Skip to Content

Foraging for Flavor: 10 Edible Weeds You Can Find in Your Own Backyard

For thousands of years, mankind has used plants found in nature for both edible and medicinal purposes. While foraging has fallen out of style in recent decades, we can still learn a lot from our ancestral practices–from using edible weeds to garnish a dish to addressing ailments with them.

Read on to learn about five fantastic edible weeds for cooking and five edible weeds for medicinal uses that you can often find in your own backyard. We’ll tell you how to identify them, how to safely consume them, and more.

A salad with dandelion flowers -- just one of the many kinds of edible weeds.

5 Edible Weeds That Are Great for Cooking


A group of dandelion flowers growing wild.
Dandelion flowers.


Brace yourself for this: it turns out dandelions are an absolute powerhouse of positive nutritional content! In fact, this small green is so nutritionally dense, it outranks even spinach and kale–which are often considered the gold standard of beneficial edible greens!

These edible weeds are chock full of folate, calcium potassium, and Vitamins A, C, and K, as well as antioxidants.

Identifying and Using

Look for plants with a single bright yellow, pom pom-shaped flower with jagged leaves (annual sow thistle is often mistaken for dandelion but has clusters of similar yellow flowers). When you forage these edible weeds raw, you can use them from the roots up!

Dandelion root can be roasted to make a tasty drink that some people use as a replacement for coffee. It has a similar nutty, roasted flavor. Dandelion greens, meanwhile, are one of the best ways to consume these edible weeds.

While the leaves are a bit bitter, they are reminiscent of arugula in their spicy flavor profile. When thoroughly washed, they make a great raw component on a salad. You can also cook dandelion greens to reduce their bitterness.

Dandelion blossoms can go great on a salad, or used either dried or fresh for dandelion tea or wine. Dandelion infused into oil or vinegar makes for a great floral component in many dishes, as well

Things to Avoid

You should always wash dandelions before eating them, as you never know what might be on the plant or contained in its fibers.

Garlic Mustard

Closeup the white flowers and serrated leaves of a garlic mustard plant.
Garlic mustard.


Garlic Mustard uses include as an antiseptic, anti-asthmatic, and an herb to address digestive problems and things like scurvy. Garlic Mustard also adds a fantastic kick of flavor to culinary dishes, which is why it’s more often enjoyed as one of the edible weeds, more than the medicinal ones.

Identifying and Using

You can identify these young edible weeds with leaves that grow low to the ground, in a rosette formation. The leaves will be heart shaped and typically one to three inches in length, with rounded teeth on the edges.

In the second year, these edible weeds will sport leaves in an alternative pattern, staggered up the flower stalk. The leaves on the bottom will remain heart shaped, but the upper ones will be longer, with prominent serration on the edges.

You can also identify mustard garlic by its smell. When crushed, the leaves will give off a distinctive garlicky aroma. The flavor profile of garlic mustard blends between garlic and horseradish–very potent and delicious

You can use a small amount of the leaves of these edible weeds raw as a garnish on salads, or cook them into an omelet or frittata. Aim for young leaves, as the more mature are more bitter. The stems are also wonderful when cooked, and make a great addition to vegetable soups, stir fries, and more.

The flowers of these edible weeds are overall quite bitter, so it’s considered best to avoid them altogether.

Things to Avoid

Garlic mustard contains some levels of cyanide. It’s wise to consume raw garlic mustard only in small doses due to the levels of cyanide present; cooking the leaves and stems can help further reduce the presence of the toxin.


A closeup of white yarrow flowers.


Yarrow has a long history of herbal uses. These edible weeds can be used to treat everything from Irritable Bowel Syndrome to chemotherapy-related toxicity. They have also been proven effective in treating respiratory illnesses, inflammation, and more.

Identifying and Using

Yarrow is relatively easy to identify. These edible weeds are fern-like, sporting clusters of tiny flowers that are usually white or yellow.

Love the taste of licorice? Then you will love finding ways to use yarrow in your food! The flavor profile of these edible weeds has often been compared to licorice or anise. You can eat the leaves raw or cooked. These edible weeds can bring a great zing of flavor to things like the famous yarrow tea, or they can even be used for a pop in pasta or other rich dishes!

Things to Avoid

You should avoid feeding these edible weeds to your pets. Yarrow can be toxic to animals. In addition, some folks have an inherent allergy to yarrow.


Mullein flower stalks with clusters of yellow flowers.
Mullein flower stalks.


Mullein has a long and storied history of aiding in severe respiratory illnesses. Before the use of antibiotics, our ancestors would use mullein to treat conditions like whooping cough, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.

Nowadays, these edible weeds are used in various forms, including capsules, oils, and food garnishes, to address sore throats, tonsillitis, and allergies.

Identifying and Using

Mullein is among the easier of the edible weeds to identify. In its first year, it appears as a grayish, rather fuzzy mound of leaves. In its second year, this biennial weed produces a tall stalk which is covered in yellow flowers.

A rosette of the gray-green leaves of a mullein plant.
Mullein leaves.

Both the leaves and flowers of the mullein plant are edible. They carry a flavor that’s been described as earthy, somewhat bitter, and astringent. You can eat the flowers and leaves raw, but they are best made in mullein tea–a hugely popular folk remedy for all sorts of ills.

Things to Avoid

Some folks may find their skin is irritated by the hairs of the mullein plant. Always exercise caution when foraging.

Sheep Sorrel

Sheep sorrel growing among rocks. Long, narrow green leaves and stalks of small pinkish-red flowers.
Sheep sorrel.


There are several known benefits to consuming sheep sorrel. These include the reduction of inflammation and pain (particularly those associated with sinusitis). These edible weeds have also been used to treat cancer, with many of its natural properties being used to make anti-cancer medications.

Sheep sorrel is also high in vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E, and K. The tannins in the plant also help decrease mucus production.

Identifying and Using

Sheep sorrel plants can be found growing in clumps with arrow-shaped leaves. In the spring, they sport a red rosette. Their flavor is citrusy and tangy, with a bit of a bitter aftertaste.

Sheep Sorrel can be consumed in several ways. The raw leaves make a fantastic component on salads, while dried leaves can be used as a thickening agent in soups or even as a flour for baking! Sheep Sorrel seeds can also be consumed raw or cooked.

Things to Avoid

Sheep sorrel is one of those edible weeds that should be consumed only in small quantities at a time. It should also be used sparingly by those with a history of kidney stones.

5 Edible Weeds That Are Great for Medicinal Purposes


White flowers and leaves of a valerian plant.
Valerian flowers and leaves.


Valerian has among the most well known health benefits of all edible weeds. This plant has fantastic calming and sleep aiding properties. In some European countries, it is approved as a mild sedative, and it has been used for this purpose in historical folk medicine for centuries.

These edible weeds have also proven effective in mitigating the effects of anxiety, OCD, and other mood disorders.

Identifying and Using

Valerian can be identified by its straight, tall shape and small, pale flower clusters. The flowers and leaves may be consumed raw, pressed into a fresh juice, or made into powder. The roots of the valerian plant can be made into tea, but should not be consumed raw.

Things to Avoid

Avoid storing valerian for long periods of time. These edible weeds will develop a repulsive odor when dried and left to sit for too long.

Milk Thistle

Purple milk thistle flowers
Milk thistle flowers.


Milk thistle has shown some benefits in protecting the liver, aiding in cancer-fighting treatments, and helping with blood sugar maintenance for folks with diabetes. It can also help treat acne as well as boost breast milk production in struggling mothers.

Identifying and Using

Milk thistle is another of those edible weeds that is quite easy to identify. It’s distinct with its spike bulb and bright purple flower on top. When consumed, you will find milk thistle is slightly bitter at first, with a taste that sweetens as it goes.

Milk thistle can be consumed in a variety of ways. The best way is to cook down the roots, flowers, and leaves of young stalks, then cook them like spinach and consume them that way. Roasted milk thistle seeds also make a great coffee alternative.

Things to Avoid

Milk thistle should not be consumed before all spikes on the plant have been removed. Additionally, some folks may develop digestive issues when consuming milk thistle.


A closeup of a horsetail plant with striping on the stalk and long green strands.


Horsetail is known to have fantastic anti-inflammatory properties. For this reason, it has often been used to address ailments such as arthritis. It has also been used historically to help with wound care, as well as to strengthen hair, skin, and bones.

These edible weeds also have a rich dose of many vitamins and nutrients, including Vitamins C and K, potassium, silica, and much, much more.

Identifying and Using

You can identify these edible weeds by their somewhat strange-looking brown stems when they are young. This eventually turns green and branches out, sprouting cones for which the weed is well known. Once this happens, bear in mind that the flavor of the horsetail will soon turn from grassy and rich, similar to black tea, and into something bitter.

Horsetail shoots can be consumed in the early spring. Once the cones turn brown, the bitterness sets in. The best way to consume horsetail for medicinal purposes is with the shoots steeped into a tea.

Things to Avoid

Despite its name, you should avoid letting horses around horsetail, as it can be toxic to them. Folks with Vitamin B1 deficiency should also only consume horsetail in low doses, as it can worsen this deficiency.

Lady’s Thumb

Closeup of tiny pink Lady's Thumb flowers.
Lady’s thumb.


The greatest health benefit to consuming Lady’s Thumb is its high antioxidative properties. This is a fantastic edible weed to drink medicinally to help with inflammation. It can be crushed and applied to rashes like poison ivy to reduce inflammation topically as well.

Identifying and Using

Lady’s Thumb can be identified by its rather elegant shape. These edible weeds sport spiky pink or purple flowers perched atop the plant’s stem. The leaves are long and slender, usually boasting a dark spot. The taste of Lady’s Thumb is peppery and rich.

Lady’s Thumb is more frequently used as a garnish, due to its peppery, even bitter notes. However, like many edible weeds, it can be steeped into a tea to unleash that antioxidant goodness and help reduce inflammation in your body.

Things to Avoid

Folks suffering from kidney issues should not consume Lady’s Thumb, as it has been known to potentially exacerbate these struggles.


Closeup of pinkish-purple mallow flowers and leaves.


Some of the primary medicinal uses of mallow include reduction of constipation, soothing throat and mouth irritation as well as dry coughs, and boosting nutrients. This is easy to do, since mallow is high in all sorts of vitamins and minerals such as iodine, magnesium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B, C, and A.

Identifying and Using

Mallow can be identified by its low growing body and long leaves. The flowerhead of a mallow is also typically a bright purple shade, making it fairly easy to spot. You will find these edible weeds have a mild taste, sometimes likened to capers. They tend to take on the flavor of anything you cook them with.

All parts of the mallow plant are edible. This makes it incredibly easy to get that nutrient boost! You can eat these edible weeds raw, saute them, make a tea out of them, and much, much more.

Things to Avoid

If you are planning to plant some mallow to forage, beware! These edible weeds are classified as weeds for a reason. They are extremely prolific growers and will take over your landscape in the blink of an eye.

Wrapping Up Edible Weeds You Can Find in Your Own Backyard

An assortment of edible weed plants, including daisies.
More edible weeds!

Feeling confident about foraging for these edible weeds in your own backyard? If you do, take a look at some of these suggestions for using them.

If you feel like you need to learn more about these pesky garden tenants, check out our weeds page to learn all about different weed varieties, treatment options, and surprising information.