Category Eat Your Weeds

Eat your weeds: Pigface

chicken-moulting

The unusually named pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens, or carpobrotus rossii), also called karkalla, sea fig or sea bananas, is a succulent groundcover found in most parts of temperate coastal Australia. Its flowing green leaves and bright pink flowers are hard to miss as you walk the sand dunes for your ocean swim. This edible Australian native bushfood can also be easily grown in your garden.

Pigface is a coastal variety of saltbush, a halophyte which means it can adapt to high saline soils or water. It does this by either excreting salt or absorbing a lot of water to keep a healthy balance. Every part of the pigface plant is edible, with the red fruit being described as tasting like salty strawberries or salty fig. The leaves can be used medicinally for burns or stings, plus eaten raw or cooked.

Description

Pigface is a spreading succulent with vibrant, fleshy green leaves 3–10 cm long and striking red or purple flowers. It can be found year-round covering large patches of coastal sand dunes. Not to be confused with Mesembryanthemum, a genus to which pigface used to belong, which has 25 species from Europe and South Africa, comes in a hugely variable range of colours and shapes and is what you might find for sale at a garden nursery.

Warrigal Greens

Warrigal greens Tetragonia teragoniodes is a trailing leafy groundcover native to Australia, Eastern Asia and New Zealand – hence its other name, New Zealand spinach. In Europe it is now an invasive species, which belies its historical use as a great source of vitamin C for scurvy-riddled sailors and settlers during colonisation. Botanist Joseph Banks took warrigal greens back to England’s Kew Gardens, from where it became a popular cultivated vegetable for a while.

The word warrigal comes from the Darug indigenous people of the Sydney area, although not much is known about how they used this hardy plant. Warrigal greens is now grown commercially in Australia and is marketed as a bush food in restaurants and cafes.

Eat your weeds: Purslane

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) can be seen as an annoying weed, but for those in the know, it is an abundant source of valuable vitamins and nutrients and is a tasty food source. Also known as pigweed (not to be confused with pigface, Carpobrotus rossii), it is a vigorous annual plant that grows like a ground cover and can be eaten raw or cooked. Highly revered in Mediterranean and Eastern cuisines, it is almost unknown to the Australian palate.

Where To Find It

Purslane has adapted to a variety of climates, from arid to tropical, temperate and Mediterranean. It’s a succulent and can survive the extremes of seasonal monsoons and monthlong droughts.

It can be found in most parts of Australia and all over the world. It pops up in summertime where there is bare soil and it grows extremely well under any condition (sun or shade, rich or poor soil, watered or not).

Eat your weeds: Oxalis

oxalis

Oxalis is of the Oxalidaceae family which has over 850 different species worldwide, with about 30 species in Australia, seven of these native. A number of species are grown as ornamental plants. Oxalis is from the Greek oksos meaning sour, referring to the taste of the leaves and stems.

A common weed, oxalis is actually part of the sorrel family and is found in most parts of the world, being especially diverse in the tropical areas of Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

Oxalis originates from the highlands of South America where it has been cultivated since Incan times. The Incas domesticated many of their prized crops from pernicious weed species creating vigorous, low-maintenance vegetables that were able to thrive in adverse conditions.

Eat your weeds: Yellow Dock

BOTANICAL NAME: Rumex crispus (Yellow Dock, Curly Dock, Narrow-leaved Dock)

FAMILY NAME: Polygonaceae (that’s the buckwheat family)

DESCRIPTION:

Yellow Dock is an abundant weed that commonly grows in disturbed damp soils. It is easily found in pastures, waterways, wetlands, riparian vegetation, roadsides and waste areas in temperate and sub-tropical regions. Remember, most roadside weeds are typically sprayed with herbicides, so avoid collecting there.

This plant has a lot to offer as a nutritious food, potent medicine, natural dye or unique cut flower.

Eat your weeds: Fat Hen

A weed loved equally by humans and hens, Fat Hen (Chenopodium album), also known as Lamb’s Quarters, is valued for both its culinary and nutritional benefits. An inoffensive texture and flavour makes it the perfect entry level weed for novice foragers. Fat Hen can be found in most climates but grows best in temperate zones.

Foraging And Harvesting

Plants are upright with multiple stems. The tiny flowers form in clusters at the tips of mature plants and can be green/blue through to grey, often with a magenta tinge.

When foraging Fat Hen, look for sage coloured rhomboid leaves with a white dusty film, in particular on their undersides. The alternative common name ‘white goosefoot’ gives you some idea as to the shape of the leaves, as they’re said to look like a webbed foot (this is more clearly exaggerated when the plant is going to seed).

Eat Your Weeds: Nettle

nettle

Nettle grows all over Australia, preferring partially shady spots with fertile soils. The Australian native nettle, Urtica incisa (scrub nettle), is an upright perennial found in streams and rainforests. You can find other introduced varieties everywhere, such as the annuals Urtica urens (dwarf nettle) and Urtica dioica (common nettle).

Although considered a weed to most, it is actually a cultivated crop and has been highly valued since ancient times as a vegetable, fibre and remedy, along with dandelion and dock. Once you’ve encountered nettle, you’ll never forget it.

Eat Your Weeds: Acorn

acorn

Acorns (Quercus spp.) have long been thought of as a last resort food, but these small parcels of goodness pack quite a nutritional punch when processed the right way. Processing them is important, as acorns (like tea, chocolate and red wine) are jam-packed full of tannins. So much tannic acid in fact that they’re toxic to many livestock and even humans in their natural form. Leaching them of their tannins takes a little time and dedication. You also have to wait for trees to produce a mast crop every four or so years, though for the enthusiastic forager this can involve many enjoyable months of scouting these beautiful trees in the lead up to autumn. Patience certainly is a virtue where acorns are concerned, as they can reward you with easy to store sweet and nutty flour, and a cheap, cheerful and fattening winter feed for chooks and pigs.

Eat Your Weeds: Small-Flowered Mallow

mallow

The small-flowered mallow (Malva parviflora L.), is also known as whorled mallow, whorl-flower mallow, ringleaf marshmallow and cheeseweed. It originated in the Mediterranean and south-western Europe, but is considered native to Asia and North Africa too. It has naturalised throughout the world including all states and territories in Australia.

Description

Small-flowered mallow is a hardy, adaptable and temperate climate plant. It now grows in the tropics, tolerates rabbit predation and is naturally tolerant to glyphosate. It is however vulnerable to rust fungus infestation. When growing rigorously, it’s an indicator of fertile soil. Small-flowered mallow is a highly adaptable weed that sprawls or grows erect, up to 1.5 m in height.

The flowers are smaller than other mallow species (hence the name) and each have five pink or white petals. The flowers develop into tiny pumpkin-like green fruits, also referred to as cheeses, which are approximately 6–10 mm in diameter. These dry to become the seeds of the plant. The leaves are round, heart-shaped and soft. Stems, taproot, leaves and fruits are all edible, making this lovely biennial plant a useful contributor to any garden or foraging commons.

Eat Your Weeds: Wild Fennel

fennel

Wild fennel Foeniculum vulgare also called fenkel, sweet fennel, finule, is a hardy, frost tolerant biennial or short-lived perennial in the carrot family. It originated in the Mediterranean basin and has naturalised in many parts of the world. It was first recorded in Australia in 1803, and is widely distributed here. Its preferred habitat is rough terrain: empty lots, beside roads and railway lines, in fields, on hillsides and ocean cliffs. It’s particularly well-adapted to disturbed soils, which has enabled its rampant spread.

Fennel is one of the nine sacred healing plants of pre-Christian Europe; one of the ‘Nine Herbs Charm’ of Anglo-Saxon cosmology. Wild fennel is different from the cultivated variety, which has flavourless leaves but an edible, fibrous, iron-rich bulb. Wild fennel doesn’t produce a bulb, but it does produce a thick perennial rootstock. It has highly aromatic leaves and seeds that offer both medicinal and culinary uses and, alongside similar-tasting anise, is one of the primary ingredients in the liqueur absinthe. Wild fennel releases allelopaths (chemical inhibitors) so doesn’t make good a companion for tomatoes and beans.