Winter edible weeds

cleared block

If my family had to pick one habit of mine that annoys the heck out of them its when I’m driving or walking and stop to look at plants. Today when out and about I saw a cleared house block and had to stop. Normally these cleared blocks are pretty barren and usually sprayed to keep the weeds down. This one wasn’t so I wanted to see what was growing. I was pretty surprised by the diversity of edible weeds on this block.

Most of the cover was from Mallow Malva neglecta. I really enjoy eating Mallow. It has a very mild flavour and has a slightly gelatinous quality to it. If you find it growing in your garden leave it in there and start eating it. Other plants will grow happily around it. Harvest the smaller leaves up to about the size of your palm, these can be eaten fresh. The seeds and young roots can be eaten too. It’s most likely taken over this block as this is compacted clay soil. The mallow is healing and fixing the soils on this block by aerating and breaking up the clay with it’s deep taproot and bringing up nutrients from deep in the soil up to the surface.

Other edible plants found were:

  • Lambsquarter Chenopodium album
  • Love lies bleeding  Amaranthus caudatus
  • Narrow leaf plantain Plantago minor
  • Common blackberry nightshade Solanum nigrum (only eat when the berries are at purple/black powdery bloom stage) 
  • Fennel
  • Parsley

I’m sure there was much more there but this is what I saw in a few minutes. When I got home I went out to the garden and also found stinging nettle which is also a good edible winter weed. Best to eat the young new shoots when using these for cooking. They need to be cooked first to get rid of the stinging hairs. These can be eaten like spinach when cooked, or fermented into nettle beer. As they get older the stems can be used for weaving.

nettle

 

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All about oranges

orange

100 years ago the land I live on used to be a substantial orange grove. There’s still one of the original trees from the original grove in my next door neighbours backyard. Up the street another neighbour has a tree and can’t eat more than one a day because he’s diabetic so he’s been sharing the fruit with people in the street. About 10 kgs were dropped over to me one day after I’d foraged some from an orange tree that grows on public land. Needless to say I had way too many oranges.

Apart from giving a heap away we’ve been eating them fresh. I also made some juice. I have made Tunisian orange syrup cake in the past which is delicious but it doesn’t use up a lot of oranges. To use up the bulk of these ones I’ve cut them thinly into 5mm rounds and put in the dehydrator (10 hours at 70C) to make dried orange chips. They look like stain glass windows when ready. No need to peel off the rind this can be eaten too when dried. Once cooled and dried melt some dark chocolate and dip the orange chips into the dark chocolate. Put in the fridge on trays to set the chocolate. Store in an air tight jar.

Davidson plum

 

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I came across this Davidson plum that was fruiting right now. The flavour is like eating an intensely flavoured lemon tart. I never thought they could grow in Adelaide but like other subtropical plants they just need the right microclimate. While recipes say to add more sugar to disguise the tartness, I personally love tart fruit so wouldn’t add much sweetness to these if at all. These can be eaten fresh or cooked up like any other plum. Until I get my own little tree or access to more fruit I’ll have to just dream about cooking these up into a divine little tart.

Chickweed

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My Kris Kringle bought me a subscription to one of the big Australian gardening magazines last Christmas. I really enjoy sitting back and reading the magazines that regularly turn up, but I was bemused at one little snippet in the mag on chickweed. It said that a job to do in the garden was to remove chickweed. I was confused. Why? Chickweed is such a good plant to have in the garden and is very good to eat. There was no mention of the benefits of this humble little plant.

So, this morning while out in the garden I came across a little patch of chickweed in a wooden box I was getting ready to plant in. Instead of removing it, I harvested it for eating before planting the other plant. To harvest chickweed, gather it up in your hand and cut with scissors like you’re giving it a crew cut. This will help it reshoot and grow  again. When you bring it inside make sure you inspect the harvest carefully. This is because it scrambles and tangles up with other plants that you may or may not want to eat.

Chickweed or Stellaria media can be confused with Euphorbia peplus, which is definitely not edible. Chickweed has a line of hairs along the stalk which changes position at each node. Euphorbia peplus releases a white milky sap when you break the stem. This sap is great for burning off warts, sun and cancer spots. It’s not good if you get the sap in your eyes or mouth.  Like all wild edibles, be sure about your identification before eating.

After its been separated out from any other plants, put it in a bowl of water. Swish it around to get any dirt off. I changed the water over  a few times to get any gritty dirt out of the plant. At this point you can shake it dry and use fresh in a salad. Chickweed can also be pulped up and placed on any itchy skin conditions like a rash. Mine grows near nettle, and is a good remedy if you get a skin irritation from the nettle. It can be eaten a few different ways but today, I made chickweed pakora pancakes for lunch.

While this recipe makes heaps of pakora mix, keep the dry mix in a jar in your pantry for easy pakora when you feel like it.

Pakora flour

1 kg besan flour

60 gm salt

40 gm cumin powder

30 gm garam masala

75 gm garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

25 gm asafoetida

25 gm fennel seeds

Mix all the dry ingredients well and store in jar in pantry. Just add a little water when ready to make a thick batter.

Chickweed pakora pancakes

2 cups chickweed, finely chopped

1 cup pakora flour

Enough water to make a batter

olive oil, for frying

Mix all the ingredients well. Add 3 – 4 tablespoons of oil to the pan and use medium heat. Add tablespoon of chickweed mix to the pan and flatten into a pancake. Fry on each side for 4 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with chutney.

 

Lilly pilly

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These Lilly pilly had a lovely crunchy texture, refreshing mild flavour and didn’t have a strong tannin flavour like some can. This was a mighty tree but had some low branches I could harvest from. While they’re great to eat fresh I decided to preserve some of their goodness. They are high in vitamin C and I suspect are good for staving off winter colds and flus.

First I cleaned them up by tipping them in the kitchen sink with cold water and a cup of white vinegar. I let it soak for 30 mins and give it a little swirl. Then took out a hand full at a time and picked out the bad ones before placing in an extra large colander to dry. These were relatively big berries so it didn’t take too long. These can be stored fresh in the fridge or made into a pink fermented fizzy drink. I dried mine and made a mint jelly with them.

Dried Lilly Pilly 

Cut them around the middle and pop out the seed with your thumb or the tip of the knife.  Place each half facing up on a dehydrator tray. Place some foil underneath or silicon baking sheets so they don’t fall through when they shrink. Set the temperature on 70C for 7 hours. Good sprinkled on top of muesli or eaten in a trail mix.

Lilly pilly minty jelly

Lilly pillies

Apples, optional

Native mint, Mentha australis

Water

Sugar

Add just enough water to cover the fruit. Chop the apple and include the skins and cores. No need to deseed the berries. Just put them in the pot whole. The berries will want to float so place a plate over them to hold them under the water. Bring to a boil and a rolling simmer for 30 mins. It’s ok if it cooks a bit longer, you just want it soft and for the flavour and pectin to release in the water.

Once it’s cooked set up a strainer over a large bowl and line it with a clean cloth. I used calico but any clean cloth will do. Place a small plate into the strainer to stop the big particles pushing through the cloth. This will result in a clearer jelly. Pour all the fruit into the strainer and carefully remove the small plate. Don’t gather up the sides of the cloth and squeeze or you will get cloudy jelly. Leave to drain into the bigger bowl overnight. In the morning I had a pink coloured opaque liquid. You can keep the liquid  in the fridge until you’re ready to do next step

Ratios are 1 cup liquid to just over 2/3 cup sugar. Bring to a hard boil for at least 10 minutes to help it reach setting point. Do the freezer plate test to check if it’s ready.

While this is boiling prepare your native mint. This mint is quite strong so you don’t need a lot. Place it in a bowl and blanch by pouring some boiling water over the leaves. Take leaves straight out of the water and place on a clean tea towel and pat dry. Let the jelly cool down a bit in the jars before placing mint into the jar. This will help the mint suspend in the jelly rather than clump up together.

You can skip adding the mint step and just have Lilly pilly jelly if you prefer.