It’s time to look at the weeds in our gardens with fresh eyes, drawing on knowledge once known but now lost, says Tracy Armbruster, an authority on edible weeds.
Before you rip out a weed, consider that it may actually be a valuable food source, not to mention free medicine, she says.
The Cape-based nature advocate has made it a lifetime project to identify as many edible weeds as possible. In the past she used her knowledge to conduct small workshops in many parts of South Africa and she is now eager to resume them.
Edible weeds a gift from nature
If she could change perceptions, and stop those wielding a garden fork from declaring war on naturally growing plants, she would be the happiest person alive.
“The best thing about edible weeds is that they are free, don’t need expensive fertilisers and grow in the toughest of conditions,” Armbruster said.
“In these tough COVID times, with so many people suffering food shortages and health issues, it is these lowly gifts from nature that could offer abundant immune-boosting properties.”
Nettle tea shifted her mindset
She admitted that, some years ago, when someone suggested she should make a health tea out of stinging nettles and drink the brew twice a week, she thought they were mad.
“At the time I was feeling exhausted and bogged down by work pressure, so I decided to try it even though I was sceptical.
“The boost it gave me was incredible. I suppose you could say that is what started me on my journey to find out more about the medicinal and food properties of edible weeds.”
Common weeds a free source of nutrition
The more Armbruster researched, more she realised that common weeds that popped up in our gardens were totally overlooked as a source of nutrition.
The critical part of her work has been to identify and document plants which are safe to eat.
“I am still coming across new ones, which for me is very exciting.”
Older generations knew all about edible weeds
Through her research she discovered that many common weeds are superior in nutrition to store-bought greens.
“Indigenous communities have known about these properties for centuries, both as medicine and food. In my view it is time to revisit and acknowledge what older generations knew.”
Dandelions rich in vitamins and minerals
Among her favourites are dandelions, easily identified from their yellow flowers and fluffy tops, whose health giving properties are almost endless.
One cup of dandelion freshly picked dandelion leaves has as much as 2,000 IU’s of Vitamin A (one and a half times the recommended daily allowance for an adult human), 20% protein double what spinach provides, vitamins C, K, D and B complex, Iron, manganese, phosphorus, calcium, and many other trace minerals, and an especially rich supply of potassium.
“For me dandelion is the best herb to balance nutrition. You don’t need to overdo it, just a few leaves every now and then is enough!”
Other uses for edible weeds
Here are two more of her favourite examples for plants with benefits:
- Calendula flowers (not to be confused with marigolds) infused in olive oil make an inexpensive skin food that doesn’t clog the pores; and
- The humble stinging nettle used as an infusion boosts nutrition and regulates the system.
Good resources for edible weeds
For more information on edible plants, visit PFAF.org. This is a database of about 7,000 rare and unusual plants with edible, medicinal or other uses.
PlantzAfrica.com is another great database for indigenous plants.
It is important, when sourcing weeds for eating and other uses, to make sure that they are organic and have not been sprayed.