It turns out parsley wasn’t the only edible thing sprouting in our back laneway. After a little research and careful identification I located a number of weeds with various uses in the kitchen. I was a little sceptical too at first but stay with me here; nobody wants to ruin their dinner by including something growing out of cracks in the concrete.
As Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland note in The Weed Forager’s Handbook, weeds are the original convenience food; no need to plant or water, let alone place a delivery order. Their practical guide assists with accessing this low-impact fare safely and joyously: avoid poisonous plants, areas that might have been sprayed, and delight in the pleasure of collecting. In the book’s Forward, long-time weed ingester of Greek heritage, Costa Georgiadis described family trips where aunts and grandmothers would pick weeds alongside the road then to turn them into tasty and nutritious pies; like spinach pies… but weed pies. Genius.
There are many books that will help identify the edible and medicinal weeds in your area. Look for large colourful pictures then head to your nearest abandoned block or park. One of the best tips I’ve come across is to pick the fresh young growth at the bottom of the plant to avoid fibrous bits and enjoy the juiciest, mildest flavours.
Cooking with Amaranth
This ancient food has been used for over 8,000 years and was a staple for the Aztecs. I recently purchased Amaranth seeds from a health food shop after reading they contain four times as much calcium as quinoa and even more than milk! I used them to make this Mexican style amaranth stew with black beans and avocado, which was a big hit in our house.
What I didn’t know is you can also eat the leaves of the green Amaranth plant: a common weed in Melbourne that happens to flourish in our back laneway! The leaves are said to be equally as nutritious as the grain—containing potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, vitamin A and folate—with the versatility of baby spinach. I tried a couple of leaves raw and they had a strong ‘green’ taste, like a super-green smoothie. Cooked down in a curry the flavour became much more subtle and dare I say, delicious. My boyfriend and connoisseur-cat were both very happy with this meal too. I didn’t go as far as trying to collect Amaranth seeds to cook with, as this would have taken hours and required additional foraging further afield.
What else have we got? Here are some other edible weeds found growing in the laneway:
I have only photographed this one so far. I believe it’s possible to pick with gloves on then disarm the stinging leaves by blanching them in hot water. High in protein, antioxidants and calcium, nettles were sold as a green vegetable in 18th century English markets and are used in traditional Greek and Italian cooking. The leaves can be cooked into soups, pasta sauces and pies, or steeped in boiling water to make tea.
Young mallow can be seen popping up all over our laneway and is the next weed I’m going to try. It is world renowned as a gastrointestinal and anti-inflammatory herb. It can be make into a soothing tea, blended into a green juice or used fresh in a salad. It has long been considered a delicacy by the Romans and is eaten throughout the Mediterranean, Northern Africa and China.
Dandelion reminds me of my childhood. Its yellow flowers and parachute seed-pods spread across the football oval near our family home in rural New South Wales. My Dad, who grew up near Manchester in the North of England, spoke fondly of dandelion and burdock soda, a fermented drink made from the roots of those two ingredients. I have never tried to make anything with dandelion myself but intend to include some of the yellow petals in a simple Greek salad. All parts are edible; the leaves can be sautéed and match well with root vegetables. The roots can be slowly roasted until they are dark brown, then ground and used as a coffee alternative.