Exploring the Benefits of Weeds
Everyone is big on superfoods these days, but maybe the best superfood of all is growing right in your backyard! Unlike many superfoods that travel across the world, clocking up huge food miles before they end up on your plate, nature provides us with simple weeds, growing abundantly and freely in everyone’s neighbourhood. The benefits of weeds are many and varied!
While weeds are often relegated to the compost heap or dowsed with toxic herbicides like glyphosate, these much maligned plants are possibly one of our best sources of both food and medicine! Wild plants generally have much higher nutritional composition than cultivated plants, being clever at mining the soil for minerals and they also tend to be more resilient and strong, producing important phytochemicals that help them prevent disease and pest attacks. These same phytochemicals are capable of interacting with our body and offering many benefits such as anticancer, antioxidant, antimicrobial and immune regulating actions.
Watch my video below to learn more about incorporating a few wild plants into your diet!
Many of the wild weeds and plants growing locally in many parts of Australia are edible and nutritious and also in many cases contain a treasure trove of important phytochemicals and medicinal ingredients.
Weeds to look out for include: Fat Hen, Green Amaranth, Nodding Tops, Dandelion, Chickweed, Cobbler’s Pegs, Purslane, Warrigal Greens, Cleavers, Wood Sorrel, Chicory, Fennel, Cress, Shepherd’s Purse, Prickly Lettuce and Plantain to name just a few!
A few things to be aware of when foraging wild plants and weeds:
- Correct identification – be sure that the plant you are eating is the plant that you meant to eat! Many plants can look similar to other plants, so consult a good field guide. See below for resources.
- Oxalic acid – some wild plants (and some cultivated greens like silver beet and kale) contain high amounts of oxalic acid or calcium oxalate which can bind minerals and contribute to the formation of kidney stones. Cooking greens high in oxalates breaks them down, making them safer to consume. Otherwise be sure to choose the younger leaves when planning to eat them raw in a salad, and just don’t have too many at once!
- Sprays! – unfortunately most people don’t know about or appreciate the important health benefits contained in wild weeds, so they are targeted with toxic herbicides like glyphosate (eg. roundup). If you are gathering wild greens in public places, be sure that the area hasn’t been sprayed to avoid getting unwanted chemicals in with your wild foods.
- Don’t over harvest! – when gathering wild foods it is very important to not take a whole colony of a plant at once. Leave a few plants or fruits to allow the plant to reproduce (so there will be more for next time!) and also to share with other people or animals who also want a free feed! Sustainability and respect for the earth is a major part of the deal with wild food foraging.
Ensuring you get the right species is essential when foraging for wild greens. Adding colourful flowers like this red clover into salads, makes “eating the rainbow” easy and most flowers are chock full of vitamin C and energy!
So next time you are out in the backyard, or going for a hike in your local area check out what wild plants are growing and forage for fun, nutrition and medicine!
Resources & Field Guides
Unfortunately some of the good resources I use and recommend are now out of print! Here are two good ones below including the new release of a great new book out on weeds, called Wildcraft, by my good friend and colleague Heidi Merika.