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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.


Foraging Purslane – a weed worth eating

Purslane is a delicious and highly nutritious weed.  Little eco footprints

When everything else in my garden is suffering from the heat, the weed Purslane is thriving. Rather than pull it out and complain, I’m grateful for this hardy heat-tolerant plant because it is delicious and highly nutritious.

Purlsane, or Portulaca oleracea, is a cosmopolitan plant which thrives in temperate to warm regions across the globe. It’s been consumed since ancient times and is represented in many cuisines. Aboriginal people of inland Australia call it Munyeroo, eating it as a salad green and grinding its seeds to make flour. In China it’s embraced as a Chinese medicine and referred to as ma chi xian, and in Central Mexico it’s a popular green called verdolagas.

Despite being an international culinary ingredient, with at least 40 different aliases in over a dozen different languages, in Australia today we mostly ignore it or weed it out.

Nutritional benefits of Purslane

Our lack of appreciation for purslane is a shame, because it’s a nutritional powerhouse. Michael Pollan names it in his eaters manifesto ‘In Defense of Food’ as one of the “most nutritious plants in the world”. Its leaves are high in Omega 3 fatty acids and are jam-packed with a suite of vitamins and minerals.

Caution - Puslane is high in oxolate

Purslane is also high in oxalate, so if you are pregnant or prone to kidney stones you should avoid eating it raw (unless, interestingly, you combine it with yoghurt which reduces oxalate content) and instead enjoy it cooked or pickled. Cooking or pickling Purlane reduces oxalate content

Veggie burgers with a side of purslane. Little eco footprints

How to eat Purslane

The succulent leaves of purslane are crunchy and slightly slimy, with a tangy lemony and peppery flavour. They can be eaten raw as a salad green, cooked as a vegetable, or pickled. It’s especially delicious as a lettuce substitute on burgers. I like using it instead of cucumber in Tzatziki yoghurt dip.

How to identify Purslane

Purslane is easy to recognise once you know what you are looking for. Browsing images online is a good way to familiarise yourself with its appearance.

It’s a small succulent herb that typically grows prostrate or sprawling along the ground. It has thick flat leaves and smooth green stems that turn red as they age.

If you are not certain that something is Purslane, wait until it is in flower as its small yellow 5-petalled flowers are a give-away.

One plant you might confuse it with if you aren’t careful is Petty Spurge (Euphorbia peplus). You can easily distinguish Petty Spurge by its milky sap, seen when you break the stem. This milky sap is toxic so be careful not to confuse the two plants as they will often grow in the same location.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 1st March 2014.

Have you tried foraging Purslane? 

While I'm on the topic of identifying plants - the Australian Network for Plant Conservation (the not-for-profit I work for) is delivering a two day workshop on plant identification for flora of the Hunter Valley 7-8th April. Although the workshop targets the flora of the Hunter Valley, the skills learnt will be applicable to any region of Australia. We're also holding a one day workshop on Seed collection, storage and use for native vegetation restoration 9th April. 

 


Tips for safe blackberry picking {and a recipe for blackberry jam}

Picking-blackberries. Littleecofootprints

It’s blackberry picking season here in Australia. I keep an eye out for healthy blackberry brambles all year round and return at the peak of summer to scramble through the thorny stems clutching a bucket. The scratches are a small price to pay for the delicious antioxidant and vitamin rich berries.

There are few fruit that are as fresh, ethical and local as foraged blackberries.

Blackberry-picking-tips. Littleecofootprints

Blackberries are a nice introduction to foraging because they are easy to recognise and there are no poisonous look-alikes.

Blackberries are a nice introduction to foraging because they are easy to recognise and there are no poisonous look-alikes. Littleecofootprints

A common response when I mention blackberry picking is “How do you know the plants haven’t been sprayed?” This concern is justified given that blackberry is an aggressive weed here in Australia and herbicides are used in its control.

How to reduce the risk of foraging from recently sprayed plants.

I use a few strategies to reduce the risk of foraging from recently sprayed plants.

Herbicides are unlikely to be used during rain, so after a few days of rain is an ideal time to pick. If the plants were sprayed prior to the rain there would likely be signs of browning. I forage only from healthy and actively growing blackberry bushes.

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Another strategy is to simply ask the landholder. If it’s private property, knock on the farmer’s door or if it’s public land or a road-verge, contact the local council or park manager.

Speaking of road-verges, it’s best to avoid busy urban roads as these are likely to be polluted and regularly sprayed.

I also keep an eye out for tape or signs that may have been used to identify a sprayed area. Blackberry control guidelines recommend that in public areas signs be erected warning people that blackberries have been sprayed, particularly if spraying has occurred throughout the fruiting period.

Edited to include some advice from a Carolyn, a reader who works in land management: Brush Off is a slow acting herbicide that is used for blackberry control. Its effect may not be obvious for a few weeks. It is a hormone based spray, so moves throughout the plant (including fruit) prior to killing it. Grazon/Garlon is a very potent chemical that is also used on Blackberries. It kills within in a day, but is highly toxic.

Carolyn also advises that despite many people believing that herbicide is only used with dyes in it – that is not always the case.

Thank you for sharing Carolyn. You have reinforced, for me, the importance of checking with the farmer or land-manager first before picking.

What to wear

Most of my blackberry picking is done opportunistically. Torn clothes and scratches usually result.

What to wear blackberry picking. Little eco footprints

When I’m organised, I wear sturdy boots, long thick pants, and a long-sleeved shirt. I also wear heavy-duty gloves with the fingertips cut off the right glove, so that I can move the branches with my left hand and still pick the berries with my fingertips.

Tools and tips

I use a couple of small buckets rather than one big bucket so that the fruit isn’t squashed and the risk of losing an entire haul in one fall is minimised. Recycled yogurt containers and honey pots with handles are ideal. Tying the container to your waist using a bungee cord frees both hands.

Tools of the trade that I haven’t yet tried include an umbrella (for hooking branches) and a plank (for balancing on top of the blackberry canes so that you can reach the centre of the bush). I’m keen to try these tools – as usually the biggest and ripest berries sit out of reach and tempt me from a distance.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 1st February 2014.

Blackberry Jam

My favourite way to use blackberries is in Kate's blackberry and yoghurt cake. It's absolutely delicious and it's the first thing I make when I get my hands on blackberries. 

My second favourite is Blackberry Jam. 

Blackberry-jam-recipe-littleecofootprints

Whatever volume of blackberries you managed to pick - crushed using a potato masher

An equal volume of sugar

The juice of half a lemon for every cup of crushed fruit used

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Pop a plate in the freezer and gather sufficient sterilised jars. To sterilise, boil clean jars in a big pot on the stove for 10 minutes, or wash in the dishwasher on the hottest cycle, or place in an oven at 120 degrees C for at least 20 minutes.  

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Place crushed fruit in a saucepan and bring to boil. Add sugar and lemon juice, continue to boil and skim off any foam. Start testing whether it has reached setting point after around 10 minutes. To test, place a teaspoon of jam on the chilled plate, place in the freezer for a minute, then run your finger through it. If it wrinkles and stays seperated, then the jam is ready. 

Pour into sterilised jars. 

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I always manage to over-cook my jam - so am probably not the best person to be giving advice on how to test setting point. Pop on over and read this super helpful post at Cityhippifarmgirl on jam making


A DIY worm farm and a Stinging Nettle frittata recipe

A DIY worm farm made from recycled materials. Little eco footprints.

Making a worm farm using free and recycled materials is easy – easy enough that children can do it themselves with just a little help. I'm sharing how to make a worm farm over at Childhood 101

A Winter foraging feast. Stinging Nettle frittata with a side of Chickweed. Little eco footprints.

As you may have noticed, I'm a little obsessed with foraging. I recently shared a recipe for a Winter foraging feast over at the 1 Million Women blog. Can I tempt you to try Stinging Nettle frittata with a side of Chickweed? 


Grasping the nettle: How to pick and use Stinging Nettle

My earnest attempts to live more sustainably are usually tolerated by Daddy Eco. He may even hint at a little enthusiasm if my latest interest saves us a few dollars. But he's finally drawn the line - at Stinging Nettle.

Stinging nettle

It is nettle season here in the Hunter and the patches of nettle that have popped up in my neighbourhood are offering a free source of delicious nutrient dense food.

Nettle has a long history of medicinal and culinary use. It’s a rich source of minerals including iron and calcium, along with a suite of vitamins including A, D, and K.

The list of ailments it has been used to treat is varied and long and includes anaemia, headaches, mood swings, allergies, and chest infections. Nettle juice has even been reputed to simulate hair growth when applied to the scalp.

Nettle can be cooked and used in much the same way you would spinach - in pie, frittata, soups, and risotto. Plunging the nettles in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes removes the sting.

Despite being free and nutrient rich, Daddy Eco is refusing to try nettle - seeing it only as a pesky stinging weed. I wonder if he'll start to query the ‘spinach’ appearing regularly on the menu?

To avoid its vicious sting when harvesting nettle I wear dish washing gloves or place plastic bags over my hands. If I’m not cooking the nettle straight away I’ll soak it in a bucket of water overnight to remove the sting.

My favourite use for stinging nettle is to make nettle tea. (2)

My favourite use for nettle is to make nettle tea. I pluck the leaves from the stem and dry in a food dehydrator.

Stinging nettle tea

After crunching the brittle leaves into a jar I'm left with a delicious herbal tea that looks and tastes just like the nettle tea sold in health food stores for around $10 for only 50g.

I toss the left over stems in the compost as it loves nettles and will apparently break down quicker when they are introduced.

Nettles also make a great liquid fertiliser. Soak in water for 1-2 weeks and spray on your garden.

Stinging nettle loves damp and rich soil and can be found along creeks or paddock fences.

If you’re interested in trying your own nettle ‘spinach’ you can find nettle in damp, rich soil. The most common places I have encountered it is in camp grounds, along creeks, along paddock fences, and near old abandoned buildings.

(Published in the Newcastle Herald 6 July 2013)

A THANK YOU ~ I was thrilled to be selected as one of the top 5 Personal and Parenting blogs in Kidspots Voices of 2013. I don't even know who nominated me? So to whoever you are - a big thank you :-)

Thank you also to my readers. I do truly appreciate you taking the time to read this blog. Have a lovely weekend. We're off to the snow :-)