Food Appreciation groups talks edible weeds

On Tuesday October 13th the Food Interest Group had their monthly meeting and our topic for discussion was ‘Edible Weeds.’   By the end of the meeting I had a far greater appreciation of these humble little plants who truly are the movers and the groovers of the plant world.

There was a lively debate on what actually constitutes a weed and I am not sure that we ended up with a definitive answer but some of the proffered definitions I rather liked are as follows:
  • a weed is a plant whose usefulness to man has not yet been discovered.
  • and from a very philosophical Eyeore (friend of Winnie the Pooh); “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”

We had great presentations on a variety of weeds;  their nutritional and medicinal content, their growth habits and habitats, traditional uses by people both in NZ and worldwide, how they have impacted on our ecosystems, and their increasing use in the western world as a health supplement.   We also were lucky enough to have a large vase of fresh weeds collected locally that we were able to use to identify and taste the weeds if we chose to do so.

Some of the things I learned this month:
  • NZ has a pink native broom endemic to Marlborough.
  • bees have made possible the growing of domesticated monoculture crops.   The birds, animals and bugs that  pollinate weeds have not evolved to be able to pollinate large areas of plants quickly.
  • Cleavers (also known as biddi bids or sticky willy) can be used to curdle milk to make cheese.   Also, cleavers were the inspiration behind the creation of velcro which is so ubiquitous in our world.
  • Scientists have been busy in their laboratories trying to replicate the water repellent properties of nasturtium leaves.
  • The large roots of dandelions were dried and ground during WW11 to make a coffee substitute and, in fact, you can still purchase dandelion coffee substitute at health food shops today.   The young roots can be dug up and roasted like parsnips and enjoyed as a vegetable.  The leaves can be eaten in salads or steamed and the flower petals can also be used in salads and if you are keen, a very fine dandelion wine can be brewed.
  • Edible weeds are an essential food source for bees and butterflies so leaving some weeds in your garden makes good ecological sense plus gives you the pleasure of watching these creatures flit about amongst your plants.
  • Edible weeds are multi-talented.  Not only do they provide you with numerous vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants but they are also brilliant at alleviating or reducing many symptoms of disease or trauma and even help to cure some ailments.
Finally, a few of our wild card items for you to ponder on.
  • 1 in 3 bites of food come from a pollinated plant.  (Isn’t that a good reason to look after our ecosystems.)
  • Mosquitoes are attracted by CO2 so that is why you need to use you mosquito nets at night when you’re sharing the same holiday resort as  a mosquito.  As you lie there quietly sleeping, (which is when the mosquitoes are at their liveliest! ), breathing in O2 and breathing our CO2, it is like a siren call for them to come and bite you.   If you were a plant however, they would not be nearly as interested in locating you as plants largely release O2 at night and CO2 by day (when all the little mosquitoes are tucked up in bed sleeping off their nightly raids! )
  • Back in the day when we were all a lot, lot younger, travelers often had to share a bathroom, and if you were lucky enough to have your own room there would only be a single power point in it at best and certainly no hot water jug and packet of biscuits for when the munchies hit.   But the clever traveler could purchase a clever gadget with an element attached that looks remarkable similar to the one you have in your electric kettle.   They could then attach this to a mug of water (no doubt filled from the tap in the shared bathroom) and voila, within a couple of minutes you had boiling water for a nice bed time cuppa.  Mind you, I am pretty sure that Health and Safety would never approve it under today’s regulations – it did look rather dodgy.

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday November 10th and we will be talking about fungi.   To join the group or make an inquiry please contact Pauline from the food appreciation page.

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