As for commercial
vegetables, pick the leaves when they are young and tender.
Edible weeds are much higher in vitamins and minerals than supermarket vegetables.
Make sure that the area where you are collecting weeds has not been sprayed with chemicals.
There are about 50,000 edible plant species worldwide, but only about 150 can be found in supermarkets. Most people would regularly eat the produce of only about 30 species.
CAUTION: Make sure that you identify the plant species correctly. An error can result in serious illness or even death. One woman picked some leaves off a shrub, made a herb tea and died. The plant was the highly toxic Oleander. A good background knowledge is required to harvest and cook weeds properly. An excellent reference is Wild Herbs of Australia by Tim Low, which gives an informative coverage with many botanical illustrations. This is out of print, but may be available on the internet or in public libraries. If there is any doubt identifying a particular weed species, do not eat it. As for bush fungii, it is wise to be very careful.
Peter Hardwick, the local bush food expert, may conduct workshops on edible weeds, if there is enough interest. Phone: 66890304. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Bountiful Weed
Cobbler's Pegs (Bidens pilosa). It is a widespread, untidy plant growing 0.5 to 1.0m. It is most easily recognised by its black seeds, which are about 1cm long and have a few barbs at one end that attach to passing animals or humans. People are often seen with the irritating seeds clinging to their clothing after walking through paddocks or the garden. The leaves are bitter to taste and not very palatable, but it is still widely eaten in Africa as a pot herb. It can be used in small amounts in cooked foods, with the bitterness being disguised by other foods. The plant's only real virtue is that it is so plentiful.
Indian Strawberry (Duchesnea indica) is cultivated for spring greens in the mid west of the USA. It looks similar to commercial strawberry, except it has yellow flowers. The leaves can be added to salads and the ripe fruit eaten even though it tastes rather insipid. Alas, it is now rarely encountered, as it was displaced by the invasive Tropical Chickweed in the mid 1990's.
Purslane (Portulacca oleracea) is low lying, spreading small plant, with triangular leaves, thick succulent stems and small yellow flowers. Its use as a vegetable can be traced back at least 2000 years in India and Iran. Purslane may be utilised raw in salads or any recipe requiring a green vegetable.
Watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum) is found along creeks in sunny positions. The leaves are bright green and the stems are hollow and brittle. The petite white flowers produce small elongated pods containing the seeds. Watercress establishes itself every few years, when there is ample water flowing in the creeks but with no flooding to wash away the plants. Make sure you cook the leaves thoroughly. Snails on wild watercress may carry parasitic liver fluke that can infect humans.
species) is commonly found growing in damp areas. The various species
appear during wet periods and may be harvested frequently. For dinner
parties, I have made a delicious mulligatawny (curry soup), using dock
leaves as the main ingredient.
Many other edible weeds can be seen around the Nimbin area - Amaranths (Amaranthus species), Wandering Jew (Commelina species), Peppercress (Lepidium species), Cape Gooseberries (Physalis species), Nettles (Urtica species) and many others. Unfortunately with the drier weather over the past decade, the weed harvest has been noticeably reduced. Some species which were quite common in the 1980's have become rare or even locally extinct.
All the best eating and enjoying your dock curry soup and purslane salad greens.