As promised two weeks ago, we have a guest blog post by book author, Anke Bialas from the Herbology website. This post is a part of the virtual book tour that coincides with the release of her latest book Homemade Health. I hope to bring you reprints of some of her other sensational posts later this month.
A big THANK YOU, to Rhi for giving me this opportunity to address her readers on this, the 3rd stop of my Virtual Book Tour. Rhi’s message of ethical and environmental awareness echoes its way into all areas of life for many of us. To stay true to this message I chose the subject of weeds/wild foods for this post. I figured it addresses your health and that of the planet, what could be better than that?
Do you have a garden? Do you love weeding it? Nope, neither do I. What if I told you that there are quite a few ‘weeds’ that would be better classified as wild foods? There are many plants that taste great, are so full of nutrients and grow so plentiful that it seems a shame to just throw them on the compost. Oh, and if you don’t have a garden do not despair, there are plenty of these little super foods out in the fields and along the paths you walk every day.
In this post I will talk about a few common weeds found in our gardens, not native bush food which of course are also incredibly nutritious and free for foragers in many parts of Australia. Nettles, dandelion, purslane, chickweed, cleavers, red clover, plantain, cobblers pegs,
Everyone knows dandelions! Children know it to grant wishes while they blow the seeds far and wide. As adults we curse its existence and dig furiously at the roots to remove them from our lawns. Dandelion is a diuretic and a hepatic used to strengthen, tone and stimulate bile flow, this tends to keep your liver very happy. Drinking an infusion made from Dandelion leaves or root after each meal, it will help strengthen the liver, clean the body via the kidneys and if you add Meadowsweet it will also aid the stomach. The young leaves are a great addition to a spring salad, are often added to soups and make a pleasant wilted green with a slightly bitter taste. The older leaves can get REALLY bitter. If you do want to cook with them it is a great idea to blanch them first (discard the water) to remove some of the bitterness. I personally like the idea of adding a few young leaves to a wild foods pesto, yum! You can also use the flower heads to make lemonade, jelly, fritters and more.
1 pound dandelion greens
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 whole small dried hot chile pepper, seeds removed, crushed
1/4 cup cooking oil
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese, shaved
Discard dandelion green roots; wash greens well in salted water. Cut leaves into 2-inch pieces. Cook greens uncovered in small amount of salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Sauté onion, garlic, and chile pepper in oil. Drain greens; add to onion garlic mixture. Taste dandelion greens and season with salt and pepper. Serve dandelion greens with grated Parmesan cheese.
Recipe for dandelion greens serves 4.
For those not familiar with purslane – you too are probably growing it without knowing it. I took this picture not two feet out of my front door. A prolific “weed” which grows in most areas of the globe, this ancient herb has been used for thousands of years. It has been used as a medicinal and culinary herb in ancient Egypt, China, medieval Europe as well as the Americas. Medicinally it is used to clear toxins from the system and to strengthen the immune system. In the kitchen it is seen raw in salads and as a cooked vegetable. In soups it counteracts the acidity of sorrel. Modern science has found purslane to be rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, B & C as well as calcium. Although fine to consume in culinary quantities, it is advised that pregnant women do not take purslane medicinally (i.e. in large quantities).
3 cups purslane, chopped
1 cup chickweed
1 ripe avocado
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
1/2 cup amaranth leaves
1/2 onion (wild, if avail.)
1/4 cup cheddar cheese (or other cheese), diced into small bits
1 teaspoon garlic salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Much of this salad can be gathered on the trail (or in your backyard, for that matter). Chop the purslane, chickweed, amaranth, and onion into bite sized bits. Add the avocado, peeled and diced. Add one hard-boiled egg, sliced. Mix in approximately 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese which has been cut into small bits. Squeeze the lemon over the salad, add the garlic salt, and mix well. If you have them, you can add chia seeds and one tablespoon of mayonnaise to this lip-smacking salad.
Nettles, yes the stinging kind, are an amazing super food. Nettles are known to be rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, especially selenium, sulphur, zinc, chromium, and boron. A litre of nettle infusion contains more than 1000 milligrams of calcium, 15000 IU of vitamin A, 760 milligrams of vitamin K, 10% protein, and lavish amounts of most B vitamins. The young leaves won’t sting you and older ones need to be blanched to take the sting out before eating.
There are many recipes for nettles as a culinary herb/vegetable. An oldie but a goodie is to add the young leaves to a green salad – maybe with some young dandelions and nasturtium flowers to perfect the herbal theme.
Or do as the Italians do and make a gorgeous nettle sauce to go with Gnocchi. All you have to do is blend 4 sun-dried tomatoes; 150g fresh nettle leaves (blanched), 50g pistachios and olive oil until creamy.
The most important aspects of utilizing wild foods are to make sure you have identified your plant correctly and to pick from areas that are not heavily sprayed (or a favourite place for the local dog population to mark their territory). Be creative, experiment, check the weeds you are throwing out and see if they are of the edible kind. There are many other, prolific ‘weeds’ out there such as chickweed, cleavers, plantain, clover and so many more.
Instead of spraying them out of existence, do yourself and the planet a favour: Eat your way to better weed control.
Anke Bialas is known for her practical, everyday approach to herbal health which led to the creation of the Herbology At Home series of guides to herbs and natural health which provide a convenient reference you can take with you where you need them most.
Visit Anke Bialas at:
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- Book Review: Homemade Health by Anke Bialas (mizrhi.wordpress.com)