Eating weeds is not as crazy as it sounds. Around the world traditional cultures have embraced the local ‘weeds’ and developed wonderful dishes from these unloved plants. The dictionary meaning of a weed is of a plant growing where it is not wanted. Yet weeds offer so much more to our garden as well as our health.
There are several weeds that we do not cultivate at the farm, and they keep growing back every year. Let’s take a walk around the farm.
One of our most loved ‘weeds’ the nettles grow back ever autumn, and stay until the heat of spring. Mother Nature very cleverly packed these delicious plants with lots of immunity boosting nutrients to help us get through a cold winter. Think Vitamin A, C and K along with several B vitamins. Add calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous next alongside a raft of antioxidants. Nettles may assist in detoxification of the body, help reduce inflammation, support liver health and wound healing.
To prepare nettles are easier to handle when wet. Initially the farmer’s wife pops the whole bunch into a sink of cold water for a good shake around. This helps to dislodge any grit and tiny seeds prior to cooking. Next she cuts the stem just below the leaves before dunking into a pot of boiling water. As soon as the leaves are bright green strain and rinse. At this point the leaves and stems can be chopped and excess water squeezed out, before proceeding with your recipe. Nettles make a lovely creamy pesto, work well in soup, and make a delicious pasta sauce. Click here for an interesting recipe from 101 Cookbooks.
Red Stemmed Dandelion:
Considered a weed, our red dandelion is actually a variety of chicory, which we lovingly plant every year. True dandelion is another variety altogether. Chicory, and red dandelion, has a delightfully bitter taste. Initially, if you are not used to bitter foods, you may find it hard to get used to, and then find it also calls you ‘back to the table’ for one bite more. Bitter foods are wonderfully healing for our liver and kidneys, and deserve a place in our weekly meals.
Slice finely and add to salads. Balance out a too sweet smoothie with a few stems. Or click here to immerse yourself in the wonders of Greek Mediterranean cooking and have a go at Horta.
When stinging nettles start to die down, purslane pops up around the farm. This fleshy succulent is full of Omega 3’s and is an excellent source for vegetarians and vegans. Purslane goes by several names around the world, and we often laugh how it is cherished in places like Lebanon and Mexico, yet doused in RoundUp here in Australia. Once you see this plant you’ll recognise it in gardens and parks wherever you go.
The whole plant can be eaten from the fleshy tips to the stems. In Lebanon it is called ‘baqli’ and appears in a salad dressed with lemon and oil, or with yoghurt, and then also made into fattoush salad. When we get to Mexico the same plant is called Verdolaga. As it has a slight thickening effect when cooked it is tossed into a stew with pork meat. A green sauce for tacos can be made using tomatillo salse verde which is then cooked with chopped purslane leaves until thick. The tart flavour of purslane marries well with the tomatillos, and provides a welcome base for creamy avocado and other veg. Follow this link to a salse recipe to get started.
When chamomile appears at the farm everyone smiles. It’s fresh, floral scent is reminiscent of apples and cucumber. No need to wait for it to dry, tea made with fresh leaves and stems maintains that delightful scent and is a great pleasure at the end of a long day. Chamomile is known for it’s calming properties, and a weak tea sweetened with a little bit of honey can be enjoyed by children during the ‘witching hour’ of the day.
Storing fresh chamomile is super simple. Find a empty glass to hold the stems. Do not bother with water. Remove the rubber band from the bunch, and fluff it out a bit to allow airflow. Then pop it straight into the glass. Enjoy it on your windowsill as it slowly dries. In the meantime pull sprigs out for fresh tea. There is a little bit of pollen drop so choose your location carefully. When it is dry, leave it another week or two to be sure, then crush between your hands and store in a glass jar for future use.
NB: Field to Feast and the farmer’s wife have no affiliation with any of the links included.