I am collecting plants again. I have a whole farm to play with; however it’s missing a few key weeds. So I’m gleefully planting them on purpose. Growing weeds in your own garden rather than wild foraging means you know they haven’t been sprayed with poison (assuming you let all co-gardeners know that you WANT those plants there) and there’s always a yield nearby. I like plants that look after themselves; weeds are resilient plants that grow with little tending, watering (important when the tanks are low) or feeding. This is a wonderful little Aussie book on eating weeds (by the authors of this book) and my favourite herbals are here.
Dandelion. This is my favourite edible weed. You can eat the leaves in salads, fry the flowers or ferment them into wine, and make dandelion coffee from the roots. Lettuce is nowhere near as versatile or hardy. Dandelion will plant itself every year, and always be available for your sandwich. It’s high in vitamins A, B and C, calcium, iron and other minerals (pulling them up from deep down with its long taproot), contains bitters that help your digestion, helps the liver detox and break down fats (a good reason to pick a bitter salad to go with your lasagne), and is the safest diuretic as it contains a high amount of potassium to replace what is lost (ie. it makes you wee, so don’t drink before bed). The French common name is piss en lit, or ‘wet the bed’. Dandelion can be confused with similar-looking plants; the edible one you want is Taraxacum officinalis. Other yellow-flowered plants include cat’s ears, hawksbit and milk thistle; none of these are deadly but they don’t have the same medicinal properties and can’t be eaten in the same amounts as dandelion. To identify dandelion, look for: hollow stems oozing a milky sap; only one flower head on a stem (no branching); and rosettes of smooth green leaves with pointed tips. Find dandelion plants in lawns and pathways everywhere, and bring some fluffy seed heads home to plant.
Plantain. This common urban weed is welcome in my garden for two main reasons: it’s the best herbal remedy for coughs and can be made into cough pills; and it’s also an effective remedy for bites and stings. It works best when it’s fresh, rather than stale dried leaf, but this is easy to do as it grows most of the year round. This is a handful of seed that I collected from a walking trail nearby, and I spread it over the vegetable garden today. I’ll pull out the seedlings that are too thick or in the way, and let it seed itself around the garden. You can eat the leaves (they don’t taste that nice), make a tea (add honey or mint to make it palatable), or dry and crumble the leaves to make pills. To treat bites and stings, crush a leaf and roll it in your hand until the green juice is pressed out, then dab this onto the area. If you know it hasn’t been sprayed, you can also chew a leaf or two and spit them onto the bite. I’ve used this for bull-ant bites for my son and it works beautifully. Incidentally, psyllium is the seed husk of a related plant.
Purslane. This succulent agricultural weed is the bane of some farmers, however it’s a tasty and valuable salad crop. You can buy it at some farmer’s markets. Unlike other plants, it contains a high amount of omega 3 fatty acids. Even if you don’t eat it yourself, you can feed it to your chickens and it will increase the omega 3 in their eggs. So if you are lucky enough to have it in your garden, don’t weed it out! I didn’t have any growing wild, so I dug some up some small plants from my dad’s vegie garden. It’s native to India and Australia, and also contains high vitamin C, A, iron, calcium and magnesium. The leaves, stems and seed are edible.
The next weed I’ll be tracking down and bringing in is chickweed. I’ve already scattered nasturtium seeds around, and am keeping some existing areas of sheep sorrel and fat hen. However, one plant I will be avoiding completely is kikuyu; the very worst garden weed! We don’t have it, and I don’t want it!
What’s your favourite edible weed?