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April 2014

Weeds – How to forage for free superfoods

Foraging-Plantain-Little eco footprints

Exotic superfoods are in fashion at the moment. There’s cacao, spirulina, chia seeds and coconut water – just to name a few. Many superfoods not only come with a high price tag, they can also have high environmental and social costs.

Transported from the corners of the globe, superfoods often come with super food miles. Our demand for these foods is also impacting upon the communities from which they come. For example, our taste for quinoa has inflated prices so much that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia can no longer afford to eat their staple grain.

Thankfully, there are sustainable and ethical superfoods available for free and you’ll likely find them in your own backyard.

Foraged-greens-weedy-superfoods-little eco footprints

The benefits of eating weeds

Many weeds are tasty and highly nutritious. Edible weedy greens are actually more nutritious than the greens you’ll find at the greengrocer. Jo Robinson, in her book Eating on the Wild Side, describes how the domestication of wild foods has led to a decline in the nutrient content of many of the fruits and vegetables we eat today. Early cultivators selected varieties that were sweeter and less bitter. By doing so, they unintentionally selected against nutrients and in particular, phytonutrients. Phytonutrients have a bitter taste and possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Wild greens are typically bitter and still retain loads of phytonutrients. Dandelion greens, for example, have seven times more phytonutrients than spinach. 

Forging-Stinging-Nettle-Photo-Xanthe-Roxburg-What-Xanthe-SawPic: What Xanthe Saw (p.s Xanthe has a Autumn/Winter special on family portrait sessions. I loved our family session with Xanthe).  

Foraging also has other benefits. Gathering wild food is far more fun than a trip to the supermarket. Foraging outdoors and connecting with nature nurtures physical and emotional health. 

Foraged-edible-Scurvy-Weed-little eco footprints

Eating weeds is also a great way to save money. A bunch of organic kale can cost about $5 – whereas you can pick similarly nutritious greens from your backyard for free.

Foraged-chickweed-and-stinging-nettle-little eco footprints

Foraged food is also very local and super fresh.

Weedy superfoods for beginner foragers

Picking and eating weeds can be intimidating for beginner foragers. Thankfully, many edible weeds are relatively easy to recognise and are unlikely to be confused with anything poisonous.

Purslane-a-delicious-nutritious-weed-Little eco footprints

I recommend beginner foragers start with one or more of the following:

  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Chickweed (Stellaria media)
  • Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
  • Fat Hen/Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)
  • Scurvy weed (Commelina cyanea)
  • Sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus)
  • Stinging nettle (Urtica incise)

If you are a gardener, you may already recognise these weeds.

Read descriptions and browse images of these plants online and in books. You’ll be surprised that, once you know what you are looking for, a weed that you hadn’t noticed previously will suddenly appear everywhere.

Before you eat something, collect a sample and confirm that you have identified it correctly. Either ask an experienced forager or compare what you have with a formal description.

Where to forage for weeds

Good places to forage include your own garden, a friend’s garden or a local community garden.

When foraging, you want to avoid places that may have been sprayed with herbicide or are likely to be polluted. Avoid busy road verges and areas surrounding old painted buildings because these areas are likely to be contaminated with lead and other heavy metals.

How to eat foraged greens

Veggie-burgers-with-a-side-of-purslane-Little eco footprints

Once you know how to find and identify weedy greens, you can start including them in your diet.

Stinging-Nettle-frittata-with-a-side-of-Chickweed-Little eco footprints

Collect tender young leaves and use them as you would salad greens or spinach. Use them in frittatas or omelettes, in stir-fries, pesto, or simply steamed or sauteed. You can also use them in green smoothies.

I hope that one day, foraging weeds is perceived as normal as opening up a plastic bag of hydroponically grown spinach leaves.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 21st April 2014.

Perfectly preloved - 4 tips for buying second hand furniture

Tips-for-buying-preloved-furniture-1-Be-patient. Little eco footprints.

Preloved furniture appeals to me far more than the mass-produced furniture typically found in stores today. Favouring second hand is the easiest way to reduce the environmental impact of your furniture. There are no new resources used and no waste going into landfill. You get a perfectly good piece of furniture without having to wear the environmental costs.

Preloved-furniture-usually-has-more-character. Little eco footprints

Environmental benefits aside, there’s many reasons to love second hand furniture. It’s typically far more durable than modern furniture and usually has a whole lot more character. It also costs considerably less and is more likely to ride-out fashions and fads. I particularly love the sense of nostalgia that a piece of vintage furniture can create, reminding me of people, places and times. I also like the idea of rescuing and looking after something that has been loved and treasured by others.

Second hand furniture also tends to be less toxic. New furniture can be laden with flame retardants, formaldehyde and other chemicals that are released into the air as volatile organic compounds or VOCs. When buying pre-loved, the VOCs are long gone.

Tips for buying preloved furniture

1. Be patient

Tips-for-buying-preloved-furniture-Be patient-2. Little eco footprints.

Buying pre-loved can have its challenges. You are unlikely to find what you want straight away. Searching takes time and patience. Thankfully, the search is part of the fun and provides an excuse to regularly browse second hand and antique stores. I’ve been looking for a larger desk for my daughter for over a year. We recently popped into a deceased estate auction and found the exact desk we’d had in mind. The search and anticipation increased the joy of finally finding what we were after. My daughter sat at her long-awaited desk and declared "this is heaven". We ended up with something far more meaningful than an impulse purchase from a department store could ever be.

2. Ignore the dust, clutter and minor faults

Tips-for-buying-preloved-furniture-2-ignore-dust-and-clutter. Little eco footprints

A willingness to see past dust, clutter and minor scratches helps when buying preloved. I’ve been searching for folding outdoor chairs for ages and spotted a pile at the auction. They were tossed in a corner looking old and grubby. But after a discrete peek, I learnt that they were actually in great condition. I’d been tempted by similar chairs at antique stores numerous times – but was determined to find them at op-shop prices rather than antique store prices. My patience paid off. I managed to pick up nine chairs for $20 “job lot”.

Tips-for-buying-preloved-furniture-3-browse regularly. Little eco footprints

3. Browse regularly

It helps to regularly pop in to your favourite second hand stores to browse new stock. The good buys usually disappear quickly. It’s also worth asking when new stock is likely to arrive. My favourite second hand store gets a truck load of fresh stock every Friday, so Friday and Saturday mornings are my favourite time to visit.

4. Buy only what you need

Regularly visiting second hand stores can be dangerous if you are trying to simplify your home and decrease clutter. I keep a mental list of things I need and stick to it. I leave the tempting bargains for someone else to enjoy.

For me, when it comes down to it, furnishing my home with preloved furniture makes me smile. My daughter’s desk conjures up memories of us searching together and the joy on her face when we finally found it. I wonder who else has treasured this little desk. 

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 14th April 2014.

Why less is more

Why less is more. Little eco footprints.

We’re bombarded with the message that the more we have, the happier we will be. Marketers want us to believe that we would be happier if we had more money and more stuff. However, I’m sure that deep down, many of us realise that more is not necessarily better. This realisation is increasingly being backed up by research. Numerous studies (summarised nicely here and here) have revealed that as soon as your basic needs are met, the benefits of ‘more’ plateaus. As you add more material possessions, wellbeing actually decreases.

In case you need convincing that more is not necessarily better – here’s a few reasons why less is more.

Less is easier to manage

I’m probably stating the obvious here, but the more you own, the more you have to manage. Do you really want to spend your life sorting, storing, organising, searching, fixing and cleaning? Having less meaningless stuff to manage, allows more time for meaningful activities.

I own far less now than I did a few years ago. As a result, I spend a whole lot less time cleaning and tidying.

Little Eco recently recognised that less is easier to manage. We moved into a rental property that had enough rooms for her to have a bedroom and a playroom. Both rooms were almost always a mess and I was continually reminding her to tidy her rooms. Eventually in frustration she complained “It’s too much to keep tidy”. I told her that she didn’t have to use both rooms and she promptly moved out of the playroom. She now manages to keep her one bedroom (mostly) tidy.

Owning less forces you to choose what truly matters

Having less isn't about deprivation. Living with less is about deciding what truly matters or is useful and foregoing the rest.

As I’ve simplified, I’ve questioned the importance and usefulness of most of my belongings. Despite selling or donating many of my possessions, there’s not one thing I regret letting go of. These belongings no longer clutter my space and are hopefully now being used and appreciated by someone else.

Owning less helps you appreciate what you do own

In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Ruben tells the story of a boy who loved his toy car. He took it everywhere, always played with it. Then his grandmother gave him 10 toy cars, and he stopped playing with the cars altogether. Having more caused him to love what he had less.

Just because something brings you happiness doesn’t mean that you’ll be happier with more. In all likelihood, having more will only lessen the joy.

Little Eco’s soft toys, dress-ups and dolls have always been limited to three modest suitcases. She understands that she can't have more than what fits in these cases. She knows that buying something new may mean that she has to donate something that she already has. These old cases help her appreciate what she already has and have helped her resist buying more on many occasions.

Less is kinder on the planet

Our quest for more is not only costing us money and reducing our wellbeing – it’s trashing our planet. Each and every thing we buy has an environmental impact. Even ‘green’ or ‘eco’ products come with an environmental cost. The production, processing and transport of products requires the extraction and use of natural resources such as fossil fuels and water.

By choosing to have less, you are choosing to be kinder to our planet.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 7th April 2014.

Reset to zero

Having-a-minimalist-home-means-less -to-clean-and-tidy. Little eco footprints

I recently stumbled across an idea that really appeals to me – resetting to zero. Once a week, author and blogger Colin Wright resets his home, work and life to zero. He tidies his home until every surface is clear of clutter. He empties his inbox - every message is either deleted or acted upon and archived. His to-do list is emptied of urgent items. Each and every week Colin enjoys a moment when his mind and environment is clear of clutter.

When I first read Colin’s post I envied that moment of clarity, but dismissed the idea as being totally unachievable for me.

Since then, the idea has remained in the back of my mind. While being able to clear the clutter from my home, work and life seems unachievable at the moment – perhaps I can manage to regularly reset just one of these areas.

Creating a minimalist home

I saw our recent move as an opportunity to create a home that is minimalist enough that it can easily be reset to zero once a week.

Resetting to zero is not about spending more time cleaning and tidying – it’s about having so little that there’s less to maintain.

Colin claims that “when you own only the most vital of possessions, and occupy a space that makes sense for you and your needs, you’ll find it takes all of 10-15 minutes to reset to zero, giving you a quick and easy way to clear your mental tablet and start from scratch.”

Being a lover of all things slow – slow living, slow food, slow travel, and slow parenting – I’ve embraced the idea of slow moving. Rather than move everything from our shed home – we’re slowing moving only what we truly need into our rental property. We’re questioning the value of each item we bring into our home.

The furnishings and contents of our rental property are relatively minimalist. The first Saturday morning I attempted to reset our home I enthusiastically raced around tidying and cleaning while trying to enthuse my husband and daughter about how wonderful it would be to finish all our chores in one day and have a clutter-free home. A few hours later we gave up.

We’ve since tried to reset to zero a few more times and haven’t yet succeeded. There’s always a pile of paperwork on the fridge, or far too much washing to tackle in one day, or a desk that we can’t manage to clear.

But each week we are getting closer. Forcing ourselves to deal with our belongings each and every week is helping us question not only what we own – but also what we choose to purchase. I’m still hoping that one day I’ll enjoy a moment when my home is entirely clear of clutter.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' Saturday 29th March 2014.

My Less is More column has a new home. My column will now appear in the Living Green section of Monday's Newcastle Herald.