Weeds. They’ll take over your garden if you’ll let them and when you don’t, it seems that with each undesirable you pull out, two will take their place. So, if you can’t beat them, why not eat them? That’s what Adam Grubb from Very Edible Gardens does. After pulling out one too many weeds from the garden bed, he decided to take a break and make the most of his wild bounty.
After a glass of weed-infused smoothie (it tasted better than it sounds), Adam and his partner Annie Raser-Rowland showed us around a private property, pointing out the weeds amongst the vegetable beds.
Some we recognised: dandelion, nettles, and nasturtium. Some we did not: chickweed, and blackberry nightshade. Each time a weed was introduced, samples were passed around. Wild rocket tasted like an intense version of its cultivated cousin, whilst the wasabi-flavoured nasturtium would not have been out of place in a sushi salad.
Other edibles grew along Merri Creek in abundance: dock, plantain, sticky weed, wild lettuce, wild cabbage, and mallow. We learnt that young, tender leaves were the best part of the plant to eat; mature leaves imparted a strong, bitter flavour. Some weeds had to be cooked to render them palatable; some, like the lemon-flavoured dock, needed to be blanched and the cooking water discarded to remove the high amounts of oxalic acid*.
Throughout the two-hour session, Adam and Annie revisited various species, so that by the end of the walk, everyone could confidently name and spot what they had eaten. However, not all edible varieties were available on the day, so Adam followed up with an email detailing everything that had been mentioned and more.
Adam and Annie’s guide The Weed Appreciator’s Handbook (working title) will be coming out in September. Until then, they’re recommending the book that got them into eating weeds initially, Pat Collins’ Useful Weeds at Our Doorstep (RRP $27)**. Collins focuses edibles from NSW’s Hunter Valley region, but most species described in her book are commonly found in Melbourne (and the rest of the world***).
Those keen on harvesting weeds should cross-reference both texts with internet resources to make sure that they’re identifying plants correctly. I’d recommend doing the walk**** as well, just to be doubly certain. Better to spend $20 on a class than end up in ER with a bellyful of hemlock.
*Adam Grubb’s notes: ‘Oxalic acids occur naturally in high levels in many commons food stuffs (including almonds, tea, chocolate, bananas, rhubarb, spinach) and our body creates it even when we don’t eat it — it metabolises it from vitamin C. Too oxalic acid can limit our absorption of calcium, forming calcium oxalate crystals which may contribute to kidney stones, gout and rheumatoid arthritis in some people. Pregnant women are recommended to limit their intake of oxalic acids. Foods high in both calcium and oxalic acid are probably less of a concern than those just high in oxalic acid, and most of the weeds mentioned have high calcium content.’
** Mustbethrifty me managed to get a copy for $5 cheaper, thanks to a damaged cover.
***Being pioneer plants, most edible weeds are very good at colonising bare earth after an ecological disaster such as a flood or bushfire. We humans replicate these conditions when we clear land for agriculture, so weeds have followed us around the globe.