Every time I am picking an order that includes dandelion, I have a little chuckle about growing weeds. I have a friend who many years ago showed me how she plucks the dandelions from the lawn and makes her tea every morning. This memory tweaked my interest in the actual use of weeds (other than filling up the garden bag). My research made for very interesting reading and I discovered that there are many many benefits of using weeds as additional leafy greens in your diet.
Have you ever cursed the hardiness of the weeds in your garden and their stubborn persistence? We attempt to eradicate them with natural (or otherwise) sprays or pulling them from the earth they inhabit. To my surprise I discovered that the natural habit of being a strong grower actually indicates that they are highly nutritional and in many cases, more so than the leafy greens we are purposely growing.
Collect your weeds early in the morning on the day you wish to use them. Then add them to your salads, stews, soups and smoothies. Or make tea or coffee with them.
The Dandelion is said to be one of the most beneficial wild plants. They contain approximately five times more copper than other grasses and more iron. As the picture above indicates, they are great food for turtles who love them.
The leaves tend to be very bitter and the bitterness of your greens is an indication that they are good for your digestion. Other nutritional value are the high amounts of vitamin A, B and C and protein as well as minerals such as potassium and calcium. The deep tap roots are dried, roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute while the leaves and flowers can be added to your smoothies.
Medicinally the dandelion helps digestion, liver, gallbladder and kidney health. Blood circulation and cholesterol levels benefit from the properties of the dandelion.
We have Yarrow listed in the herb section of the catalogue. It is an ancient medicinal herb and an excellent source of food for bees, butterflies and birds. Being a very hardy plant is prevents soil erosion and spreads easily which is why you see it commonly on roadsides and reserves.
Make a tea by drying the flower stalks and heads to alleviate hayfever, sinusitis, colds, coughs and flu.
Cleavers is the sticky plant that attaches itself to your gardening clothes and gloves. It is easy to pull from the soil as its stems are weak but Cleavers trails if you let it go for too long.
This can be used as a nutritional green by finely cutting and adding to soups. Eat the young leaves and stems cooked as a vegetable dish. Dry it to drink as a tea or roast the dry plant and substitute for caffeine-free coffee.
The above picture is of Narrow-Leaved Plantain (plantago lanceolata). This grows just about anywhere and the flower has a distinctive bulrush look. The pollen tends to be a curse for those afflicted with hay fever.
The narrow leaves are very bitter so use sparingly in smoothies or salads. The broad leaf variety is less bitter so more suitable as an eating green.
If you are stung by a bee or get a mosquito bite, try bruising the leaf of plantain and then rubbing on the bite. You should find that the stinging stops in 5 minutes and all sign of the sting/bite will more than likely disappear within an hour.
Geranium Dove's Foot
Geranium Doves Foot (geranium molle) has a soft-hairy feel and has the flat 3-lobed segmented leaves. The flowers are pink and tend to grow as double flowers as seen in the picture above. I find them growing along my fence line regularly and enjoy its flowering period from September to February.
The english physician Culpeper states back in the 1600's that this plant was useful for healing both externally and internally.
The above variety is Creeping Buttercup (ranunculus repens) which readily spreads along the ground with upright flower stems. Although this is very attractive with its bright yellow 5-petalled flowers it is inedible and believed to be poisonous. It is interesting that cattle tend to avoid buttercups.
Wild Carrot Greens
These greens are more nutritious than the carrots we grow in our garden. They are rich in potassium and high in vitamin K and other minerals. They grow prolifically on the roadside and are recognisable by their upright stem, feathery leaves and white umbel flowers.
Use the leaves like parsley or add to smoothies for a dose of goodies.
Carrot greens are great to use as an antiseptic. Mix them with something like honey to put on sores or grazes and chew the greenery to help mouth ulcers, bleeding gums and bad breath.
Fumitory (fumaria muralis) is a common garden weed with weak stems meaning it can be pulled out very easily. It spreads quickly and has pink tubular flowers with purple/maroon tips. It provides some nice colour in the garden but tends to smother other vines very quickly if not kept under control.
This is a medicinal plant that is best used with advice from a herbalist.
The majority of these photos were taken when out walking my dog. I am lucky enough to have a big reserve near my house and the number of weeds growing there were an assurance that I can stay healthy and never go hungry as I now know what is edible and how to use mother natures beautiful weeds.
Two great resource books about weeds (written in NZ) are
Julia's Guide to Edible Weeds and Wild Green Smoothies by Julia Sich
and Common Weeds of New Zealand by Ian Popay, Paul champion & Trevor James