“Unlike most of us who disparage weeds as unwelcome guests in our gardens (and paddocks), (many chefs have) quite a taste for them – literally”.*
Late last year I was invited by a naturopath to join a small group to forage for and identify edible and medicinal wild plants at nearby Birdland Reserve which is now undergoing reestablishment due to the recent bush fires. I was extremely interested as ever since I was a small child I have noticed groups, mainly European, collecting wild plants in reserves and along the roadsides. The extent of my gathering of wild plants until some 30 years ago has been mushrooming on my uncle’s farm and as a school girl getting off the tram to eat fennel and sour grass – yes oxalis!
However since meeting Hugo, whose mother used to gather sorrel, plantain and dock for cooking purposes, we have slowly incorporated more and more edible wild plants in our diet. Hugo in particular goes out daily to our paddocks to pick dandelions, milk thistles, soldier grass, chicory, fennel, mint, dock and other useful plants to add in to our morning juice along with kelp.
We know from talking to farmers like Ron Smith, Gerhard Grasser and experts like Jerry Brunetti, how valuable a diverse range of herbal forage is for animals to keep them strong and healthy. Plants such as Shepherds Purse, chicory, red and white clovers, nettles, saltbush, warrigal greens, purslane (pig face), wild cress, chickpea, wild Brassica, lupin shoots, rocket, oregano, orach (a wild spinach), cumbungi, samphire and native basil … so why wouldn’t we find them just as useful?
“Most people haven’t got a clue there are so many edible plants growing wild, or thought to try them”.* if you live in the country you have a ready source of a variety of plants and even town folk can wander the reserves and along railways and probably be surprised by the variety of plants that you will find. The sea is a rich source of a variety of kelps and lettuce and waterways are also for plants such as river mint and bulrush. . “Instead of seeing weeds, I see a source of food, which can be important when you’re … living on a straitened income”.* says one of these foragers. In fact many are extremely mineral rich and provide a very good source of missing elements from our diet.
You do need to be aware of 2 things however.
Do not collect plants from areas close to roads with heavy vehicle use or plants near or in polluted waterways.
Secondly you need to know if they are safe to eat. How do you do this? Place a small piece on your tongue to see if there is any adverse reaction. Be wary of fungi though – these can provide very interesting reactions, even death!! So do take care. Alternatively you can steam the greens to exude oxalic acid.
Have fun adding a few extras into your diet and to that of your animals. They are natural foragers and are often observed stretching their necks over and under fences to nibble a bit of the scrub to add a variety to their diet. So if an animal hasn’t the variety available – provide it for them, they’ll thrive on the extras.
*Acknowledgements to: Paul Best, The Age, Epicure 17.3.09