Now Eat Dem Weeds! (Let’s Talk About Weeds Pt 2!) by Tomas As we talked about last time, weeds are crazy and pretty awesome because they can tell you what’s up with your soil.
But now, we’re going to talk about how they can be used practically. They even taste pretty good so long as you know how to pick them.
To give you some background, one of our canvassers has been imbibing a lot of dandelion tea…about a pot a day. This is something that just doesn’t make sense to me; or, it didn’t until I had some of it after about a week of seeing her love for it. After this experience, it got me thinking about what weeds I could include in my diet.
That’s when I stumbled across Adam Grubb’s “The vegetables anyone can grow: Edible Weeds. So, I present with you, 8 weeds for you to enjoy.
Amaranth (Amaranthus species)
This ancient grain alternative, prized by the Incas and Aztecs, is also a metropolitan weed and a fine cooking green, high in protein and minerals. Pick the growing tips and young, freshest looking leaves, and boil in water. Discard the water (amaranth contains oxalic acid) and serve with a little olive oil, salt and lemon as a side dish, or use anywhere you would use spinach.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
This delicate cool season herb is a common volunteer in the veggie patch for it likes moist rich soils. The taste is very mild, and it is highly nutritious, being particularly high in iron, vitamins A and C and antioxidants. Trim just the tops off with scissors for the youngest leaves, which are good in salads, sandwiches and pestos. Look for the single row of hairs along the stem as an identifying marker to distinguish it from its many look-a-likes. Chickweed in an ancient remedy for rashes and other skin conditions, used as poultice or ointment.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Perhaps the most iconic of all weeds, the dandelion is also one of the most nutritious plants on the planet, high in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. All parts are edible, from the oh-so-decorative-in-a-salad yellow petals, to the root, which can be slow roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The freshest looking young leaves are lovely cooked, or make an excellent addition to salads for those that like bitter greens. Those antioxidants have cancer fighting power. Looks similar to the fortunately also edible cat’s-ear (Hypochaeris glabra and H. radicata).
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel’s feathery foliage and yellow flowers can often be found alongside railway tracks and on other sloping land. Be sure you have fennel by sniffing for its intense aniseed aroma. The seeds and young foliage are both digestive aids and a good accompaniment to bean dishes. Fennel is a popular ingredient in teas, while the pollen is an expensive gourmet ingredient used in sweet and savoury dishes. Medicinally it is a digestive, and one often served after Indian curries coated in sugar.
Mallow (several Malva species)
A common sight with its dark green geranium-like leaves, mallow is a lovely mild-flavoured green. It is a relative of okra and contains the same mucilage fibre, which is good for digestion and can thicken soups and stews. Young leaves can be used in salads, but mallow’s flavour develops when it’s cooked. The young round seed heads can be used like tiny okras in stews and curries. They have powerful proven effects against gastric ulcers, and are calmative on sore throats.
Oxalis (Oxalis species)
Also known as soursob or wood sorrel, this clover-like plant is the bane of many a gardener due to its obstinate bulbs. However, they have a delightful lemony flavour and, used like a herb, can be added to any dish where this tang is welcome. Use sparingly as they are rich in oxalic acid. Not good for pregnant women. Eaten it can speed up wound healing.
Nettle (Urtica urens)
An easily identifiable weed; one can do it by touch alone, for they carry a fierce sting! If dried, or wilted in boiling water for 30 seconds, they lose this disagreeable feature, and are transformed into a highly nutritious cooking green. Nettles are extraordinarily high in calcium. Strip the young leaves from the stems and use as a spinach substitute, one of such a deep chlorophyll green that it’s easy to appreciate their reputation as a blood tonic. The dried leaves are used for tea, and nettle gnocchi with sage butter is a classic. The sting is used to treat arthritis, and the roots used for enlarged prostate. In other parts of the world the perennial Urtica dioca may be more prominent.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
One of the first plants to colonise bare earth over the warmer months, this prostrate semi-succulent, with its jewel-like leaves and reddish stems is another nutritional superstar, and one valued in cuisines in both the Middle East and Mexico. Purslane has a crisp, tart flavour, and more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy green ever tested. Cooked, it excels in tomato dishes. Raw, it’s a great foundation for salads or tzatziki-style dips (we’ve a delicious recipe in the book). Yoghurt also binds up this plant’s oxalic acid.
Notes of caution
To reiterate, there are many poisonous plants, so proper identification is essential! Beware also of contaminated soil, and herbicide use. One way to learn more is to get a copy of the book, The Weed Forager’s Handbook: A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds of Australia by Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland (see below) or a text for your region. We also have a weed gallery on the www.eatthatweed.com website, and run workshops in Melbourne, Australia.