Edible weeds: bounty of medicinal nutrients?

Written by Endeavour College of Natural Health | 27 June, 2019

Weeds, the bane of our existence. The average green thumb will pull them out as soon as possible without a second thought, and why shouldn’t they?

Well, there’s a very good reason why weeds should be shown a little more love. There are certain species of weeds that are even more nutritionally dense than the vegetables growing beside them. Is it possible this entire time we’ve been pulling out not just weeds but instead nutritious plants with medicinal properties?

Kate Wall is a gardening professional with a background in environmental science. Kate’s passion for gardening and edible weeds is evident through her appearances on Gardening Australia, ABC News and in her writing. In Kate’s garden, you’ll find 25 different species of weeds, all edible and all nutritionally dense.

At Endeavour College, students learn the importance of sustainability within herbal medicine. We also use edible weeds to highlight the importance of understanding the basics of botany for accurate identification. As part of our commitment to student learning, Endeavour was joined by Kate Wall in a free and interactive workshop to discuss the nutritional benefits of consuming weeds.

Tanya Morris, Senior Lecturer Naturopathy at Endeavour says, “Students are always excited to learn that those weeds within their gardens and lawns are not only edible and/or medicinal but also free! There is a recognition of the tradition behind modern phytotherapy that occurs when students realise what is all around them can help them and others. There is a healthy pride that comes from a sense of self-reliance with healing that is ignited in this topic."

Within Western Herbal Botany and Manufacturing, students learn the materia medica of medicinal weeds (plants in the wrong place) and begin to understand the enormity of plant resources available all around them. They learn how to prepare plant medicines by considering the most appropriate way to obtain and absorb the healing constituents within the plants.

Here are common species of edible weeds you may find in your garden:

  • Stinging nettle: There’s a good reason why they call it stinging nettle. Be careful to use gloves and long sleeves when dealing with this one as is it known for causing a mild yet irritating rash when brushed against your skin. Stinging nettle contains Vitamins A, C and K, all of the essential amino acids, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. Stinging nettle contains inflammatory properties and can be eaten boiled in tea or simply sautéed.

  • Cobbler’s pegs: These are the ones that cling onto your clothes with all their might. You will literally find yourself picking them off one by one. Cobbler’s pegs is majorly microbial making it a strong natural antibiotic. The leaves can be eaten raw. When combined with plaintain and chickweed and made into a tea, the concoction has amazing benefits to aid cold and flu symptoms.
  • Sida rhombifolia: With its high anti-inflammatory properties, it was once commonly used by Europeans to sooth the mucous membranes. It’s also used by Aboriginals to effectively aid diarrhoea.
  • Mallow: Related to the delicious marsh mallow plant, the mallow helps to support your immune system.
  • Plantain: Plantain has seed heads which is very high in soluble fibre (and is actually used to make Metamucil!). Plantain also supports the respiratory system. As it has a tougher texture, it is best to be boiled and cooked.
  • Chickweed: Chickweed grows abundantly in winter. It is high in minerals and can help improve skin and circulation when consumed. It should be eaten raw and the taste has been described as mild (it can replace lettuce in a salad!).

Unlike many vegetables, weeds grow in inhospitable environments even in hard compacted soils. They can be harvested all year around and can never be overharvested but, best of all, they’re completely free and we all know there’s usually an abundance of them!

So, does this mean we should put down our pitchforks (or in this case your favourite weeder) for good? We’ll leave that up to you. It’s definitely an area we should be looking into. There are many books available that can help you identify which weeds in your garden are safe to eat and which are just a plain nuisance. A lot of edible weeds, just like spinach can be thrown into a salad, added into a curry and even made into a highly nutritious pesto making it a very versatile ingredient (not to mention budget friendly!).

Foraging tips:

  • Don’t eat something if you don’t know what species it is
  • Avoid foraging for weeds in the local park, the side of the roads or in an area that the public have access to. It’s important to know the environment, pollution factors and chemicals that may have been used
  • Don’t combine too many edible weeds without doing your research first
  • Only sample three leaves at a time of a new species to ensure you don’t have an allergic reaction

What are some species that you can spot in your garden?
Let us know @endeavourcollege.

Endeavour College of Natural Health

Endeavour College of Natural Health is Australia's largest Higher Education provider of natural medicine courses.

The College is known as the centre of excellence for natural medicine and is respected for its internationally recognised academic teams and high calibre graduates. Endeavour offers Bachelor of Health Science degrees in Naturopathy, Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine, Acupuncture and Myotherapy, a fully online Bachelor of Complementary Medicine and  HLT52015 Diploma of Remedial Massage.

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