This post is a book review of what is currently my favourite and most thumbed book…
Years ago, a friend told me his housemate was an expert urban forager. Adam, apparently, would go wandering along the Merri Creek to collect weeds for his dinner, knew which plants were safe and which were toxic, and how to turn them into delicious meals. The idea of Adam’s wisdom has stayed with me, and many times I have wished I had that skill myself. Imagine being able to eat wild food! Imagine embracing weeds instead of fighting them! Recently, Darebin Council ran a weed-eating workshop, and as soon as I found out about it, I rushed to enrol.
As luck would have it, the teacher turned out to be none other than Adam himself, and the workshop proved immensely satisfying. The mystical properties of Adam’s knowledge have been broken down into something approachable, and since then I’ve even been known to wander my local streets and bring home greens for dinner. I leave a patch of chickweed growing wild in my garden and add it to salads along with calendular petals and sow thistle. I collect nettle, sorrel and wild brassicas to add to my steamed greens. I chew plantain into a spit poultice and apply it to bee stings, where it works better than anything else I’ve ever tried.
Happily, weed-eating goodness is available to all of us, not just the workshop participants, because Adam Grubb has teamed up with Annie Raser-Rowland to write a book about it: The Weed Forager’s Handbook.
First up, the book addressed my fear of accidentally eating toxic plants, by showing photographs of a few particularly dangerous plants to watch out for, and giving neat, simple descriptions of how to identify them. The rule, Adam says, is to only eat plants that you can identify for certain. You also need to watch out for contaminants such as herbicides and pesticides which may have been sprayed on public plants. Some plants are fine for adults but not kids, who can’t handle ingesting nitrates. And other weeds are best cooked to remove oxalic acids which can interfere with digestion.
Next the book outlines Adam and Annie’s top twenty edible and medicinal weeds, with lovely clear photos, a brief description of how to identify each plant for sure, and what to do with it once you’ve found it. This section is fantastic because the weeds are so common that you are sure to recognise several of them. When I went out hunting for them, I found myself spotting other weeds I hadn’t previously noticed, but could now identify thanks to photos in the book. Because there’s just twenty of them, it’s very approachable.
The book is small and light, fits into a pocket, and is easy to bring along on a stroll through the streets of your neighbourhood. I planned to have some weed-hunting expeditions, but in the end they haven’t been necessary as I simply spot plants and gather them on my way home from the train station or while visiting neighbours.
Once you’ve digested the top twenty, there’s a substantial list of other weeds to help you take your knowledge further. And then there’s a recipe section, with goodies such as Prickly Pear Pizza and Moroccan Mallow Stew, which explains how to take plants which have not been bred specifically for human palattes and turn them into a delicious meal.
As we humans have cultivated plants for flavour and size, we have inadvertantly bred them away from maximum nutrition. Adam describes weeds as being particularly dense in vitamins and minerals. If that’s not enough to convince you to try them, you can also remember that weeds were not brought to you on a truck, required no extra irrigation to grow, and had no part in the fertiliser industry that pollutes our waterways. It may not be possible to eat a more sustainable food.
Even if you don’t fancy collecting wild foods for dinner, The Weed Forager’s Handbook is a highly entertaining read, clearly written with tongue in cheek and a good dose of humour. You can snap it up from Amazon or Adam’s website, and while you are there, have a look at the weed gallery. You may well find you recognise some of the weeds shown, in which case you can start eating while you wait for the book to arrive.