Greetings and Salutations! My name is Jeremiah Johnson, the newest addition to the Ready Nutrition team, and for my first article I wish to review a true gem of a book that you may find extremely valuable in your preparedness library. The work is entitled, “Eat the Weeds,” written by Ben Charles Harris. My edition is an older edition (Library of Congress Catalog #73-83951), however do not let its age dissuade you: it is currently in print and has not been amended. The book contains a plethora of information based in research that can definitely help you from perspectives of nutrition, home budgeting, and preparedness.
Regarding the previous sentence, the book’s wealth of comprehensive charts and tables cannot be overstated. Mr. Harris provides a comparison between Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) and Lettuce (1 pound of each) from a nutritional perspective; he listed the protein, fat, and carbohydrate composition of each, as well as all of their major vitamins and minerals. While lettuce has 3.8, 0.6, and 9.1 grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates per pound respectively, dandelion has 12.3, 3.2, and 40.0 grams of these.
The same chart lists dandelion with 61, 970 IU of Vitamin A, 849 mg of Calcium, and 163 mg of Vitamin C. Is this not amazing? My wife was recently diagnosed with Cataract, and Dr. James Balch recommends that Vitamin A be taken to maintain the eye in amounts of 25,000 – 50,000 IU daily, with no more than 10,000 IU daily if pregnant. Vitamin C can be taken up to 12,000 mg daily to destroy free radicals and help with intraocular pressure. You can bet that we will be gathering a ton of it when springtime sets in (for us, not until May/June).
The book covers in great detail such herbs (as Bedstraw, Burdock, Chamomile, Coltsfoot, Horseradish, Irish Moss, Meadowsweet, Nettle, Shepherd’s Purse, Sorrel, and Yellow Dock) to name a few. The vitamin and mineral content of these and many others are listed in tabular form. Mr. Harris surrounds these facts with instructions on which parts are edible and/or medicinal, when to gather them (their proper seasons), how to preserve them (whether by canning or drying/dehydrating), and how to prepare them in various forms and recipes.
Page 230 lists in chart form the characteristics of Sunflower seed flour and its comparison with other flours (wheat and rye, to name a few) from a nutritional perspective of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and the vitamin and mineral contents. Mr. Harris listed his sources for all of his research; my ongoing project is to locate as many of these references as possible. Page 40 provides an outstanding reference entitled “Table of Average Nutrient Values of Edible Herbs” that, in my estimation is in itself worth obtaining the book.
One comprehensive guide that can be used to supplement this work is “Tabers’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary,” because it holds a tremendous amount of information and tables regarding herbs. The earlier editions (editions 14 and before) also have food tables that break down foods commonly found in the grocery store in tabular form; however, my edition (the 19th) only has tables for the herbs in relation to medicinal herbalism. The reason it is worthwhile is that it gives the RDA’s for different vitamins and minerals and their limits; such can be tied into your “weed” gathering excursions to prevent over dosages and to find how these may interact with any medications you may be currently prescribed for.
Mr. Harris also gives precautionary advice on the different flora entailed in his book. The description of Jewel Weed (Impatiens biflora), for example, on page 157 also warns the herb gatherer, “Always eat Jewel-weed with other vegetables. If too much of older plants is consumed, the therapeutically-active minerals may cause mild purgation.” The book contains such advice on each and every edible wild plant as needed. Also included are other commonly known names (in this instance, “Touch-me-not”) as well as the scientific names as illustrated in this article.
Advice on canning and dehydration can be found readily throughout the work. My advice here is to contact your local County Extension Office for more information concerning altitudes and types of canning jars to use that are applicable to wild crafting and gathering in your area. Another tool you may wish is a good, hard backed field manual on wild edible plant identification. I strongly recommend one with good color photographs to clearly and accurately identify any herbs and plants you are gathering. I have one entitled “Field Guide to North American Edible Plants,” ISBN 0-442-22200-9 with over 350 color photos, in hardback edition (more durable in the woods and inclement weather).
To summarize, Eat the Weeds is an invaluable guide that can serve you in whatever capacity is needed, be it nutrition on a budget, herbalism, or preparedness in general. An old axiom states: “You’re only as good as your reference materials.” This axiom holds true. Eat the Weeds can be a powerful tool for you to refer to. The book reveals that your backyard may not be merely a lawn, but a previously undiscovered wild garden yielding nutritional salads and foods for your whole family. Read well and be well!