Weeding out the wonder plants
Not a week passes without an article about some ‘new’ superfood being published or a celebrity chef talking up an obscure ingredient they can only source from beneath the Icelandic ice. That’s because hyperbole is always on the menu when it comes to our fascination with food and trendy ingredients. We, and the chefs we love, seem to particularly desire the rare, the bizarre and the impossible-to-find when it comes to food we simply have to try.
But what if I told you that you’ve probably stepped on, and maybe even squashed, some of the most incredible ingredients available today? That’s right, some of the most nutritious plants available to us are regularly trampled, sprayed into oblivion and ignored – and they’re currently growing in a veggie patch, lawn or crack near you. I’m talking about weeds.
Let’s start with one we all know; dandelion. With its bright golden flowers in spring that turn into a scrap of fluff come autumn, the dandelion is easy to spot. But before you think of mowing them down, consider gathering them for a salad instead. Both the petals of the flower and the young leaves are excellent in a salad and contain incredible amounts of phytonutrients and phytochemicals such as beta-carotene as well as vitamin A, vitamin C, and minerals.
Sometimes called ‘wild cabbage’, wild brassica belongs to the same family as broccoli, brussell sprouts, and of course, cabbage. Like other plants in this family, wild brassica contains a powerful molecule called sulforaphane– currently being studied by pharmaceutical companies because it exhibits substantial anti-cancer properties. And unlike store-bought greens that have been bred for less bitterness, wild brassica is a potent source of this molecule.
Part of the carnation family, chickweed is abundant come winter. And while you might be tempted to pull it out and bin it, think twice! With its antiviral and antiinflammatory properties, it is the perfect weed to combat winter’s ills. Best of all it is a lot milder in flavour than some of the other wild greens.
Purslane has personlaity plus thanks to its slightly sour flavour. Rich in a whole alphabet’s worth of vitamins, purslane is one of the most nutrient-dense plants available. And you can just as easily toss it in a salad as you can bake it into a pie or stew.
Interested in harvesting your own weedy wonders? Make sure you do your research before setting out to chomp on local lawns. Forage with a knowlegable friend/ field guide to avoid poisonous mishaps!