That? That’s mugwort. It’s medicine, not a weed!
— Grandma Lee

Recommended Reads

Rambunctious Garden - Emma Marris
The New Wild - Fred Pearce
Where Do Camels Belong? - Ken Thompson
One Straw Revolution - Masanobu Fukuoka
The Web That Has No Weaver - Ted Kaptchuk
Thin Places: A Pilgrimage Home - Ann Armbrecht
Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide & Wild Food Cookbook - Dina Falconi
Orion Magazine

What are weeds? 

Invasive Weeds Could Shed Light on Climate-coping

DiTommaso said weeds are also are essential to agriculture and human well-being, protecting and restoring the soil and providing surgery when areas are torn up for fields, burned or otherwise altered.

"Weeds are pioneers that initiate a process that can eventually restore whatever forest, savanna, prairie or other ecosystem was native there," he said.

Weeds may play a negative role in today's agricultural industry by competing with crops, but in the urban context, they deserve much more respect and consideration for their ecological services and cultural histories. Adapting our urban habitats to a rapidly changing climate requires rethinking management practices to maximize the resilience of the city as whole in its disturbed state, rather than simply restoring the ecology of the past. As a guide once said in the Jersey Meadowlands, "we facilitate the evolution of the ecosystem...to what native state could we even attempt to restore the ecosystem?"

Plants are Poison - And That Just May Be Why They Keep Us Healthy

The original idea was that antioxidants were good because they sopped up molecules called “reactive oxygen species” (ROS) that are released by stress and bounce around cells, wrecking havoc. This new theory suggests that we need the stress, and it’s our bodies’ reaction to that (producing our own internal antioxidants) that really does us good.

In other words, it’s the whole system that’s important — piling on more antioxidants from outside alone basically accomplishes nothing. 

Are Weeds Healthier than Farmed Veggies?

According to author Jo Robinson's book Eating on the Wild Side, the same wild edible plants that we call weeds tend to be loaded with phytonutrients—the "arsenal of chemicals" that plants synthesize to fend off "insects, disease, damaging ultra-violet light, inclement weather, and browsing animals." Phytochemicals are essentially the plant kingdom's survival strategy—a passive-aggressive tool for living creatures that can't flee predators, disease, or bad weather.

Recent studies suggest that eating phytonutrients helps humans fend off four of what Robinson calls "our modern scourges": cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia. 

...humanity's 10,000-year agricultural adventure has been all about breeding away bitterness and selecting for sweetness, starchiness, and fat—and thus has been a kind of millennia-long war against the very nutrients that made early humans the healthy, vibrant creatures capable of inventing agriculture in the first place. As a result, she writes, "the more palatable our fruits and vegetables became…the less advantageous they were for our health."

Can Urban Foraging Feed Poor People? 

What if we connected the people most in need of healthy food with the expensive, nutrient-dense greens that just happen to be growing between the cracks in their driveways? A project at UC Berkeley is testing out this idea. Philip Stark, chair of the Berkeley statistics department, has organized a team of researchers to map edible plants in low-income neighborhoods, with the goal of creating a website that will show residents how to find food close to their homes...

There’s a sense of rootedness that comes with knowing the wild things in a place, and a satisfaction that comes with finding food to help support your family. I’m not talking like a survivalist here — there’s no way people in West Oakland are going to get the bulk of their calories from weeds any time soon. I’m just pointing out that a small helping of foraged greens each day could make people healthier.

Eating Invasive Species

An important goal of ours is to have our cuisine return to the roots of sushi, meaning simply to use what we have available where we live. Often what we find now are invasive species—unwanted plants and animals that humans have introduced to ecosystems. Nationwide, invasive species such as the wild boar and Asian carp are destroying farms and fisheries, causing economic damage that has been estimated at $120 billion a year.

Our solution? Eat them.