Just over a year ago I was fortunate to meet two very smart, passionate people – a scientist called Pia Winberg and an artist called Diego Bonetto. An unlikely mix, but these two people have two things in common: they speak a botanical Latin that I have no understanding of, and they are specialists in weeds. Pia is all about weeds beneath the oceans and Diego is your go-to man about anything that grows above.
Although I have been loosely aware of the world of weeds (as a kid in New Zealand I was taught to collect any Puha (Sow Thistle) I saw growing on my way home from school), it has been inspirational and eye-opening to learn from Pia and Diego about ‘low hanging fruits,’ which are foods that are just hanging out there but people don’t realise are edible, delicious and unique ingredients!
Recently, I have been focusing on one truly unique species and completely sustainable product from the ocean that will be on the market in about a month’s time. The exciting and easily accessible crops are the bountiful supply of land weeds that you see every day!
Once you start to look for food you will notice the stuff everywhere, regardless of where you live, and this is a great way to become really aware of your surroundings. That really annoying large clover-looking weed that pops up is wood sorrel, a lemony astringent and delicious herb. Small-leafed steamy chickweed that grows everywhere is a great ‘green’ tasting addition to a salad. Fennel is all over the place and often neglect, yet it’s sweet and aromatic fronds and bulbs, will give delicious seeds and pollen in a couple of months.
Scotch thistle is delicious too; eat the roots when it’s young, or when mature strip away the fibrous and spiky outer stem to reveal a juicy and crunchy vegetable, best eaten raw. Young bulrush flowers and roots are truly remarkable, a delicious little ‘pea’ called vetch is bountiful at present and an absolute favourite of mine at the moment are Robinia flowers all ready to go straight from the tree, sweet and delicious!
My last walk about with Diego we also stumbled across salsify, huge mulberry trees and blackberry bushes. If you are interested in learning about weeds, the internet is a great source of information but more specific stuff relating to Western Sydney can be found on Diego’s Facebook page, ‘Wild Stories.’