Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Edible weeds: ubiquitous and vital

Foraging plays a vital role in the project.

In 2012 a friend with Greek Orthodox heritage shared a story about her aunts roaming parks and bush areas of Melbourne with an old illustrated book of edible and medicinal weeds. Prior to hearing this story I had meet two elderly Chinese women foraging in Yarra Bend Parklands in Spring 2011. They were picking Shepherds Purse (they called it something else) and said it was good for salads but was also medicinal.  

Since then I have learned to forage for wild edible greens. Green spaces and parklands around Melbourne are teeming with indigenous and introduced edible plants. Nearly all of which are considered weeds to be eradicated, rather than alternative food sources that could contribute to good health and a greater understanding of our role in the ecology.

From a food anthropology perspective edible weeds are highly visible living relics of human migration, our engagement with and manipulation of the environment. Edible weeds are part of our urban existence as well as being ancestors to modern agricultural crops. Any time soil is turned or trees are cleared weeds flourish. Most edible weeds are herbaceous annuals, with some like Wild Brassicas being the ancestor to the modern cabbage, kale and broccoli to name a few. Edible weeds have rapid life cycles, thought due to their evolution with seasonal glacier movement during Ice Ages that exposed fresh turned soil, these extreme and short seasonal conditions required them to extract minerals and pump nutrients for maximum seed output in the shortest possible time. This is a theory that supports why wild edible weeds are much more nutritious than their modern progeny; the vegetables you see in supermarkets grown for looks and above all maximum yield.


Ryan (above) I did the Edible Weeds Walk organised by Adam Grubb & Annie Raser - Rowland, authors of The Weed Foragers Handbook veryediblegardens.com who do a great intro to forage plants around Melbourne.

Ryan is picking Wild Brassicas flowers (common name Wild Cabbage) which taste like Broccoli. Wild Brassicas is a highly nutritious plant growing most of the year all over Melbourne.

 Caution: Be wary of picking anything that grows where herbicides may be used, it's always best to check with your local council before foraging in parks.

  Picking Mallow leaves.

Edible Weed Walk participants tasting Amaranth seeds. 

The forage walk took place at Joe's Garden - the Harding St Market Garden, which is a heritage market garden on the Merri Creek in Coburg. Significantly, it was the first Chinese market garden in Melbourne mid 19th Century, which may have also contributed to the diversity of wild edible plants along Merri Creek area.

With our harvest of Wild Brassica, Wild Onion, Stinging Nettle, Mallow and Pigweed I made Greek style Spanakopita.

Below is an early experiment with Pigweed (indigenous name Muyaroo) collected from Yarra Bend Parklands.
       Pigweed / Munyaroo

 Pulverised Pigweed rolled and dried in the sun on a hot January day. 

Pigweed grows everywhere and is rich in omega 3 and omega 6. The leaves and seeds used in the traditional diet of indigenous Australians are increasingly recognised for there nutritional value. Other varieties grown around the world commonly called Purslane are widely used instead of Spinach in many cultures, adding a pleasant mucilaginous texture to dishes.

As an indigenous drought resistant edible weed Pigweed/Munyaroo holds much potential as a local and sustainable food crop, sensitive to the Australian landscape.

Thanks for reading

1 comment:

  1. Pigweek grows all over Australia. Denis Bartell wrote about it in his book "Desert Walker". He an another person were driving across the Simpson Desert. If needs be they could have used it as a source of water. It grows in semi arid regions. I expect that it is only available shortly after rain. The aboriginal people used to bake the root, apparently. Munyaroo is the/a aboriginal name that has been mentioned since at least the 1890s. ? if it refers to other plants, too.