It’s October, and the amount I have had to do lately has been completely mental, and I have wondered how I keep from going under more than once in the last couple of weeks. But for those interested, you should have a look at the planting list for October from last year, nothing’s changed (except there’s been more rain this year than I can remember in a decade).
I was recently riding my bike along Gardiner’s creek, or what is left of the creek now a freeway has been built on top of it for much of its length. I stopped to look at the weedy vegetation and saw a jungle’s worth growing along a section of bank that was not buried underground.
Closer inspection revealed that there was a veritable feast of food plants growing here in the wastelands of the burbs, food that would probably go to waste. I don’t just mean “edible” plants, ones that are basically non-toxic, and won’t kill you if you fang into them. I mean actual tasty food that is even sold as “gourmet” in some places. Have a look and see how many you can pick out of the photo, then I will point them out.
So, the Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) in the foreground should be the most obvious. Sure, it’s not as tender as the cultivated Finnochio you may buy at the greengrocer, but it’s perfectly edible, and has a rich aniseed flavour. When it’s young like this, it’s still tender enough to add to salad, and cooking is not really necessary.
Along the concrete wall in the background, there is a large swathe of Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus). The young leaves of this give a peppery zing to salads, and can be cooked as a kind of spinach substitute. The young seeds when still green have been pickled and used as a caper substitute. In amongst the orange and red flowers of the Nasturtium, there is a huge amount of Angled Onion, aka Onion Weed (Allium triquetrum) a much maligned relative of Leeks and Garlic, which is actually quite pretty with its white, six petalled drooping flowers. Though it is regarded as a weed, especially in bushland and pasture, most of the plant is edible, and tastes, not surprisingly, like a mild form of garlic. I have even been served this vegetable at a $300+ degustation at Attica, so it’s not to be dismissed lightly.
There is also the ubiquitous Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) growing all over the place, and Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), not to mention a number of wild plum and apple seedlings along the path, all of which would contribute to the hungry person’s larder. The blackberries, for all their scratchy evil, provide a safe refuge from cats and dogs for native animals, especially small birds, such as the Fairy Wren (Malurus cyaneus). The main issue here is that many of these useful and tasty plants are possibly sprayed by the local council for their weediness, making harvest of the fruits and leaves a bit worrisome. It is amazing that so many useful and edible plants can grow in one spot, basically unwanted and without anyone planning it. Just imagine how productive the urban landscape could be if such gardens were planned, planted and looked after. Not only that, but harvest of these plants would help keep them under control, so they wouldn’t spread into areas where they were not wanted.
Learning how to recognise wild food plants can help control weeds, and provide a fresh source of nutrition and flavour to your daily diet. Just keep your eyes peeled.