By Karral Millar & Chiara Cass
Workshop: Embrace your Weeds, held Thursday 12/10/17
Presenter: Emma Street
As gardeners we spend a great deal of time and money and risk our health with the use of herbicides in order to remove weeds from our garden. Perhaps we should rethink and use some of these weeds which can be delicious and highly nutritious.
Our guest at the Seed Savers gathering on Thursday 12th October at the Sustainability Activity Centre advocates just this.
Emma Street became interested in edible weeds about 10 years ago when she tried to grow vegies in a paddock. She ended up with lots of weeds growing and, rather than allow her dad to spray everything with Roundup (including the herbs like borage!), she began to feed weeds to her family!
A weed is a plant that grows well in the wrong place, but they can have many uses, culinary, medicinal and cultural. They also often have a high nutrition content and many have greater nutritional value than some of the more conventional vegetables we eat. What is considered a weed in some countries is harvested and cultivated in others!
However, Emma emphasised that it is important to be safe when harvesting weeds. Make sure that you identify them correctly (use the internet, and if in any doubt, give it a miss) and that they are clean and free of chemical sprays. Throw the weeds into a sink full of water with a dash of vinegar before you eat them or use them for cooking if you are not sure whether they are clean.
Also, start by trying a small amount of any new weeds to ascertain if you have an intolerance. Once again, if in doubt, don’t eat! They can accumulate heavy metals and some are high in oxalic acid (sour taste) which is not great if you are pregnant. So if you’re keen to give weeds a try, be sure to do your homework.
Emma classifies edible weeds into three groups, and she discussed them each in turn:
- Edible but Not Such a Pleasant Taste
- Edible and taste good
- Zombie group (aka don’t bother!)
Edible but Not Such a Pleasant Taste
Nettles are highly nutritious but taste sour. They can be used in place of spinach in many recipes. Especially good added to stir fries with tasty sauces, like oyster sauce.
You can also dry nettles by putting them in a box for a few weeks and then grind them to a powder to add to your food and drinks. Or make a nutritious tea.
Dandelions and cat’s ears: you can eat the roots, leaves and flowers by adding them to salads or soups or you can make dandelion wine or jelly with the flowers.
Sticky weed (cleavers) is good for urinary and prostate health, and can be made into a tea with blackcurrant juice and lime juice for a very nutritious drink.
Plantain (at right) is a stripy leafed weed that can be made into chips that taste better and have greater nutritional value than those made from kale. Simply mix the young leaves with oil and spices and bake in the oven until crisp. Plantain is also excellent in salads and stir fries.
Edible and taste good
Pig weed (wild amaranth) has the richest source of fatty acids such as omega 3, and protein. Use it in Tzatziki Dip.
The plant called Deadly Nightshade in Australia is actually Black Nightshade and the ripe fruit is not toxic and delicious according to Emma. Look for clusters of cherry like black fruit. It was introduced as a vegetable during the goldrush. Use the fruit in salads but, as with all new weeds, try a small amount first. Leaves and unripe fruit may be toxic.
Chick weed (left) is delicious and the leaves, stems, flowers go well in egg sandwiches, salads, pesto, stir fries and soups. It is high in protein and Vitamin C. Don’t confuse it with spurge which produces a white sap and is not good for you. Chickweed has a mohawk of fine hair on one side of its stalk.
Sheep’s sorrel is good for pesto, labna, or a jelly, it has a strong lemony flavour.
Blackberry leaves can be made into a drinkable tea that is full of antioxidants.
Mallow (at right) The leaves can be added to a salad, the fruit can be a substitute for capers and the flowers can be tossed into a salad. When cooked, the leaves create a mucus very similar to okra and can be used as a thickener to soups and stews. The flavour of the leaves is mild. Dried leaves can be used for tea. Mallow roots release a thick mucus when boiled in water. The thick liquid that is created can be beaten to make a meringue-like substitute for egg whites. Common mallow leaves are rich in vitamins A and C as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and selenium.
To make jellies from weeds Emma makes a pectin stock from citrus peel/seeds (for exact quantities google compost jelly) and then adds the weeds.
Why would you bother using them? (eg. Cape weed is best left for native pollinators to use, couch grass has amazing medicinal properties but you would be foolhardy to cultivate it!)
A brief discussion of other good uses and properties of weeds disclosed the following:
- Attract/host beneficial insects Repel ‘bad bugs’ e.g., slugs, aphids
- Have medicinal and healing properties
- Can be used as dyes
- Are soil breakers
- Bring up nutrients from deep down in the ground through long tap roots
- Can be soil indicators – how much water is in the soil, the nutrients in the soil
- Provide stock fodder
- Make good ground covers
- Can be used as green mulches
- Are Nitrogen fixers
Note we discussed “weeds” both collectively and with some specific examples. The above properties are of course not all true of every weed!
Resources: a plethora of internet sites
- Cook books from different cultures.
- Adam Grubb, The Weed Forager’s Handbook
- Gai Stern, Australian weeds a source of natural food/medicine
Have you got some weed tips or recipes to share? Or another favorite aspect from Emma’s talk? Feel free to add a comment to share with others!
Big thanks to Emma for an informative and fun session.
Also to Karral and Chiara for compiling these notes and images to share.