I have mentioned a few times previously that we often pick weeds from our garden to cook with, using Julia’s Edible Weeds as a guide. As it’s suddenly winter, I found my garden inundated with more weeds than planted vegetables. My friend Robert was over a few weekends ago helping out with the cider making day when he spotted my garden. I blushed and told him not to look at it as I hadn’t had time to tend to it properly and it had gotten away from me. He told me that was no issue as he could already see half of my garden was edible, so we went down for a quick forage. Robert found plenty of oxalis (wood sorrel), and I later found more around our citrus trees, which made a nice garnish on my dinner. Robert is an experienced forager, whenever we go tramping or day hiking together I can count on him to point out what is edible in the native bush. At the campsite when everyone is putting tea bags in their mugs, Robert will be gathering Kawakawa leaves for his tea.
As I am often asked about edible weeds I wanted to write a post about it, however I didn’t feel qualified enough and so it seemed obvious to ask Robert to write this blog post!
The Wonderful World of Edible Weeds
I first got started in foraging several years ago, when I set myself the goal of snacking through the New Zealand bush. I picked up a copy of Andrew Crowe’s Native Edible Plants and used it as a checklist, heading off into the forest on my own little edible treasure hunts. My well-thumbed copy of the book is now covered in ticks, with only a few endangered or slightly poisonous plants left – not the best idea for a casual snack. Running out of native berries to try, I decided to search for other things I could eat, which led me into the wonderful world of weed eating.
Why eat weeds?
Eating weeds makes sense on so many levels – it’s about the greenest thing you can do!
Here are a couple of reasons you should start eating weeds.
#1 Weeds are Local
Weeds grow everywhere, including in your backyard, local park or footpath. Growing locally means there is no need to import them in from overseas or truck them across the country.
#2 Weeds are Organic
There’s no need for artificial sprays or fertilisers – these are super plants and will grow even on poor quality land where nothing else can grow.
#3 Weeds are Nutritious
Weeds are surprisingly good for you and include some of the most nutritious vegetables ever studied.
#4 Weeds are Waste-Free
Obviously there is no plastic packaging, and by harvesting weeds you are making use of something that would otherwise be mowed over or ripped out.
#5 Weeds are Free!
They can add tons of nutrition to your diet for absolutely no extra cost.
Ready to start your weed eating journey? There are many, many edible weeds to try, and a huge diversity of things you can do with them. Here I thought I would introduce a few of the staples; these are some of the most common ones you will likely see around your garden, and some of the most useful.
***But firstly a quick disclaimer***
Only put things in your mouth if you are 100% sure you know what they are! Take some time to learn the key identifying features of the species, and once you have got your eye in for them you will be able to spot them at glance. Also if you are foraging on public land, make sure the weeds you are eating haven’t been sprayed. Be extra cautious around local parks and footpaths where there may be a weed control regime in place –you can often look up your local council to see what areas are being sprayed.
Dandelion – The Holy Grail of Weed Eating
Dandelion is a wild superfood, every part of the plant is edible – roots, leaves and flowers. Not only that, but it’s one of the most nutritious vegetables ever tested, bursting at the seams with vitamins. The leaves are super versatile; use them in salads, smoothies, stir-fry, boil up or brew them into tea. The bitter taste can take some getting used to, but it’s worth persevering! The flowers can be used to make teas and wines, and the root when roasted makes a coffee substitute that’s not half bad.
Purslane – Omega 3 Wonder Plant
This succulent creeper is often found crawling between cracks in the pavement. It has an unusually large amount of omega-3 fatty acids, something our bodies need but don’t produce themselves.
The leaves, stems and flowers can be used; I will most often use the leaves in salads and stirfry. They are full of mucilage – a slimy substance, which admittedly doesn’t sound all that appetising but is actually really delicious and adds a neat texture to a range of dishes.
Oxalis – Lemon Delicious
Just from looking at oxalis you don’t expect much. It looks like a bit like a clover with heart shaped leaves and you would assume it just tastes “planty”. But in actual fact it packs an acidic punch like a tangy lemon. The leaves, stems and flowers are all edible and make an awesome addition to meals either raw or cooked.
Puha – Spinach Substitute
You can see Puha being sold in Markets around Auckland, which always strikes me as odd seeing as they grow rampantly in gardens, lawns and parks. Another super nutritious plant, you can eat all the above-ground parts, the leaves resemble spinach and they can be used in all the same ways. Its best to get them while they are young as they become bitter with age.
Chickweed – Sprout Superstar
Chickweed is out in force in our garden at the moment. This delicate little plant tastes to me a bit like sprouts or watercress. Once again it’s a nutritional superstar, packed full of vitamins and minerals. I like it sprinkled in salads or throughout stirfry. It contains saponins, which are compounds that will lather up to make a soapy texture – which means it makes extra frothy green smoothies.
All photos by Robert Vennell, you can follow Robert on Twitter @RobertVennell and check out his blog The Meaning of Trees. If you are on Facebook there is New Zealand Food Foraging Group also.
Happy & safe foraging everyone!