Not all weeds need to be weeded out; some are great as chutneys, salads, even tea! However, it takes an expert eye to recognise which ones are safe to consume. Teach your kids to identify these weeds too, but remember to proceed with caution!
By Sachin Gupta
Are you tired of the pesky weeds overtaking your garden and vegetable beds? If only we weren’t following the organic and sustainable way of life or encouraging our children to do the same, those would have been sprayed off long ago. But alas, ignorance was not in our fate and in our pursuit to live and eat healthy we tolerate them, weed them and repeat. Does it really have to be like this? Well, if we go by definition ‘A weed is a plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing where it is not wanted’. The fact that it is a plant considered and not a plant that is clearly tells us that there is absolutely no biological reason for what a weed is and what isn’t. Humans decide what to consider weeds and what not to. So perhaps if we stop viewing all of them as pesky intruders they won’t remain that after all.
A lot of weeds and wild plants are not only edible but rather delicious and packed with nutrients but we must take caution before we start nibbling leaves of unsuspecting weeds. If you’ve seen the brilliant Sean Penn film ‘Into the Wild’ (spoiler alert) you’d remember how the young Chris McCandless sadly succumbs after eating a poisonous plant having mistaken it for a wild edible. So, never eat any plant you do not know about and it’s only after having carefully identified the weed as an edible through photos and internet searches that you should proceed to try it. Now that I have scared you plenty, let’s get down to some yummy weeds that you can easily find in your garden and garden pots.
Bengal Dayflower/Kana (CommelinaBenghalensis)
Although this species of dayflower honours Bengal, this native Indian plant is found everywhere from the tropics of Africa to Southeast Asia. The trailing plant has alternate simple leaves with tiny hairs on the underside and stems. It grows very much like the common money plant, putting out new roots from nodes on the stem. During August-September they produce beautiful delicate purple-blue flowers. The leaves taste a lot like spinach and the stems have a pea-like sweetness. Though the whole plant is edible, it’s only the young leaves, young stems and flowers that should be eaten raw. Some people may experience stomach aches if they eat the mature leaves and stems raw (due to the presence of oxalic acid, which by the way is also found in spinach), so it’s preferable to sauté, boil or cook the leaves before eating and don’t forget to try dayflower saag, it’s delish!
Here is another native plant that people encounter in their gardens. Purslane is also a trailer which you may often find in poor soils. This drought tolerant plant has thick reddish stems with bright succulent leaves much like that of the ornamental jade plant. The flowers are small and yellow and are also edible along with the leaves. Purslane has a tangy peppery flavour and its crunchy and mucilaginous leaves are a fantastic addition to salads and sandwiches. I’ve heard it also makes a fab pesto! Purslane is a nutritional powerhouse, it’s packed with minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and is especially rich in omega 3 fatty acids. So don’t miss out on this amazing weed.
Wild Amaranth/Junglicholai (AmaranthusViridis)
Many of us grow the lovely large leaved green and red amaranth in summer. But did you know that the not so attractive wild amaranth is equally delicious? The wild amaranth grows upright with multiple branches each with multiple ovate leaves. The miniscule green flowers appear on slim stems that shoot up above the foliage. The leaves of this plant can be substituted for spinach in the summer months. It’s great in dals, curries, saag and even raw. The leaves are loaded with proteins, minerals and vitamins. Make sure to harvest the leaves before it flowers; flowering makes the plant too fibrous and unpalatable.
Wood Sorrel/Amrul (genus Oxalis)
The word oxalis comes from the Greek oxus which means ‘sour’, so you know now what this plant is best known for. Commonly mistaken for clover (also edible) owing to its trifoliate leaves, there are over 500 species of wood sorrel, some ornamental, some cultivated but most wild and all of them edible. You can easily spot this plant growing in the shade in moist soil. It has three heart-shaped leaves that emerge from the centre with tiny flowers which may be shades of white, yellow, pink or purple. The lemony-tangy leaves do great in chutneys, sandwiches and salads. Make some wood sorrel tea. Just pour boiling water in a cup with some leaves and let it brew for a few minutes. Wood sorrel is high in vitamin C and vitamin A making it a great addition to your diet.
So, next time you and your kids go out to your garden or veggie patch for the labourious task of weeding, keep a look out for these beauties and help your young ones identify these plants too and make your next weeding chore into a harvest bonanza. Happy gardening!
Note: All the above plants are edible and safe to eat; nevertheless, our readers are requested to properly identify the plants before consuming them. Indian Express and the author shall not be responsible for any health issue that may arise for an individual as a consequence.
(Sachin Gupta is a natural farmer and food forester. He is passionate about sustainable living and ecological practices. He works as a consultant at Edible Routes. Follow on social media @EdibleRoutes)
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