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Edible Weeds: Gardeners Forage in Their Backyards for Food

Source credit: www.abc.net.au

While experts warn amateur foragers to exercise caution, there are many weeds growing in backyards across the country that are edible, highly nutritious and also have medicinal purposes.

Consulting gardener Kate Wall from Brisbane grows more than 25 different edible weeds in her backyard and holds regular workshops to share her knowledge with others to create more awareness about the valuable food source that weeds provide.

“We don’t have to do anything, it’s free food that has better nutritional quality than a lot of veggies that are struggling to grow beside them,” Ms Wall said.

“There is not nearly enough awareness and people spend a lot of time and money using very toxic chemicals to try and eradicate them.

“Instead of trying to eradicate them and poison our world, we should see them as a friend rather than an enemy.”

Ms Wall said it was priceless to see people’s reactions when she told them they could eat their cobblers pegs (a very common backyard weed) during her weed workshops.

“The look on their faces is pure shock,” she said.

In the 1970s the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) promoted the cultivation of cobblers pegs, known scientifically as Bidens Pilosa, as they were easy to grow, edible, palatable and safe.

Brisbane naturopath, herbalist and herbal medicine teacher Bettina Schmoll said cobblers pegs were known as a very annoying weed, yet they were actually a nutritious plant that were high in vitamin C, vitamin A and iron.“We need to bring more awareness about edible weeds into our education,” Ms Schmoll said.

“Even in my teaching, many of my students don’t recognised the weeds I show them.”

Exercise caution when identifying what’s edible

Ms Schmoll said although there were edible weeds it was equally important to know which weeds couldn’t be eaten.

“Consumers can gain knowledge at weed workshops, there are books and also herbariums, where they identify the plants for you,” she said. However, Queensland Herbarium senior botanist Nigel Fechner warned people not to eat weeds without conducting intensive research.

“You can’t just rely on looking at pictures on the internet because they could be misleading or wrong,” Mr Fechner said.

“There are enough poisonous weeds out there and I wouldn’t do it myself without doing the research.

Mr Fechner said people were welcome to bring their weeds to the herbarium for identification and always should have a positive weed identification before eating them, as there were many that looked alike.

Ms Wall also said there were look-alike weeds such as radium weed and chickweed.

“Chickweed is extremely nutritious and easy to eat, whereas radium weed will burn on your tongue,” Mrs Wall said.

“But here in the subtropics we have a lot of edible weeds that aren’t found in cooler climates and we should embrace it more.”

Ms Wall’s favourite tropical weed is pink baby’s breath (Talinum Paniculatum), which she said was highly nutritious.

“I include it in almost every meal while I have it in the garden, it is very high in vitamin C and immune boosting.”

Some other edible weeds found in Australia include green amaranth, soursob, scurvy weed and plantain.

Ms Wall said many weeds could easily be added to a salad and for green amaranth both the seeds and leaves could be eaten and added to a meal.

“I sprinkle them into rice dishes and it gives them a lovely nuttiness,” she said.

Ms Schmoll said edible weeds like plantain also had valuable medicinal purposes.

“It is a weed great to soothe the lungs, you can make it into a cough syrup and nutritionally it is high in zinc and vitamin C.”

Hope for more awareness

While edible weeds have been used in other cultures for hundreds of years Ms Wall said she hoped to see an increasing trend in Australia.

“There is a lot for us to learn from and I think there is a potential for these weeds in the restaurant industry.”

Ms Schmoll said the take-up of edible weeds among home cooks was having a slow progression in Australia.

“In Europe weeds are used and eaten far more than what we do here, so we should utilise that potential more than we do,” she said.

The original news article can be found here.