"Mark Bittman Ee-eats wee-eeds! Mark Bittman Ee-eats wee-eeds!"
July 9, 2015 6:44 PM   Subscribe

"Yeah, and I heard he eats them out of cracks in the sidewalk! In Berkeley!"
"You mean weeds like this? So gross!"
"I don't know... I sorta like them, too."
"You're such a weirdo."
posted by sutt (40 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Lead and other heavy metals are a serious concern in urban soil (the NYT wrote about this in 2009). In the yards and verges I've tested or seen the results for in my DC neighborhood, lead alone is detectable at up to 550 parts per million, 200+ over what the USDA and our local agricultural extension recommend as safe for gardening. Small amounts of foraging - or foraging on tested ground - isn't harmful, but urban flora cannot blithely be assumed to be 'organic'.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:50 PM on July 9, 2015 [19 favorites]


I grew up in Berkeley. When I was a kid we used to pick these little yellow flowers and eat the stalks, which had kind of a zesty peppery lemon taste. This was known as Sourgrass and the prissier kids would make a face and say a dog probably peed on it. Now Mark Bittman is telling me it's called wood sorrel and I was a locavore forager instead of a gross child. cool
posted by theodolite at 6:58 PM on July 9, 2015 [30 favorites]


I grew up literally on top of a Superfund site, so eating anything straight out of the ground gives me pause. The first time I went to visit my now-wife's family in rural Oregon, we went for a walk and she picked all the wild blackberries and ate them and I was sure we were both going to die.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:59 PM on July 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


This reminds me of this guy I used to work with when I worked at Lonely Planet, and he was walking home one day (in Berkeley) and looked down and realized that there were a number of poppies growing out of the cracks of someone's garden wall and they were not California poppies but opium poppies (he was an editor-turned-author who traveled a lot in places like Afghanistan, so he knew what he was looking at). He picked some of the leaves and took them home and made what he said was a delightful tea.
posted by rtha at 7:14 PM on July 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Omg I guess my dog was the genius all along.
posted by sallybrown at 7:18 PM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


aw hell yeah wild edibles in Berkeley with Mark Bittman, this is going to be dank as--wait what do you mean 'not that kind of wild edibles'
posted by kagredon at 7:22 PM on July 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I have several containers of wood sorrel (Oxalis) going right now. I'm been semi-industrious but mostly lazy about my garden this year, with several leftover containers of pretty good dirt left alone to grow whatever came along, and what's come along in great abundance is wood sorrel. I've kept it because it's pretty, and now I'm hearing that you can make a nice salad out of it? Cool.
posted by maudlin at 7:24 PM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just unknowingly dug up fistfuls of wood sorrel from my garden a couple days ago, cursing the weed gods. If it comes back, I'm gonna eat the little bastards. That will show them.
posted by ga$money at 7:53 PM on July 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


My kids eat wood sorrel (or "lemon clover" as they call it) all the dang time. Sometimes I think it's the only green thing they'll willingly eat.
posted by fancyoats at 8:08 PM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lots of violets and purslane around here. Many of my guests freak, but I like the texture.
posted by cookie-k at 8:19 PM on July 9, 2015


Nine year old me asks "What about ants? Can I eat ants off of the sidewalk? Did I deserve that detention I got for eating ants on the playground?"

Twenty five year old me asks "I remember ants tasting kind of sweet and sour. Do you have any recipes, Mark Bittman?"
posted by oceanjesse at 8:38 PM on July 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


I never thought I would want to go and pick weeds out of the ground to eat but now I actually do. I hope there's an Australian equivalent edible-weed-identification matrix.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:58 PM on July 9, 2015


I tested soil in the empty lot next to our rental apartment in North Oakland (41st and Broadway, right on the old "motor mile") and the lead and heavy metals were enough to give me serious pause about all the gardening the last tenants had done. I ate some leaf vegetables that reseeded, in serious moderation, but anything I'd eat a fruit or root from just felt like a bad idea.

Here in Denver I see wild purslane everywhere though, including in my lead-free backyard. Need to cook some up finally this summer.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:02 PM on July 9, 2015


Late at night I will see East Asian people picking some plant out of the grass at the side of the road. They wear headlamps and I always want to ask them what they're doing but I don't think stopping my car and asking would go over too well.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:06 PM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interesting - the diagrams are great, my backyard is about half sweet fennel and wood sorrel according to this.
posted by sauril at 9:09 PM on July 9, 2015


Twenty five year old me asks "I remember ants tasting kind of sweet and sour. Do you have any recipes, Mark Bittman?"

It's as mean as hell and I wouldn't do it now, but as a kid in North Queensland you quickly discover that green ants (weaver ants) are delightfully tangy like a sweet-and-sour lolly, and if you can put up with the stings you just rip the whole nest out of the tree, plunge it into boiling water, let it seep for a while, and you've got yourself a refreshing lemon-lime "tisane".
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:15 PM on July 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I won over a lot of my summer botany students by eating a lot of weeds out of the sidewalk during our first lab. Also wood sorrel is delicious.
posted by pemberkins at 9:17 PM on July 9, 2015


Oh god, yet another fad food movement for my pretentious vegan/freegan coworkers to try and then preach as gospel to the rest of us heathens
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:19 PM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


On top of the contamination issue, I'm worried about overgrazing. Sure, it's cool to eat what's around you, but you have to be stewards of the land or else there won't be anything left for other foodies or, like, as an emergency during a famine.
posted by Small Dollar at 9:28 PM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I grew up in Berkeley. [...] the prissier kids would make a face and say a dog probably peed on it

I remember eating wood sorrel as a kid here in Australia, and I got the exact same warning!

In case anyone wants to experiment, wild lettuce (there are several related species) is edible and the young leaves are good in salads. The milky sap is reportedly analgesic, perhaps even mildly hallucinogenic. It was the emblematic plant of the Egyptian god Min, who was depicted with an erect phallus. No, I have no idea why, none at all.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:42 PM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I probably haven't tasted wood sorrel since the Carter Administration, but I can still recall the taste.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:43 PM on July 9, 2015


He says they aren't intentionally doused with chemicals, but don't people douse weeds with tons of chemicals for the purpose of killing them?

Nine year old me asks "What about ants? Can I eat ants off of the sidewalk? Did I deserve that detention I got for eating ants on the playground?"

I ate a lot of ants when I was that age too until my mom pointed out that they were on their way between the colony and the garbage can. Also unpopped popcorn, coffee beans, paper. It's the crepe paper that concerns me the most - I used to like it for its special tangy, probably a fire retardant taste.
posted by atoxyl at 9:50 PM on July 9, 2015


Metafilter: special tangy, probably a fire retardant
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:55 PM on July 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


This reminds me of this guy I used to work with when I worked at Lonely Planet, and he was walking home one day (in Berkeley) and looked down and realized that there were a number of poppies growing out of the cracks of someone's garden wall and they were not California poppies but opium poppies (he was an editor-turned-author who traveled a lot in places like Afghanistan, so he knew what he was looking at). He picked some of the leaves and took them home and made what he said was a delightful tea.

When I was growing up, my mom told me about a friend of hers who had the (as I remember) "big kind of poppies" which were "used for drugs" and I think maybe the police said something about it and I think she kept them in her yard because FUCK THE MAN and it was one of my early formative experiences about "what if the law... is not always good?" though I didn't get why poppies were such a big deal. This might've been retold to me during the commercial break of that episode of Boy Meets World where Shawn (I think it was Shawn) ate a bowl of birdseed thinking it was cereal and then got a positive drug test because of the poppy seeds.

On top of the contamination issue, I'm worried about overgrazing.

IF YOU CONTINUE TO HUNT WEEDS IN THIS SIDEWALK, FOOD WILL BECOME SCARCE
posted by NoraReed at 10:03 PM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ya know, a lot of contaminants are removed if you take 'em home and wash 'em in peroxide water.
Judging by the cracks in MY driveway, purselane's in no danger (cook it? And kill the crunch?) anytime soon.
posted by cookie-k at 10:41 PM on July 9, 2015


Lead and other heavy metals are a serious concern in urban soil

The video in the first link addresses this. My transcription of the U.C. Berkeley professor talking to Mr. Bittman:

“So far the literature and science say that we don’t need to worry about these plants picking up the lead or other things from the soil that would be nasty. We don’t need to worry about the things systemic in the plants. The concern is about what’s on the plants. So it’s important that you wash this stuff so you are not ingesting what’s on the leaves."
posted by ferdydurke at 11:19 PM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have seen people take shits on Berkeley sidewalks in broad daylight. I would not forage from the sidewalk.
posted by gingerest at 11:53 PM on July 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I actually have toyed with taking one of Steve Brill's classes here in New York to learn about precisely this. I've already tried making jam from the fruit of a huge mulberry tree in the middle of Fort Greene park, and toyed with picking dandelion leaves from a whole patch of them in another park.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:24 AM on July 10, 2015


On a related note, here's a survey of industrial contaminants in London soil, in case you're considering browsing. Lots of fascinating interactive maps, but the UX is... idiosyncratic.
posted by Devonian at 1:28 AM on July 10, 2015


I hope there's an Australian equivalent edible-weed-identification matrix.

There are some good field guides - e.g. The Weed Forager’s Handbook: A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds in Australia (the authors also give workshops). Same caveats about soil contaminants apply, though, so forage carefully.

“So far the literature and science say that we don’t need to worry about these plants picking up the lead or other things from the soil that would be nasty. We don’t need to worry about the things systemic in the plants. The concern is about what’s on the plants. So it’s important that you wash this stuff so you are not ingesting what’s on the leaves."

Comment on the NYT article that maps to what I have read recently:

As a soil scientist and one who worked with Green Thumb in NYC and Cornell University on their Healthy Soil, Healthy Gardens initiative, I can say with the utmost confidence that the statement in the video about plants not taking up lead or any of the other heavy metals is downright false. Plants will behave differently in different soils, and specifically when we are talking about the acidity of the soil, the pH. Add species to the question and it gets even more complex. It is crucial that people understand that. By making some unequivocal false statement as your friend does, it is a disservice to scientists like those at Cornell, U of Michigan, Minnesota, and Washington, who are trying to fix a HUGE problem to make urban gardening a possibility given what we've got. To add to the confusion, the tolerable levels for the big three metals is not agreed upon by the WHO and the FDA.

Peer-reviewed article * on the lead uptake of cultivated vegetables - note that is typically low, but not always - and in some cases worryingly high. To the best of my knowledge, no one has yet done a similar analysis of urban weeds.

* I can only find the preprint unpaywalled.
posted by ryanshepard at 3:39 AM on July 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


The popular field guides (eg: Peterson's Edible Wild Plants) commonly available in many bookstores have limited information for someone who actually wants to go out and prepare a meal of tasty plants - - they usually aim for brief descriptions of the maximum quantity of species, instead of greater details of each plant's appearance in various seasons, the best time to pick it, and how to harvest and prepare it.

Fortunately, a new wave of edible plant books are now becoming available. The first of this new breed in 2006 was The Forager's Harvest by Samuel Thayer, followed by it's sequel Nature's Garden. Each of these books only covers about 30 plants, but does so in such detail that even a budding herbivore is assured of some success the first time out. Another book in the same style is Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas, and while it is good, I personally prefer Thayer's amiable style (read the first pages on Amazon's "Look Inside" feature to get a taste of it).

The Forager's Harvest came as a veritable epiphany for me, after decades of blaming myself for not being able to work the popular field guides that received hundreds of glowing reviews. For those excited by this MeFi post, I can't recommend it (and it's sequel) highly enough.
posted by fairmettle at 3:39 AM on July 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


There are some good weeds out there. I eat a lot of young dandelion though now I can buy it in the regular grocery store which is weird.

My favorite is red clover flowers. At just the right time they're full of liquidy, sweet goodness.

A bonus to eating weeds is the entertainment value it provides when you're just walking down the street with someone and without saying anything just casually grabbing something to munch on. Reactions are funny.
posted by Jalliah at 5:05 AM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, at least Mark is actually testing his own recipes now.
posted by machaus at 5:32 AM on July 10, 2015 [3 favorites]




My grandfather used to show me what weeds to pick in our yard. They were thoroughly washed and added to the Sunday salad. Lots of dandelion back then.
posted by Splunge at 8:24 AM on July 10, 2015


I remember as a kid picking clover flowers from my lawn, then pulling out each petal one by one to get the tiny bit of nectar in it. The things kids will do when they don't have 24/7 access to high fructose corn syrup...
posted by Daily Alice at 9:01 AM on July 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


My cat, Chairman Mao, heartily approves of this post and leaves you a little something icky on your carpet as a token...
posted by jim in austin at 9:47 AM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've got a jar of yardkraut (sauerkraut made from weeds in my yard) sitting in the fridge waiting for me to figure out what to do with it. It's tasty, but strong. I'm thinking I'll start with some of these dumplings, possible deep-fried instead of boiled though.
posted by Gygesringtone at 10:26 AM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]




Oh, great.
I'm hoping I just misremembered which ones I ate (it's been a few years), but thanks for he correction, latkes.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:12 AM on July 14, 2015


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