Ever since I started gardening I have been fascinated by plants and weeds, and weeds that are now grown for whatever reason: decorative, ornamental, edible or for their health giving properties. Recently foraging has become a buzzword and edible weeds are being cultivated and being served in the poshest of restaurants. Thanks to René Redzepi, of the renowned Noma Restaurant in Denmark, who showed the world what could be done with plants foraged from the countryside or the wild. Now people have begun to appreciate and use what were once considered weeds.
So what is it about these so called weeds that that have now made them sought-after?
As with most herbs and plants used for cooking, it is their flavour and their resilience. Resilience to thrive using very little resources: water, sun, nutrients. Many of these plants survive on very little care, clinging to hillsides or windswept mountain-sides, in scorching sun or water logged bogs, their survival in quite adverse conditions has resulted in tremendous flavour. Wild oregano and thyme on hot and dry Greek mountain-sides are a great example.
In Australia, indigenous communities have survived for tens of thousands of years on local flora and fauna – Bush Tucker as it is now known, is finally coming into its own after 200 years of disinterest. Now native fruit, trees, shrubs and flowers are being commercially cultivated and used. And this resurgence in indigenous produce is happening worldwide. People have now come to understand what our forebears knew all along and are beginning to appreciate native flora and fauna that suit their respective climates and regions.
My fascination with weeds began at a very early age when as a child I would make miniature gardens in old tin boxes using moss and weeds with ferns, rocks, stones and little bits of broken mirror for ponds. These miniature fantasy lands fostered a love of gardening and collecting unusual plants. I tend to stay away from the formal manicured gardens with closely trimmed hedges and topiary and much prefer wild, informal more naturalistic gardens with interesting colourful and arresting foliage.
My garden is now a mix of ornamentals and edible weeds – I have tropical gingers which add colour and form as well as providing me with leaves and flowers that I can use to garnish or cook with. Many of the edible weeds have been grown with seeds I’ve collected on my weekend walks. So I have the advantage of knowing that if others in the neighbourhood have succeeded in growing them so can I.
I have Wild Fennel and Wild rocket both of which self seed and keep growing continuously. Parsley is another permanent grower. Gotu Kola [Indian Penny wort] is now flourishing as border in my planter box as is Oregano which really requires constant pruning back. The common Pig face is something I have and use as the succulent leaves are a great accompaniment to fish and in salads. Another weed that I have and is now popular for its flowers as well as leaves is Nasturtium – the flowers come in a variety of colours from pale cream, yellow, orange, red and a deep purple/red and look great scattered through a salad and with their peppery leaves. I like to use the leaves small or large as a base spread with cream cheese and topped with salmon as a quick, easy and tasty canapé.
An ornamental weed that I grow is a ground cover called Callisia repens – a shallow rooted ground cover with small heart shaped dark green leaves that are purple on the underside which I have growing as a living mulch on some of my pots and use bunches of it to fashion a wreath for our front door at Christmas.
My wheelbarrow by the gate is full of Nasturtium, clover and native violets, the flowers of the native violet as well small leaves get constantly used on cakes and desserts for a fuss free yet attractive decoration.
I have still to get some Warrigal greens and Purslane to add to my growing collection of weeds for the table and hope one day I will come across some grow.