A question came in this week:
“Balcony gardening question – Is anyone growing wild edibles in pots – such as purslane,dandelions,lambs quarters,wood sorrel,etc.?”
This is the first time anyone has asked me how to cultivate weeds deliberately, but it’s not the first time the idea of eating weeds has come up in conversation. While most people simply forage for them, there are many benefits to the plants you have listed here, and with caution, you can cultivate them relatively easily in containers. The main advice (and warning) I will give is that you MUST keep control of the flowers and seed heads. Please cut all the flowers off, or cover them with a bag to save seeds, to prevent the spread. Many of these plants are not welcome to your neighbors, and some of them are nearly impossible to get rid of once they are established. Let’s talk about them individually.
Purslane – a very persistent groundcover that is a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, protein and Omega 3 fatty acids. It’s great in salads and can be eaten cooked or raw. Here is a quick how-to for getting them started both indoors and out:
Dandelion – This plant is a classic lawn weed (and perfect for making wishes in summer). The root is generally used medicinally and leaves are often used in salads. It doesn’t really require rich soil – as evidenced by its ability to grow through cracks in the sidewalk and just about anywhere else. It likes full sun and requires little care. I have a dandelion that has found a home in a pot of hydrangeas and is quite happy despite my efforts to get rid of it. Here’s a great little article on growing dandelions:
Lambs Quarters – a ubiquitous plant that grows very tall if allowed to prosper. It is similar to spinach in nutrient value (more nutritious in fact) and in growing pattern. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and, also like spinach, can be a challenge to germinate at times. Orach Mountain Spinach is also very closely related to Lambs Quarters (my preference for a summer spinach alternative). To grow Lambs Quarters, check out this blogger who posted the process:
http://wildfoodshomegarden.com/LambsQuarters.html – while they eventually transplanted them into the ground, you could keep them going in a big enough pot.
Wood Sorrel – otherwise known as Oxalis. Now this one, I have to advise against growing. Sure, it’s pretty, but it is so invasive that even the most careful gardener will probably not be able to keep it from spreading to undesired areas. There are over 5,000 seeds per plant when it gets going. However, if you really want to grow it, here’s some info:
Be sure to read all the comments (especially the negative ones) on this plant profile at Dave’s Garden:
There are plenty of places where Oxalis is growing wild and can be foraged with no trouble at all. In fact, the property owners would be grateful if you took some off their hands. Once again, if you are going to grow any of these nutritious weeds, you have to be responsible and diligent about picking flowers and containing the seeds.
Keep us posted on your progress, and if anyone else is growing weeds in pots, share it with us here.