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It's time consuming but if you have a lawn full of dandelions you can collect the flowerheads to make a dandelion cordial.
 
Photo by Jeannie Hayden

Eating Weeds

Jeannie Hayden, Wild Dunedin —

Under lockdown when you try to avoid going to the supermarket, and the local farmers market or greengrocer is not available, it's good to know what weeds you can use to add nutrition and taste to a rather tired lettuce or cabbage in the fridge. And you won't even have to leave your backyard to find them.

Weeds thrive in the company of humans and were the first vegetables. They have evolved to grow in unsettled earth and damaged landscapes, and that may be a less malign role than we give them credit for.  They are often earth's bandage.

Once I appreciated the properties weeds have, my attitude to them appearing in my garden changed.  They are not a cultivated vegetable so often their flavour is too sharp or bitter, but I have chosen four common weeds that could be in your backyard that do taste fine.  

Chickweed  

Do yourself a favour and add this nutritious annual weed to your salad or use like sprouts in a sandwich when it appears in autumn, winter and early spring.

Chickweed Stella Media - Media means "in the midst of" and to me it refers to the way chickweed grows in and around and over other plants. It prefers cool, rich and moist conditions and indicates a high nitrogen level in your soil. — Image by: Jeannie Hayden

Consider Chickweed as an easily obtained nourishing, calming and strengthening food. In the past, before lettuce was developed, it was used in the same way as lettuce is today.

Chickweed contains mucilage and saponins which assist in the absorption of nutrients, especially minerals. It's a rich source of vitamin C, calcium, chlorophyll, carotenes needed by the liver to produce vitamin A, folic acid, essential fatty acids and protein.  

Chickweed Stellaria Media - Stellaria means "little star" reflecting the white, five, deeply divided, petalled flowers.    — Image by: Jeannie Hayden

For adding to a smoothie or a garden pesto you can just grab a handful, but for including in salads I tend to remove quite a bit of the stem to make it more attractive and easier to chew...this does take time.

Dandelion  

The Dandelion is "king of the weeds" for health giving properties reflected in its Latin plant name Taraxacum, meaning 'remedy for disorders'. It's an abundant wild edible. 

To check if you have a dandelion or not, turn the leaf over and run your finger along the main vein of the leaf. It will be smooth with no hairs, while its relatives have hairs on their veins and leaves.   — Image by: Jeannie Hayden

The name "dandelion" comes from French, meaning "lion's tooth" describing the deeply lobed leaves with triangular teeth pointing towards the base of the leaf.

The leaves contain high amounts of vitamins A, B and C, potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and other minerals.  

The downside is that the leaves are bitter but this effect can be reduced if you choose smaller younger leaves, and use it sparingly with other greens. To counter balance any bitterness I like to add grated apple or sweet mandarins to the salad.  

The good news is that the bitterness will improve digestion and help lower cholesterol levels and increase blood and lymph circulation.    

Image by: Jeannie Hayden


The dandelion is a beneficial weed with its deep tap root bringing up nutrients from deep down to plants with shallower roots. It adds minerals and nitrogen to the soil and will attract pollinating insects plus releasing ethylene gas to help ripen fruit.  

Onion Weed/Wild Garlic 

If you're running short on onions or chives, then you can easily get that onion flavour from onion weed or wild garlic.

Allium triquetrum - onion weed is also known as 'three cornered leek' . Its leaves are shaped like a peaked roofline with a definite fold down the centre of the leaf.   — Image by: Jeannie Hayden

Early spring flower stalks produce an umbel inflorescence of drooping bell shaped white flowers with a defining fine green stripe down the centre of each petal.  Now you will only see the strap-like leaves and these can be used like garlic chives or spring onion greens.

A close view of the wild onion or wild garlic flowers with the distinctive green stripe. — Image by: Jeannie Hayden

Onion weed acts as a digestive system tonic, stimulates the circulatory system and is anti-microbial. This winter green is a gift that comes at a time when we need protection against colds and flus.

Cooked it has a subtle leek or spring onion taste. Raw it's great in pestos, salads and salsas. Use the delicate white flowers in salads. Check for the distinctive green line on the flowers before harvesting. Crush the leaves and you will smell onion.

It is most important to use these steps to identify it correctly as other white flowering bulbs are not edible.

Onion weed is a good ground cover in an orchard because when walked on, it releases the garlic odour containing sulphur. Its anti-microbial properties will help deter damaging insects and fungi from your fruit. The flowers too are visited by bees at a time when there are not a lot of other flowers blooming.   

Sheep's Sorrel or Sourweed 

Sorrel, like rhubarb and spinach, is high in oxalic acid. It's much easier to just have a sorrel plant in your garden but sheep's sorrel sometimes turns up when you disturb soil.  So instead of just weeding them out, first pick some to add to your salad for that acid zing similar to citrus.

The leaves are arrow shaped, a little like garden sorrel but instead of pointed leaf bases the bottoms of the leaves are lobed and can stick out.

Sheep's sorrel, Rumex acetosella, is related to the dock family and has a similar flowerhead.  — Image by: Jeannie Hayden

Sheep's sorrel is not as astringent as garden sorrel and it's very small. Sorrel can be used as a garnish, a salad leaf, or as an added green for soups and stews. 

On the left is garden sorrel and on the right sheep's sorrel - gives a good indication of leaf shape and size. — Image by: Jeannie Hayden


Not all weeds are bad guys, far from it: some are nutritionally rich, some medicine, some attract good insects for your garden and some help you take care of the soil. 

If you enjoyed reading this here are some other books/sites you might like to investigate:

'Stalking the Wild Asparagus'. Quell Gibbons  1962

'Second Nature'  Michael Pollen

'Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate' by John Kallas

'Wild Food' Roger Phillips

http://www.juliasedibleweeds.com/


Before organising this festival I wrote a food blog that features weeds, vegetables and all sorts of recipes.  www.jeannieskitchen.me