Weeds take root in crops, climate change, cuisine

Kudzu has become a map of climate change.

"One of the things that keeps a lot of these invasive species in check, kudzu included, has been really cold winters," said Ziska. "As the winters have warmed, what's happened is that slowly, kudzu is migrating northward. Kudzu does not have a political stake in climate change. It's simply responding to the change in temperature that's already occurring."

So can anything be learned from weeds?

"Between the sidewalk and the asphalt, it's able not only to grow, but to thrive," Ziska said.

Lewis Ziska takes us to the weedy parking lot behind his office.

"There's seven billion of us on the globe right now," said Ziska. "We're gonna have to feed those people. How do we do that with less water, less soil, less fertilizer and a climate on steroids, and yet, here you have this plant that's able to grow up through the asphalt, so, yeah, we can learn a whole lot from how this plant functions, how it does, and take those lessons and apply them to cultivated plants as a means to adapt."

Tama Matsuoka Wong knows she can't beat weeds, so she eats them.

She said lamb's quarters is a weed farmers will really work hard to get rid of.

"But it's very nutritious and as long as you're picking it the right way and cooking it," said Matsuoka, a lawyer turned weed forager.

She supplies edible weeds to a couple of the fanciest restaurants on the East Coast.

She pointed to one weed that she thinks almost anyone can find.

"When it's small, it's onion grass, but what happens is they get these aril bulbettes," she said.

They tasted juicy and garlicky, but delicate.

The backyard of her rural New Jersey home is a weed meadow.

Matsuoka's message: That one person's weeds are another's lunch, and they can be delicious.

Using recipes from her just-published weed cookbook, she and her daughter showed us, with a few of the weeds we picked: Creeping jenny, tomato and mozzarella salad, curried lamb and lambsquarters meatballs, and amaranth, onion and feta phyllo triangles. (No, not palmer amaranth, our old friend pigweed. A relative.)

(Scroll down to see some recipes from Matsuoka's book)

"But I would love to get some, you know, clean palmer's amaranth and try and see if it tastes the same as this one," Matsuoka said.

So maybe it could be transformed from enemy into friend.

And I know where she can find a lot of it.

Excerpted recipes from "Foraged Flavor" by Tama Matsuoka Wong and Eddy Leroux

Chocolate-Dipped Wild Spearmint Leaves

These chocolate-covered mint leaves have a fresh, wild flavor that sets them apart from other chocolate-covered treats. Serve as an after-dinner refreshment with tea or coffee.

1. Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet that will fit in your refrigerator. Melt 2 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate (60% cacao minimum; not chips) in a microwave or double boiler, stirring until smooth. Let cool until it is just warm when you dip a finger in it.

2. Holding the base of a mint leaf with your fingers (or blunt tweezers), dip each leaf into the melted chocolate, wipe off the excess chocolate on the side of the bowl or pot, and then place the leaf flat on the parchment paper. Continue dipping the leaves one by one. When finished, place the baking sheet in the refrigerator to set the chocolate.

3. Spoon unsweetened cocoa powder in the bottom of a small lidded container. Peel each leaf off the parchment paper, place in the container, and cover the leaf in the cocoa powder, adding more cocoa powder in layers as you fill the container. Keep the container in the refrigerator and take out the chilled chocolate leaves just before serving.

(More recipes on the next page)