19 Jan 2013

The Weed Foragers Handbook


FROM the time of the early radishes
To the time of the standing corn
Sleepy Henry Hackerman hoes.

There are laws in the village against weeds.
The law says a weed is wrong and shall be killed.
The weeds say life is a white and lovely thing
And the weeds come on and on in irrepressible regiments.
Sleepy Henry Hackerman hoes; and the village law uttering a ban on weeds is unchangeable law.

Carl Sandburg
In common with most young children of my generation, my first experience of eating weeds was chewing on the stems of the sourgrass flowers for the sour but refreshing juice. We would pull out the stamens from the flowers as well, and touch them to our tongues for the sweet nectar. I think we felt sort of brave, because we had always been warned that wild plants could be poisonous, and chewing on the common oxalis seemed risky and daring somehow. It never killed me, of course, and I enjoyed passing the experience on to Jemimah a few years ago.

Later on I was introduced to the joys of edible flowers by my mum. We would gather calendula, borage, rose petals, nasturtiums, salad burnet, chives, and lavender to sprinkle over salads or cook into desserts or coat in chocolate. Yum.  We would forage too, for fennel along the railway tracks and prickly pears and blackberries. The annual blackberry gathering trip was one of the highlights of summer, and we made the day of it, travelling home in the darkness with buckets and buckets of delicious berries, which we would freeze in free flowing layers on trays and then store in plastic bags for cooking into delicious desserts and healthy smoothies. My family still go brambling. It is such a satisfying activity, and the wild blackberries are so, so good.

This week I have enjoyed reading through the recently published book, The Weed Foragers Handbook by Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland. Subtitled A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds in Australia, this little book is a great read, and a wonderful companion to nature walks in the Australian countryside.

By definition, a weed is any plant growing where it is not wanted. The agapanthus that line my driveway are much loved and hardy garden plants in my area of Victoria, but on the Mornington Peninsula they are classified as noxious weeds. The book, therefore, is not a guide to Australian native plants, but rather to the types of mean bullies that grow in our backyards (ahem) and in any untended patch of land. Sourgrass are listed, as are such introduced weeds as nettles, onionweed, chickweed, sticky weed, dandelions, marshmallow, milk thistles and plantain, all of which grow with gay abandon in my garden. Oh the shame.

Some of these I knew were edible, and a few we eat already. I'm keen to try some of the others. I'll be giving marshmallow a miss though, since this plant, it seems, possesses the neba-neba properties much loved by the Japanese and much disliked by moi.  Ugh.

The little book contains excellent photographs to aid in identification, a few recipes, interesting historic snippets and a 'top ten rules' for safe and delicious foraging. A chapter on poisonous plants is included. I think foraging for edible weeds is going to add a certain something to our nature rambles, and I'm certainly glad that I have a copy of this handbook. I might even be able to add a weed or two to our foraged food staples.

Here's a list of weed foods my family eats whenever we can get them:

  • Blackberries - in pies and crumbles with apple, fresh on muesli with yoghurt, as smoothies with yoghurt and vanilla. Blackberries are good practically any way.
  • Nettles as soup.
  • Nasturtium leaves and flowers as a peppery and pretty addition to a green salad.
  • Onionweed including flowers and bulbs as a replacement for spring onion in a salad.
  • Fennel as a dill replacement with fish.
  • Young dandelion leaves with scrambled eggs and in sandwiches instead of lettuce.
  • Prickly pear fruit with a squeeze of lime juice on ice cream.
Do your family have any other favourites?  Is there anything we really need to try?  Did you eat sourgrass when you were kids?  Or something else?  Did you forage?  Jemimah's Daddy remembers gathering elderberry flowers to make elderflower champagne as a kid.  What did you gather? Do tell.

The Eat That Weed website is here.

1 comment:

  1. I am always catching Faith eating weeds and flowers, some I know but many . I like that it has good photographs for identifying this could be really helpful for us.


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