Uses for Common Weeds in Your Garden

Dandelion stems and leaves

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If you are tired of toiling for countless hours every year controlling garden weeds, it may come as music to your ears that some of them can be put to good use. Knowing this fact will not eliminate weeding: You will still have to take steps to keep your garden from becoming overrun with unwanted plants. You might find it satisfying, though, to learn that you can eat the weed that you just pulled up or even use it to treat an ailment.

  • 01 of 10

    Purslane: Garden Weed or Garden Vegetable?

    Purslane weed mixed with tomatoes to make salad.

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    Purslane (Portulaca olearacea) is related to the popular annual flower, moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora). The latter is grown as a bedding plant, appreciated for its colorful flowers, which come in a variety of hues. Purslane, a weedy succulent, is not much to look at. But it can be used raw in salads as a source for an omega-3 fatty acid.

  • 02 of 10

    Dandelion Greens: Spinach Alternative

    Picked dandelion greens and flowers.

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    Dandelion greens have become a popular edible available in many specialty food stores and even as garden seed for the vegetable garden. Like many leafy greens, dandelions are packed with vitamins and minerals and, as one of the first plants to pop up in the spring, are an effective blood purifier. Dandelions (Taraxacum) are edible in three ways:

    • Boil the leaves ("greens") and eat them like spinach.
    • Roast the taproot and use it as a coffee substitute.
    • The flower can be used in several ways, the most famous of which is to make dandelion wine.

    Many homeowners don't care to see dandelions in their lawn and use chemicals to eradicate them. Never use dandelion greens from a source with which you are unfamiliar. The dandelion flower is also one of the earliest sources of nectar for pollinators. .

  • 03 of 10

    Violas: Edible, With Medicinal Uses

    Purple viola flowers growing in a mass.

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    Although Viola plants such as Viola sororia are commonly called "violets," it is far better to stick to the botanical name in this case. People naturally think first of the popular houseplants that go by that name. But those are African violets (Saintpaulia spp.), which are not edible. By contrast, one of the uses for Viola plants is as a food ingredient (they can also be used medicinally). Some people eat them raw in salads. Others cook them. The flowers yield a lovely lavender colored jelly. All parts of the plants are edible and are loaded with vitamin C.

    The best-known plant in this genus is the pansy (Viola x wittrockiana). It is preferred by gardeners over other types because of its larger flowers. But if you can stand to have something else in your lawn competing with the grass, leave the Viola sororia alone: On a smaller scale, they are quite attractive and serve as a host plant for several species of butterflies.

  • 04 of 10

    White Clover: Soup or Salad?

    White clover in bloom.

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    Not only can clover (Trifolium spp.) be used as a grass substitute for lawns, but the leaves and flowers are also edible. Use them raw in salads or sauté them. The flowers can be dried to make tea or used in puddings. White clover can be used as a cover crop in the vegetable garden. Planted in autumn and tilled under in spring, the clover crowds out unwanted garden weeds and adds nitrogen to the soil. White clover is a major food source for honeybees.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Oxalis: Clover Look-Alike

    Clover-like leaves of sourgrass (Oxalis stricta).

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    A look at sourgrass (also commonly called "wood sorrel") will have you convinced it is some kind of clover, but it is not. The plant's botanical name is Oxalis stricta, and you can harvest small quantities of the leaves for use in salads. The reason for the stipulation, "small quantities" is that plants in the Oxalis genus contain oxalic acid, which can cause nausea if eaten in large amounts.

    There are other kinds of Oxalis, too. Growers take advantage of the plants' clover impersonation for use around Saint Patrick's Day as "shamrocks." With its purple foliage, Oxalis regnellii is simply gorgeous at any time of year.

  • 06 of 10

    Japanese Knotweed: If You Can't Beat It, Then Eat It

    Edible shoots of young Japanese knotweed.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Many gardeners are so disgusted with Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) over the amount of time and energy that they have spent battling it over the years that they are stunned to learn that the tender young shoots are edible. They can be cooked and eaten in many ways, including in traditional Japanese dishes.

    Warning

    Be careful. Harvest the shoots from these garden weeds only in areas with which you have been intimately familiar for decades. Since so many homeowners and municipalities have tried to eradicate Japanese knotweed over the years using herbicides, do not harvest any from property that you have just moved onto or from stands growing along roadsides.

  • 07 of 10

    Cook Nettle to Take the Sting Out of It

    Stinging nettle in bloom.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Stinging nettle (Urtica spp.) is another garden weed that many may consider an unlikely source of food.

    Warning

    Stems and leaves of stinging nettled are covered with tiny sharp hairlike barbs, which cause an itchy rash upon contact. Wear gloves when harvesting.

    Leaves harvested from young plants lose their sting when cooked. Full of iron and vitamin C, use stinging nettle leaves in any dish that calls for spinach or mixed greens.

  • 08 of 10

    Use Dock as a Salve, Wild Food

    Rumex Crispus
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    Caution should be taken when harvesting stinging nettle so that you can avoid getting the rash. But if you forget to wear your gloves and your skin comes into contact with this garden weed, look around for some yellow dock (Rumex crispus). Pick off some leaves from the latter, roll them between your thumb and forefinger to crush them, and then apply the pulp to the affected area on your skin. This salve will take some of the sting out of the itch.

    The new leaves are edible. Chop them raw into salads or cook a soup with them. The roots of yellow dock are also used in home remedies as an alterative, liver cleanser and blood purifier. Roots are best used as a decoction; boiled in water to make tea. They also can be cut into small pieces, dried, and powdered to fill capsules. There are several different types of dock. The root of the yellow dock plant is actually yellow in color.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Jewelweed for Poison Ivy Treatment

    Yellow jewelweed patch in bloom.

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    Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is another great salve, only, in this case, its a remedy for poison ivy. Jewelweed can have either orange or yellow flowers. Those flowers eventually turn into seed pods that are fun to pop (the slightest touch sets them off). Crush the swollen stems to release their soothing juice, and rub it on skin areas that have been accidentally exposed to poison ivy.

  • 10 of 10

    Plantain Uses: From Salve to Food

    Plantago major
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    It is not only plants that can cause us discomfort while trying to enjoy the outdoors. Bee stings are no fun, either. The crushed leaves of broadleaf or "common" plantain (Plantago major) can be used as a salve to relieve bee stings and other minor skin irritations.

Always be certain to correctly identify any plant growing in the wild before ingesting or using it. The common weeds above are fairly easy to identify, but others you might want to try to incorporate may not always be what you think they are and can end up making you sick or worse. If you are harvesting these plants from somewhere other than your own yard, be sure to ask the property owner if the area has been treated with any chemicals and avoid harvesting from roadsides and waste areas.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Purslane. University of Maryland Extension

  2. Versatile Violas. University of Vermont Extension

  3. Jewelweed. Michigan State University Extension