Learn to Love Your Weeds

Learn to love your weeds

Some weeds can be delicious and may be more nutritious than store-bought greens.

The yellow petals and young leaves of dandelions can be used in salads, and the roots can be used as a coffee substitute. Sydney-based nutritionist Catherine Saxelby said most edible weeds were high in phytonutrients and phytochemicals such as beta-carotene that help protect the body against disease, as well as vitamin A, vitamin C, and minerals such as potassium. However, edible weeds do have some nutritional drawbacks as some wild leafy greens, like the sorrel varieties and purslane, have high concentrations of oxalic acid, which has been linked to kidney stones and is poisonous in very large amounts.

Thermal weeding using heat in various forms (radiant, flame, steam, hot water) to kill plant tissue is another option. Burning either on a large scale or with a hand burner or propane torch can be effective in the right conditions as it removes the above-soil body of the weeds killing most of the plants. Choose a time after rain or at least when any nearby plants or mulch are soggy and wet. Have a water hose handy or a watering can to dowse any sparks. If carried out before seed is set it can prevent the further spread of weeds. Burning can be undertaken over a wide area with minimal human input, however, this sort of burning also exposes the soil surface to erosion. If burning is used as a control method, caution should be exercised to minimise the risk of harm to the environment and to those undertaking the activity. Obviously windy days and high temperatures should be avoided and the availability of a water source is important as even in the home garden fire can get away quickly.
Boiling water is also effective on weeds if you only have a small area to control. This should also kill some surface un-sprouted seeds too. Be careful of your hands and feet, and keep children and pets away. Go slowly and concentrate when carrying the hot container.

A steam machine can be used to control weeds for a larger area. Precious plants should be covered up to protect them.

Soil solarisation kills weeds and can actually sterilize the soil and kill all life if hot enough. You need plenty of sun for this method to work. Transparent plastic lets the light in so will encourage the weeds to grow initially, but then they will get severely burnt by the direct sunlight, as well as allowing heat to build up under the clear plastic. Black plastic absorbs the heat, blocks the light and cooks the weeds and soil underneath.

Applying thick mulch all year round to inhibits weed growth and germination of weed seeds by blocking sunlight and light rainfall from reaching the soil surface. Using old carpet for large areas to smother weeds results in the ground being perfect the following year to plant into as the worms have done all the work turning weeds into soil. Layers of newspaper covered with a heavy mulch are also effective but again if you live in a bushfire prone area you will need to use a different method.

In the vegetable garden use companion planting to fill spare spaces with flowers and herbs with foliage that smothers weeds. This also has the advantage of attracting bees.

In order to safely eat your weeds, you need to be very sure that the weeds you are picking are what you think they are. To learn what is edible and what’s not, you need to do your research. Some parts of a plant may be poisonous while others are not.

Chickweed is a little, delicate, herbaceous winter green, also rich in vitamins A, B and C, and a good source of Omega 6 fatty acid and can be cooked like spinach or used as a salad green.

The fronds and stalks of wild fennel can be cooked and eaten in the same way as the store-bought variety and have a similar taste. While Blackberry is a weed of national significance and a real pest for farmers and local councils, its fruit is delicious and can be found in abundance in late summer and early autumn. More information can be found in The Weed Forager’s Handbook by Grubb & Raser-Rowland, Hyland House Publishing.