A Forager’s Guide to Horseweed (Erigeron Canadensis)

Horseweed or Canadian fleabane (Erigeron canadensis or Conyza Canadensis) is an edible and fast-growing plant commonly found in North America. Horseweed is considered an invasive plant in many areas. The leaves, seedlings, and roots are edible.

Erigeron Canadensis Plant Profile

Scientific name Erigeron canadensis or Conyza canadensis, horseweed’s taxonomy places it in the Asteraceae family, which includes other well-known wildflowers and garden favorites such as daisy, aster, and sunflower.

Horseweed is also known by a number of other synonyms, such as:

  • Conyza canadensis
  • Horse balm
  • Canadian horseweed
  • Coltstail
  • Marestail
  • Butterweed
  • Canadian fleabane

Horseweed is a summer annual or biennial that can grow over 6 feet tall if left unchecked.

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Its long stems give rise to a tight inflorescence with a white ray and yellow disc florets at the ends.

Although the flower color for horseweed is typically white, it can occasionally be found in purple as well.

Erigeron canadensis
Horseweed (Erigeron canadensis)

How to Identify Horseweed?

Identifying horseweed involves looking at its leaves, stems, flowers, and overall growth habit. Here are key characteristics to help you identify horseweed:

  1. Plant Type: Horseweed is an annual or biennial herbaceous plant.
  2. Height: It can grow quite tall, reaching heights of up to 6 feet (about 1.8 meters).
  3. Stems:
    • The stems are erect and may have a reddish or purplish tint.
    • Stems can be hairy, especially in the upper parts.
  4. Leaves:
    • Leaves are alternate and lance-shaped, with toothed edges.
    • Leaves are often covered with fine hairs, giving them a slightly grayish-green appearance.
  5. Flowers:
    • Horseweed produces small, daisy-like flowers that have white to pinkish-purple rays surrounding a yellow central disk.
    • Flowers are numerous and form in clusters at the ends of branches.
  6. Habitat:
    • Horseweed is adaptable to various habitats and can be found in disturbed areas, fields, roadsides, and waste places.
  7. Range:
    • It is native to North America and is widespread across the continent.

Where to Forage for Horseweed?

In addition to areas of North America, particularly California and Canada, where it’s referred to as Canada fleabane, horseweed can grow in areas of Asia and Europe.

Horseweed is an opportunistic plant and commonly found in meadows and disturbed areas like:

  • Roadsides
  • Construction sites
  • Pastures

It thrives in open, sunny areas but can also tolerate some shade. It is commonly found in areas with rich, well-draining soil.

It can occasionally be found in wetlands, but they are not a primary habitat.

In the United States, it grows most prolifically in USDA hardiness zones 6-9.

Conyza canadensis

When to Forage for Horseweed?

Young Shoots and Leaves (Spring):

  • In the spring, young shoots and leaves of horseweed can be harvested.
  • The tender, young leaves may be more palatable and suitable for use in salads or as a cooked green.

Flowers (Late Spring to Summer):

  • As horseweed progresses into late spring and summer, it produces its characteristic daisy-like flowers.
  • If you are interested in using the flowers, this is the time to harvest them.

Seeds (Late Summer to Fall):

  • In late summer to fall, horseweed produces seeds. The seeds are small and fluffy and are attached to a parachute-like structure, aiding in wind dispersal.

Is Horseweed poisonous in any way?

Horseweed is not considered a highly poisonous plant. The flowers and leaves can cause mild irritation to some people’s skin.

It is also known to irritate horses’ nostrils and has also been reported to be toxic in sheep and cattle.

Those reports are anecdotal at this point and have not been verified.

What Parts of Horseweed Are Edible?

The leaves, seedlings, and shoots are edible.

Native Americans would dry the leaves and use them as medicinal tea to treat respiratory infections and ysentery. It can also be used as a diuretic and increases perspiration.

In some cultures, the root of horseweed has been boiled and used as a tea to help treat menstrual cramps.

It has also been used in the bedding material for dogs to ward off fleas. Hence the name, fleabane.

What Does Horseweed Taste Like?

Horseweed is peppery and spicy and can be used as a seasoning to flavor many dishes.

When broken, the leaves of horseweed give off an aroma similar to carrots.

How to Cook with Horseweed?

  • Horseweed is typically used as a seasoning. Its herbaceous flavor can add depth to any meat dish.
  • The young plants can be boiled and used as a potherb in soups and stews.
  • Some enjoy the leaves boiled and served as a side dish like spinach.
  • You can also add young horseweed leaves to salads.
  • If experimenting with horseweed flowers, they can be used as decoration in salads or as a garnish for various dishes.

How to prepare horseweed tea

  • dried horseweed leaves: 1 tablespoon
  • 1 cup of boiling water

Steep dried horseweed leaves for about 30 mins. It is recommended not to consume more than 1-2 cups daily.

How Do You Differentiate Horseweed from Similar-Looking Plants?

Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia):

  • Leaves: Finely divided, resembling fern leaves.
  • Stems: Erect and branched, often reddish in color.
  • Flowers: Small and greenish, with inconspicuous flower heads.
  • Edibility: limited, not recommended
  • How to differentiate from horseweed: Flowers not similar to the showy daisy-like flowers of horseweed.

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris):

  • Leaves: Pinnately lobed or divided, with a silvery-gray underside.
  • Stems: Erect and often reddish or purplish.
  • Flowers: Small, greenish, and arranged in dense spikes.
  • Edibility: Edible.
  • How to differentiate from horseweed: The overall appearance is different from the daisy-like flowers of horseweed.

Goldenrod (Solidago species):

  • Leaves: Lance-shaped with serrated edges.
  • Stems: Erect.
  • Flowers: Clusters of small, yellow, daisy-like flowers.
  • Edibility: Edible.
  • How to differentiate from horseweed: While the flower structure is similar, the color and arrangement differ from horseweed.

Aster (Aster species):

  • Leaves: Variable, often lance-shaped or heart-shaped, with toothed edges.
  • Stems: Erect and typically without the reddish or purplish tint seen in horseweed.
  • Flowers: Daisy-like flowers with various colors, including white, pink, purple, or blue.
  • Edibility: Limited, do not recommend.
  • How to differentiate from horseweed: The stems don’t have the reddish or purplish tint seen in horseweed.

Is Horseweed Invasive?

Horseweed is considered an invasive plant in many areas. It has now been placed on the plant list of dangerously invasive weeds in Ohio. It is also listed in the USDA plants database as an invasive species.

Each plant can produce thousands of seeds readily dispersed by wind and wildlife. These seeds then germinate in areas where they aren’t wanted.

Horseweed is resistant to a wide variety of herbicides, making management a challenge. Glyphosate-resistant horseweed produces many seeds, which means it can easily insert itself into the landscape and spread, eventually choking off more desirable plants or crops.

Can Horseweed Be Grown as an Ornamental Plant?

Some gardeners appreciate the natural look and ecological benefits of native plants like horseweed, but many other find it a nuisance being an invasive plant.

So while you can grow horseweed as an ornamental plant, I do not recommend it due to its invasive nature.

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