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Urban Environmental Education and Outreach using Edible, Wild, and Weedy Plants

Lauren Frazee1,2, Sara Morris-Marano1, and Lena Struwe1,3,4

[1] Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, [2] Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolution,
[3] Department of Plant Biology and Pathology, & [4] Chrysler Herbarium, Rutgers University,
New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

Educating the public about the importance of
biodiversity and ecosystem function to human and
environmental well-being is becoming increasingly
difficult in today's world. Our main teaching goal is
to encourage community members to make
meaningful connections not only with plant life, but
also with soils, ecological processes, and all
associated biodiversity.
We hosted an education and outreach table entitled
"Eat Your Weeds: How to Safely Savor Wild Edible
Plants" at this year's Rutgers Day, an annual campuswide event celebrating Rutgers University in urban
New Brunswick, New Jersey; over 70,000 people
attend this event each year. Before the event, we
selected and foraged for local weedy plants and
developed simple, fun recipes employing them as
key ingredients.
At our Rutgers Day outreach table, we distributed
over 2000 free samples of these original dishes as
well as complimentary recipe cards; handed out
about 400 informative pamphlets about common
weedy plant identification; and talked with thousands
of visitors about the public misconceptions and
under-looked virtues of weeds in society. Overall,
our table encouraged between 3000 and 4000 adults,
children, teachers, and students to become more
familiar with wild botanical resources in a practical
and personal way. We see the widespread diversity
and appeal of wild, weedy plants as a globally
accessible resource for public outreach as well as
nature education.



Figure 1 (above):We secured a location and volunteers to run an outreach table with a large, memorable sign (reading
WEEDS and made from plastic tubes with weedy plants inside) from last years outreach table to establish a
recognizable presence at Rutgers Day. A new logo (EAT YOUR WEEDS) appeared on all materials.
We also gathered and potted example specimens from our field guide for display.

We greatly increased our impact at this years
Rutgers Day event as compared to last years event
based on the increased number of brochures that
were distributed (from 250 in 2013), in addition to
the original recipe cards (Figs. 1 and 2). Our outreach
table was a positive, fun, and educational experience
for all of our visitors.
The publics interest in local plant biodiversity and
ethnobotanical knowledge seemed insatiable to us on
Rutgers Day 2014. Children and adults alike asked
questions about the plants, willingly tasted new foods
(Fig. 3), and excitedly scooped up recipe cards until
most had run out (Fig. 2).
In conclusion, we have generated momentum for
the use of common weedy plants as model ecological
and environmental teaching tools in urban and
suburban areas. Urban plants provided us with an
easily-relatable set of organisms with which to teach
people about the virtues of nature in their everyday
surroundings. Many visitors were quickly able to
recognize our example specimens (Fig. 1) and
sample ingredients as plants that are common in their
own yards or neighborhoods.
We plan to host another weedy plant education and
outreach table at Rutgers Day 2015 based on a
different, yet equally as engaging, botanical theme.



Over half of the world's population now lives in
urban and suburban areas where many native species
are declining in abundance.
Weedy plants have adapted to the disturbanceprone environments that humans create and inhabit,
from agricultural fields and suburban lawns to
sidewalk cracks in cities.
Many weedy plant species have long
ethnobotanical histories and cultural relevance for
people from a variety of countries.
Weeds are omnipresent in modern cities and thus
some of the most universally accessible wild species
available for study and observation.



Figure 2 (above [front, back]): Eight original recipes
were developed featuring Taraxacum officinale
(dandelion), Allium sp. (wild garlic), Alliaria
petiolata (garlic mustard) Stellaria media
(chickweed), Cardamine hirsuta (hairy cress), and
Rumex acetosella (sheep sorrel).
We created cards for each recipe with a picture of its
featured weedy plant and foraging tips.

Figure 3 (above): We selected three easily accessible and

identifiable weedy species to feature in our free tastings:
Taraxacum officinale (dandelion), Allium sp. (wild garlic),
and Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard).
We foraged for plant material locally and prepared Cream
Cheese Spread with Wild Garlic Shoots, Garlic Mustard
Hummus, and Dandelion Flower Lemonade in bulk to offer as
samples on crackers and in small tasting cups at our table.

We would like to thank Jennifer Blake-Mahmud, Aishwarya

Bhattacharjee, Zach Bunda, Leif Albert, Natalie Howe,
Carlos Olivares, and Julia Perzley for preparing and serving
food and volunteering at our table on Rutgers Day 2014. We
are also grateful to Laura Shappell for designing this years
field guide pamphlet, which was illustrated by Bobbi
Angell. This project was sponsored by the Chrysler
Herbarium at Rutgers University.