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Can You Eat Dandelions?

Do you ever help with the yardwork around your house? When they’re old enough, many kids begin to mow the lawn for their parents. If you’re younger, though, you can still help out. In fact, kids are often enlisted to help with one of the most important, yet tedious chores: pulling weeds!

There’s one weed that often drives adults crazy. Many kids love it, however. When it’s in full bloom, its flowers look like the bright Sun. When it puffs out into a ball, it resembles the Moon. And when kids pick it and blow it to disperse its seeds, they fly into the air like the stars of the night sky. What are we talking about? The dandelion, of course!

Dandelions are perennial plants that come in hundreds of different varieties. They’re scientifically classified as part of the genus Taraxacum. Native to temperate areas of Europe, Asia, and North America, dandelions are immediately recognizable by their bright yellow or orange blooms that feature elongated , lance -like leaves. These leaves give dandelions their common name, which comes from the French word dent-de-lion (meaning “lion’s tooth”).

Dandelion flower heads open in the daytime and close at night. Over time, they mature into globe-shaped seed heads that are often called “puff balls” or “blowballs.” When winds or someone’s breath blows the seeds, they can travel long distances. Some seeds may travel five miles or more on the wind! This dispersal method explains why dandelions so easily populate a lawn and return year after year.

Instead of fighting dandelions with chemical weed killers or lawn mowers, however, you could simply eat them! Are we serious? Absolutely! Every part of a dandelion is useful. From its roots and stem to its leaves and flowers, dandelions can be used for food, medicines, and even to make dye to color clothing.

Dandelion flowers, for example, are known to have a bittersweet flavor. Some people eat them raw , while others crush them to make wine, jelly, or syrup. Still others add them to salads for a splash of flavor and color.

They’re also healthy. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the flowers of a dandelion are low in calories and contain antioxidants that help fight free radicals, which destroy cells and contribute to cancer.

Dandelion greens are also a good source of several important nutrients, including vitamins A, B, and C, as well as calcium, potassium, and iron. While dandelion greens can be eaten raw in salads, many people prefer to cook them in order to reduce any bitterness. Some dandelion chefs also steam them before adding them to a stir-fry dish or soup. Others pair dandelion greens with bacon, cheese, nuts, and lemon to complement their earthy, nutty taste.

Even the roots of dandelions are useful. Early settlers in North America knew how to dry, grind, and roast dandelion roots to make a drink similar to coffee. Dandelion roots can also be substituted in any recipe that calls for root vegetables.

Before you go picking the dandelions out of your yard to eat , however, be sure that no chemicals have been used on your lawn. Yard dandelions also tend to be bitter and less flavorful, since they are cut so often. For the best dandelions to eat , you should pick them from fields where grass grows tall and free from chemicals.

February 27, 2012

Heracleum persicum in the middle east, and heracleum maximum in N. America are closely related, and the seeds of these can be used in similar ways to those described below. I’d recommend conducting your own research around uses/safe handling of those particular species.

Common hogweed’s big brother Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum, also occasionally known as Giant cow parsley, Giant cow parsnip and Hogsbane), which should not be handled or eaten, is also discussed at length below.

Common hogweed is a startlingly delicious vegetable and an amazingly versatile wild spice – my favourite of all edible wild plants in fact. But getting to know and safely eat it is not as straightforward as many other plants on this website. However, if you work your way though all the important considerations below and invest a little time getting to know this plant, I guarantee it will reward you many times over.

Common hogweed shoots at their prime edible stage

  • Edibility – Be sure to read information on safe handling below. I do not recommend eating any part of common hogweed raw.
    • Young shoots, green flower buds florets – cooked – 5/5 – the finest tasting vegetable (wild or cultivated) in the UK in my opinion!
    • Seeds – 4/5 – pickled when green or used as a spice, especially when dried. More on these here.
    • Mature leaves – 1/5 – Generally best avoided, but there is a history of fermenting them in E. European countries.
    • Roots – 2/5 – great flavour, but very woody.

    Common hogweed shoots at their prime edible stage – they tend to grow fatter and juicier near the sea

    Hogweed is one of the most common of the carrot family, becoming the dominant white flowered roadside umbellifer of summer and early autumn in most of the UK, after the cow parsley has dwindled and before wild angelica takes its place in the succession. As always, caution is recommended when picking members of the carrot family and you should base your identification on at least three distinguishable features. Look for:

    • Leaves: Large, 3-5 lobes, hairy, serrated – though this will only be clear on fully grown leaves. New young shoots can often be found emerging at the base of mature leaves up until July.
    • Stem: Hairy (but not spiny/spiky), grooved, hollow, striated, starting purple (not blotchy), becoming green, new joints and flower buds emerge from papery ‘parcels’. 1.5 to 2 metres (4.5 – 6 feet) tall fully grown.
    • Flowers: White, often (but not always) with a pinkish hue, 5 petalled, 15-30 rays arranged in umbels of up to 30cm, but more usually 15 – 20cm. Petals on the outside of the umbel are usually larger. From a distance, I recognise common hogweed by the flattened tops of the umbels (relative to other umbellifers) – though this is insufficient for full identification. The flowers smell unpleasantly “farmyardy” – which may be where the name hogweed comes from, though it may also be because pigs would eat the foliage and roots.

    Please see my notes and photographs at the end of this post for how to distinguish common hogweed from giant hogweed.

    Hogweed flower buds at their edible stage – like soft heads of broccoli, squished up in natural parcels

    As the best edible part comes generally before the other features, it can be challenging for common hogweed novices to feel comfortable with their identification during spring. This is a plant that demands, and rewards, some long term investment of your time: it is biennial (2 year growth cycle) or perennial, so if you spend a year observing it, the following year you will know where the shoots will emerge (near the base of the previous year’s skeletal stems), and feel much more comfortable harvesting and using them.

    Fully grown common hogweed leaf. There can be some variation between plants in the sharpness of the lobes and divisions. Not recommended for eating at this stage, but young shoots can often still be found emerging alongside mature leaves

    Two different phenotypes of common hogweed. In the same way that humans are all the same species but can look quite different, so too can some plants. These are both leaves of heracleum sphonyllium and were growing only metres apart.

    Care should be taken when picking common hogweed as chemicals in the sap can cause phytophotodermititus – especially in strong sunlight. This can result in unpleasant and painful burns. I recommend wearing gloves if you are handling it on any but the most overcast of days.

    Typical phytophotodermititus blisters caused by common hogweed sap on a sunny June day. This was the first time I got a blister from picking it in 15 years of harvesting. But this probably says more about Scottish weather than the properties of the plant!

    Children and people with sensitive skin or who are susceptible to sunburn should be extra careful. The sap is less of a problem when picking the young shoots and flower bud “parcels” (which are what you’re after) on overcast days in early spring, but you should remain aware and vigilant as the sap can persist on the skin. Washing it off before exposure to bright sunlight removes the threat – that is to say the burns result from the combination of the sap and direct sunlight.

    During summer, as the plant matures, the sap becomes more phytopohototoxic, and sunlight more intense, and I restrict my handling to just snipping off seed umbels. Unfortunately instances of children getting burned after playing with common hogweed are not uncommon (the hollow stems make appealing pea shooters) – please educate them on potential dangers (see in the comments section below for further discussion of this, and read this excellent deep-dive into the chemistry of hogweed by my friend Monica Wilde if you want to know more.)

    Common hogweed flower, July. Note the slightly larger petals around the outside of the umbelules. This feature is common but not always present on common hogweed.

    So now you’ve read all of these warnings, you are probably wondering why you might bother?

    Young hogweed shoots are one of my favourite wild vegetables, reminiscent of asparagus and parsley yet so much better – with a flavour all of their own. The roots will produce more shoots after harvesting and can provide a steady crop throughout spring and early summer. Rummage among the older leaves to find the “self-forced” shoots with long, fat, juicy stems. Fried in butter until the leaves start to crisp and brown, they are unsurpassed and best eaten as a stand alone vegetable. Stir through some sorrel leaves at the last minute to add some acidity to cut through the butter. They require little or no seasoning, having a rich and balanced flavour without help.

    Hogweed shoots fried in butter on an open fire is one of the great wild food treats of the year

    The unopened flower buds are also delicious and come in their own wee packages which means you can steam them without losing any of their sensational flavour – a glamourous steamed accompaniment to fish. Add them peeled to stir-fries, deep fry in tempura batter or to pickles. Older leaves are not so appealing, but make an excellent addition to a stock pot.

    Tempura Hogweed shoots with wild mushroom and seaweed “soy” dipping sauce

    As if their sheer deliciousness isn’t enough, common hogweed is extremely good for you, being packed with minerals, and comparing favourably in lots of departments with other “super foods” – both wild and cultivated.

    Mineral content of common hogweed. Compiled from various sources by Galloway Wild Foods

    When the plant starts to die back for the year, you will still be able to harvest the disk-like seed pods (correctly known botanically as schizocarps) which have an extraordinary taste. I have heard them variously described as tasting of orange peel, cardamon, coriander, ginger, liquorice and burned cedar – probably a combination of all of those is a fair reflection.

    There are two distinct stages to the seed pods: green and juicy when first formed, then quickly drying to papery disks

    Common hogweed seeds – newly formed and green, with pungent bitter cardamon and orange peel flavours

    They aren’t for everyone – a bit love-hate – polarising opinion about 70 (love) to 30 (hate) when people taste them on my walks, some people finding them unpleasantly “soapy”. If you do taste the green seeds raw, I recommend you take just a tiny nibble first time round. Some people experience a tingling sensation on the tongue. I have heard of one case of someone suffering an allergic reaction, but of the thousands of people who have tried them on my walks, nobody has had any problem.

    When still green the seed casings are pungently bitter so a little goes a long way. I add the whole green casings as “flavour bombs” in curry mixes, or pickle them and toss through salads with smoked eggs or pickled fish. Add them to pickling solutions for (eg) marsh samphire, rock samphire, sea aster, or reedmace hearts, perhaps with some other wild spices such as coriander grass. Try infusing them in hot butter then discard and use the butter like ghee in curries or for cooking fish or sautéing sea beet or other veg.

    Green seed casings will dry out naturally on the plant, becoming papery disks which can be harvested from sheltered locations well into the winter. I harvest whole umbels then leave them to fully dry in a warm, airy room, before storing in bags. The seed casings drop off the umbels naturally in the bag. The flavour of dried seed casings (use the whole thing) is mellower, becoming more gingery and floral. The dry seeds of a very close relation to common hogweed, heracleum persicum, is widely used in Iranian cuisine, where the spice is known as golpar, and used in savoury dishes. As with many spices, dry toasting the seeds before use lifts the aromatics.

    Common hogweed seed umbel, with close-up of the seed pods

    The dry seed casings can be ground and used in baking – try adding them to flapjack or they make a sublime parkin.

    The dry seeds also work extremely well in drinks and cocktails. Try infusing them into vermouths and gin, or adding them as a mulling spice to winter warmers.

    I like the seeds best of all as a wayside nibble – just one really gets the taste buds partying – especially with a single sea buckthorn berry! Kapow! I add hogweed seed bitters to my wild whisky sour cocktails.

    The roots of common hogweed have an intense aromatic quality, somewhere between angelica root and parsnips (both near relations) , with both deep earthy bass notes and bright herbaceous aromatics. They are generally too tough to use as a vegetable but are fantastic infused into aromatised wines and bitters and makes a great stand-alone schnapps. I’ve been trying for years to convince some of the distillers i’ve consulted for to use it instead of angelica root, to no avail!

    Plants For A Future reports that you can obtain a natural sweetener from common hogweed by tying leaf stems together and he leaf stems and leaving them to dry in the sun until they turn yellow. A sweet substance resembling sugar forms on the dried stems.

    How to distinguish Common Hogweed from Giant Hogweed

    I am often asked how to tell common hogweed from its notorious big brother, giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum). Even when young, its eventual size is apparent by its huge sharply serrated leaves, spikey haired purple tinged leaf stems, giant flower umbel and stem “skeletons” (which usually persist from previous years), and its tendency to dominate all other ground cover.

    Common hogweed by comparison, is quite a dainty wee thing, never more than 6 feet tall and rather less aggressive looking all round. As noted above, both should be handled with care – especially in bright sunlight, as their sap can photosensitive the skin, with potentially painful and alarming consequences.

    But don’t let that put you off learning about them – your knowledge will, at worst, help keep you safe, and at best add a delicious, nutritious and abundant wild plant to your diet.

    The photographs below are all of giant hogweed, showing some of its key features.

    Giant hogweed basal leaf April

    Giant hogweed – previous year’s umbels

    Giant Hogweed – previous year’s flowering stem

    Giant Hogweed – March

    Giant Hogweed stems April

    Giant hogweed flowering umbels – June

    Related pages:

    • Edible Wild Plant Guide
    • Wild food recipes

    72 Comments

    Dear Could you tell me where to buy common hogweed. I live in Belgium.

    Hi Antoine, I’m afraid I have no idea where you might buy hogweed in Belgium. It is very common in hedgerows in the UK and most people who know that it is good to eat, know it well enough to pick their own. You could try Miles at http://www.forager.org.uk/ – he supplies restaurants with wild food and may be able to help you out.
    Best wishes,
    Mark.

    Hi, mark I have all the hogweed seeds dried but can’t find your recipe for the delightful Parkin on your website! Are you keeping it secret? Thanks sarah

    Can anyone tell me where I could buy Wild Hazelnuts Seeds (Corylus avellana ( non cultivar)).

    Many thanks, Meir.

    I’d check out http://plantsandapples.co.uk/ first. If they don’t have, i’m sure they’ll know where to get.

    Hi, I found two different plants that I believe are both hogweed but the leaves look so different to each other… Is this possible?!
    Here they are:

    Hi Jack,
    Yes, I think both are hogweed (h. sphondyllium), but there are 8 subspecies of it, so you might have one of them. Also, plants of the same species can vary somewhat. A phenotype results from the expression of an organism’s genes as well as the influence of environmental factors and the interactions between the two. If you consider the variations in human phenotypes, no wonder there is some variation within plant species! There are some issues for the forager here of course – especially with species that already exhibit some irritant traits. I’ve had no trouble with any of the variants I meet in Galloway, but know a forager down south that has noted a high incidence of adverse reactions. Careful harvesting and consideration required!
    Mark

    My 11 yr old son is currently undergoing treatment with plastic surgeons for a severe 3rd degree plus toxic burn on his hand, believed to have been caused by contact with common hogweed. See phylophotodermatitis . We know of several other cases locally. It can take months to clear up, and the affected skin remains light sensitive and has to remain covered for 6/7 YEARS. My son realises how lucky he is when others have such a widespread area, but his is a very severe burn. He has to spend his summer after he leaves primary school with his hand fully bandaged, avoiding any contact with water, and no sports. For a county level tennis player and athletics team member this is not easy. Our self-catering holiday house with pool will be pretty tough. Be very careful what you touch, and perhaps reflect a little on what you advise others to touch. Burn mother.

    Thanks for your comment and i’m really sorry to hear about the injury to your son. I hope he make a full recovery and his sports and fun aren’t too adversely affected in years to come. I understand this must be distressing for him and you.

    The level of burning he has suffered sounds closer to reports I have heard from giant hogweed after people have handled or strimmed it during the summer without adequate protection. But children have thinner and more sensitive skin and I have heard of issues with common hogweed too.

    As mentioned in one of my comment replies above, there are several different strains of common hogweed throughout the UK and discussions with fellow foragers and botanists seems to show a higher incidence of adverse phytophotodermatitis in the South. This may reflect higher incidence of aggressively phytophototoxic strains as well as higher population densities and also higher levels of light intensity. The burning sap seems to develop in older specimens of all hogweed as they reach maturity and photosyththesise more intensively. This is the stage at which the foliage is of least interest to foragers but unfortunately when they are most appealing to children for making pea shooters, swords etc from the stems.

    With regards to your final comment, yes, I am very careful of what I touch and what I eat, and advocate this approach to anyone interested in foraging. Education, information and knowledge are the best tools against misadventure by young and old. The shunning and vilification of plants is more likely to lead to misinformation and ignorance. I have talked about, harvested, cooked and eaten hogweed with school groups with no adverse consequences. They learned about a fascinating and very useful plant, and how to mindfully harvest it, play safely near it, cherish its uses and respect its potential dangers.

    Without your advice to “reflect a little”, I already reflect deeply on the information I share on this website. You will notice several warnings on safe identification and handling if you read the beginning of this page. Again, ignorance leading to unfortunate incidents is sad and I hope by sharing sensible information this can be reduced. I hope your comment here will help increase people’s awareness of potential dangers, especially to children. I have just added an extra line with regard to children to the text too.

    Finally, I am reminded of an incident from my youth. While picking mushrooms from a heathery banking, I suddenly noticed a lot of insects around my head. I had inadvertently stumbled on a bee hive. I was stung dozens of times. I am now very mindful of bees, but the incident sparked a fascination in me for their life cycle and usefulness in nature that has enriched my life ever since. I hope that this unpleasant experience for your son may inspire interest in, and respect for, plants, rather than fear and mistrust.

    Wishing him a speedy recovery and many happy years of athletics, tennis, swimming and perhaps even a little botany…

    Good speech Mark. Poor lad! Some people have worse effects than others. I myself have many times wandered through stacks of Hogweed to no ill effects whatsoever. Also I’d like to say Human Beings have hurt and devastated Nature a million times more. If so many Humans had not gone away from nature we would know what to teach our children to keep them safe! It’s the same with anything.. Fire for example. Dangerous but extremely useful.

    You have picked up on such a vital point Dean. How ignorant most folk are now of all things natural like being exposed to the natural world including dirt, bacteria, the elements and hard physical work from an early age. The world has grown soft and fearful. I’ve gardened all my life, never wash my hands whilst doig so but eat my sandwich and cake with filthy fingers. At 63 I’ve never had a stomach bug – good genetics maybe but definitely helped by bacterial ingestion that has boosted my immune system.

    Dear Nicola
    I was sorry to hear about your son and wish him a speedy recovery. I’d be very interested to know what part of the UK you were in when this happened. Also whether your son has ever had any food allergies or hay fever. I’ve been studying the seasonal and regional differences in hogweed and that info would help contribute towards a larger understanding. Many thanks
    Monica Wilde
    Researcher, Napiers the Herbalists.

    I too have been “burned” by hogweed adjacent to the public highway in St. Clement, Cornwall. I had cut some to remove it from a well-used area, when the stem was blown across the side of my face and neck. I had lumps appear under my skin and burning and itching, which lasted 3 to 4 weeks, and itching and dryness continue to be uncomfortable.
    I have informed the local council, and an officer has visited the area, which had not been maintained for over a year, I await some action. The hogweed had now seeded, so will continue to be a danger to the public in future years.

    Sorry to hear about this.

    I’d be surprised if the council were to take responsibility for “controlling” common hogweed. Its hyper-abundant throughout the UK. What an odd precedent to start destroying all plants that could conceivably harm a human. Where would it stop? Buttercups? Nettles? Brambles? GM maize?

    I think the answer must surely be in education. We have become distanced from the plants around us, and often lack the knowledge to keep ourselves (and our children) safe. In case you haven’t read it, I refer you to part of the answer I gave to a similar comment above:

    “…Education, information and knowledge are the best tools against misadventure by young and old. The shunning and vilification of plants is more likely to lead to misinformation and ignorance. I have talked about, harvested, cooked and eaten hogweed with school groups with no adverse consequences. They learned about a fascinating and very useful plant, and how to mindfully harvest it, play safely near it, cherish its uses and respect its potential dangers.”

    I hope your burn clears up OK and you use your hard-won knowledge to help educate others, rather than wage war on a plant that has many beneficial uses for humans and infinitely more for the natural world.

    I run a Forest School in West Sussex. Our grounds are covered in common hogweed in Spring through summer. No child has ever complained of any reaction to common hogweed, though I did find a blister on my hand the other day. I alerted the children to the danger. There were no complaints from them through the day. The blister/burn could have come from the hogweed. I’m not sure. There is definitely the possibility that individual plants are more toxic than others. I will let you know if there are any further incidences of phototoxicity here. Me, I have had my first taste just the other day–really enjoyed it! I also read on Plants for a Future that a sugar could be obtained from the stems. Have you ever tried it?

    Hi, Ah, good to know you and the kids are switched on to this. No, I haven’t tried the sugar thing – but I will! This plant just gets better and better!
    Mark.

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