consult a mentor, published articles or foraging ID books.