11 Forgotten Plants Our Ancestors Used For Food

As a general rule, weeds aren’t especially well-liked. Even among the prepper community—a group of people known for salvaging everything that can be salvaged and putting to use everything that can be used—weeds are seen as little more than a bothersome obstacle that gets in the way of growing plants that are of actual value.

Nevertheless, there are certain so-called “weeds” that are not only edible but also quite nutritious and sustaining. Below is a list of weeds that, in a situation where you are forced to be self-sufficient, you should be eating rather than killing:

1. Clover


Clover usually isn’t considered as much of a nuisance as some weeds, and in most cases, the plant is overlooked entirely both when it comes time to harvest and when it comes time to kill the weeds. Nevertheless, clover is a great food source for both honeybees and humans.

Clover leaves can be an addition to a green salad or sautéed, while clover flowers are slightly sweet and can be eaten raw or used to make tea. Normally clovers have three leaves, but occasionally they have four, as in the picture above.

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2. Curly Dock

Curly Dock

Curly dock is one of the most widespread weeds in existence, and you should have little trouble finding a supply of curly dock if times get tough (or if you are just looking for a new dish to try). Best of all, curly dock leaves are incredibly high in vitamin C and zinc, providing you with a natural immune boost, while curly dock seeds are a great source of fiber and calcium.

Curly dock leaves are typically boiled or eaten raw in salads, while the seeds can be roasted and eaten as a snack or, like dandelion roots, used as a coffee substitute.

3. Daisies


To avoid pushing up daisies when times get tough, consider eating daisies instead. Though a little bitter, daisy leaves and flower petals are completely edible and actually quite nutritious.

Both can be eaten raw or cooked, and the flower petals can also be used to make a tea that Austrians have used for centuries to treat various gastrointestinal disorders.

4. Dandelions


One of the most commonly killed weeds, dandelions are actually quite tasty, and every part of the plant can be prepared and eaten. Dandelion leaves make a great addition to a salad and can also be boiled, steamed, or added to a soup.

While dandelion leaves may be a little too bitter for some people’s taste, dandelion flowers are sweet and crunchy. These flowers can be eaten raw, though one common way to prepare them is to bread them and fry them and, if you know what you’re doing, they can even be used to make dandelion wine.

Lastly, the roots of a dandelion plant can be dried, roasted, ground up, and used as a substitute for coffee beans. While you likely won’t want to be replacing your Folgers with dandelion roots if you have a choice, desperate times call for desperate measures.

5. Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard

Neither garlic nor mustard, garlic mustard is still tasty in its own right. It’s considered an invasive species in North America but, nevertheless, makes a good addition to a salad or as a seasoning to foods such as mashed potatoes, fish, and soups.

Garlic mustard is also a natural diuretic, an immune booster, and a great source of vitamin A and vitamin C.

6. Lamb’s Quarters

Lamb’s Quarters

If you’re searching for a post-disaster replacement for spinach, lamb’s quarters is the answer. While a lot of leafy greens taste similar to spinach, lamb’s quarters is probably the closest you are going to get in the weed category.

As you might imagine, lamb’s quarters is cooked and used in the same ways as the vegetable it tastes like—either boiled or eaten raw in salads.

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7. Japanese Knotweed

Japanese Knotweed

If you’re not located in the Midwest or Northeast, this weed might be a little harder to get your hands on. If you are able to locate a source of Japanese knotweed, though, you’ll have a great little plant that tastes a lot like fresh rhubarb.

Just make sure you harvest the stems before they get too big and woody, then remove the leaves and rind before you steam the stalks.

8. Kudzu


If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em. At least this was the approach that those living in the Southern United States took with the highly invasive Japanese weed, kudzu. Introduced in the 1800s, kudzu is now estimated to cover a total of 7 million acres.

Once they realized they weren’t going to be able to get rid of it, though, people began exploring different ways to cook kudzu. It turns out, there are many ways to prepare this weed, from simple dishes such as boiling or steaming to more interesting preparations such as pickling the flowers and making a jelly out of the leaves.

If you want to get the medicinal purposes out of the plant, consider boiling the leaves and making kudzu tea.

9. Plantain


There’s a tasty fruit called plantain, but this isn’t it. Instead, the plantain we’re referencing is one of the most common lawn weeds in North America. Nevertheless, the weed called plantain is just as edible as the fruit named plantain.

The leaves can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, or sautéed, while the seeds of the plantain plant can actually be ground up and used to make flour.

10. Purslane


Surprisingly enough, this lowly garden weed is the best source of omega 3 fatty acids of all leafy greens and vegetables. It’s a small plant, so you’ll have to gather a lot to sustain yourself, but the good news is that it’s abundant, especially in shady areas.

Purslane is another great salad addition and can also be sautéed or added to a stir-fry. It has a peppery flavor and can be used as a seasoning for a variety of dishes.

11. Watercress


People ordering gourmet salads complete with watercress may not realize they are ordering a weed. Yet that’s exactly what watercress is, and you can find it growing alongside streams and rivers with relative ease. The sweet tasting plant does make a great addition to salads and is best eaten raw.

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1 Comment on "11 Forgotten Plants Our Ancestors Used For Food"

  1. Very interesting as when I was a child I ate a lot of daisies and dandelions,along with nettles and dead nettles as the flowers on the dead nettle plant are really sweet and tasty.I have eaten clover and curly dock and the plantain weed we had stacks of it growing in our back garden in Gloucestershire UK,we also had wild horse radish and wild garlic grew in plenty of places along with elder berries.Lambs quaters were also quite plentiful.

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