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Edible weeds in Tenerife - some have medicinal properties too

Updated on April 9, 2011

Food for Free in Tenerife

Tenerife just like so many places in the world has a bountiful supply of wild foods that are easily gathered and come at no cost. The island is full of plants, many of which are regarded as weeds, that are both good to eat and have health-giving and medicinal properties too.

People talk about rising food costs but yet they ignore the food that comes so freely available in so many places. American film-maker, artist and raw foodist Markus Rothkranz claims that eating wild foods saved his life many years ago and he believes we should all be eating these plants daily. Markus refers to the common Dandelion as a "superfood."

A book I thoroughly recommend to anyone who wants to learn about foraging for edible plants is Food For Free by Richard Mabey. Many of the species in it grow wild in Tenerife as well as in the UK.

Food for Free on Amazon

Edible plants

Bladder campion
Bladder campion
Prickly pear
Prickly pear

Edible weeds found in Tenerife

Many weeds found commonly growing in Tenerife are edible and nutritious. The autumn, winter and spring are the best times for gathering them because the rains that fall in these seasons make the plants grow so well.

The already mentioned Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is often found growing in lawns in towns and cities. It is unmistakeable with its bright yellow flowers that are followed by Dandelion "clocks". Dandelion flowers, stems and leaves are good in salads and the roots can be roasted and ground up to make a coffee substitute that has no harmful caffeine in it.

Fat-hen (Chenopodium album) is another common weed that grows in waste ground and in arable land too. It is good cooked as greens and prepared like Spinach. Related species are also edible.

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a small scrambling weed that is commonly found in flower borders, in gardens, in waste ground and on roadsides among other places it has established itself in. It is a cosmopolitan plant and thrives in moist conditions and semi-shade. It has tiny white star-like flowers and its small leaves and juicy stems are wonderful to eat raw in salads and sandwiches or cooked as greens. Chickweed can be made into an ointment to treat skin conditions too and the plant is the source of vitamins and minerals.

Goosegrass or Cleavers (Galium aperine) is another common weed that climbs and straggles its way over other plants, fences or across the ground. It has foliage and seeds that are covered in minute hooks and this gives the plant the ability to stick to clothing, making it a favourite with children who like to throw it at one another. Goosegrass can be cooked as greens and the seeds, roasted and ground, just like Dandelion root, make a coffee substitute.

Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris) is a pretty weed with dainty white flower and seed pods housed in inflated bladders, hence its descriptive name. It grows along paths and in grassy places. It can be eaten raw or cooked as greens.

More edible plants

Wild spinach
Wild spinach

More edible plants found in Tenerife

The Prickly Pear cacti (Opuntia species) are common all over Tenerife and are classed as invasive weeds. They were originally brought to the Canary Islands as the host plants for the cochineal bugs that were farmed to supply the natural red dye in large quantities. The cacti found the arid areas of the islands to their liking and soon spread and colonised many parts.

These cacti are an excellent wild food though because the green pads, once stripped of spines, make a nutritious vegetable food sliced up and eaten raw in salad or cooked. The "pears" are delicious fruits and are often sold in greengrocers and in markets. You can collect your own for free but be very careful of the spines!

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), with its feathery foliage, yellow umbels of flowers and distinctive taste and aroma of Anise, is another wonderful edible plant commonly found in Tenerife. It grows in waste ground and along road sides and pathways. Fennel leaves are good eaten raw in salads or cooked in sauces with oily fish. A herbal tea made from this plant's seeds is very popular on Tenerife and sold packaged as tea-bags in most supermarkets. Fennel is known in Spanish as "Hinojo" and it has medicinal properties too because it is recommended for the digestion and even as an aid to slimming.

There are many species of Sowthistle (Sonchus species) found in Tenerife and the Canary Islands with some types being endemic to the islands. The flowers and leaves of these plants are edible too although they may be a bit too bitter for some people's tastes. Sowthistles have many medicinal properties though and are good for lowering the blood pressure and fighting inflammation in the body.

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) is another common edible weed. This little plant has distinctive heart-shaped seed pods that form after its small white flowers have finished. It grows in arable land, waste places, gardens and along paths and tastes like a very spicy cabbage. It is sold in markets in China.

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), which is grown as a garden flower in many parts of the world, grows as a common weed in Tenerife, especially in the north of the island. It tastes very much like watercress and is good eaten in sandwiches and salads, whilst the large nutty seeds can be pickled and eaten like capers. It is unmistakeable with its red, orange and yellow flowers and rounded leaves.

Finally in this short synopsis looking at edible weeds in Tenerife - there are very many more wild plants that can be eaten that grow on the island - we come to the Wild Spinach or Wild Beet (Beta patellaris and B. procumbens). These plants grow in vast masses of green foliage covering large areas of ground especially in coastal areas in winter and spring. Cooked as greens they are as good, if not better, than cultivated Spinach and packed full of health-giving minerals and vitamins. If Spinach was good enough for Popeye the sailor then it is good enough for me! 

Copyright © 2011 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.


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    • Tenerife Islander profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Tenerife

      Thank you for your feedback, Teresa and Simone!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow, how cool! Very interesting Hub. And I second teresa8go's tip :D

    • teresa8go profile image

      teresa8go 6 years ago from Michigan, USA

      Anyone foraging for wild edible plants should remember to do their foraging as far away from roads as possible. Many plants absorb heavy metals and other toxins commonly found in vehicle exhaust. Safe foraging!

    • Tenerife Islander profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Tenerife

      Thank you, Vickie and Annmackiemiller, for your comments!

    • annmackiemiller profile image

      annmackiemiller 6 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

      food foraging is becoming more popular again, someone was just talking about it on the radio today and then I spotted your page - maybe someone up there is hinting I should look into it? thumbs up

    • Vickie Bovender profile image

      Vickie Bovender 6 years ago from Southeastern US

      Very interesting, well-written Hub. I remember when I was a child, a family moved into the neighborhood from a mountainous area. They literally harvested dandelion "greens" for eating. We thought they were crazy - but now...I'm seeing the dandelions in my own yard quite a bit differently. And chickweed? Who would've thought you could eat chickweed!? Voting up and useful. Good work!

    • Tenerife Islander profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Tenerife

      Thanks for commenting!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 6 years ago

      Fascinating info.