Free Food: Edible Weeds in Australia

Free food is all around us, if you know where to look. Edible weeds are a free source of food and a nutritious supplement to your diet.

They are also a frugal source of food as it’s free. And it’s eco-friendly and sustainable. No industry, fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, plastic packaging or transporting were used to grow and supply this food.

Because weeds haven’t been modified by modern farming to make them transportable and able to be kept in storage – they are healthier for you. Edible weeds contain higher sources of vitamins and minerals than commercially grown food.

However, sadly, we’ve been conditioned by society to only buy our food from a shop and miss out by being oblivious to nature’s free bounty.

My eye’s have only recently been opened to edible weeds. It all started with foraging for mushrooms. These were so plentiful we ate them, dried them, gave them away and bartered them for goods and services.

One thing led to another, and then I was contemplating what else is out there that is edible but I just didn’t know where to look.

So I started researching online, on YouTube and in books and went for a run wondering if I’d able to find any edible weeds. Turns out they are everywhere!

This article includes the common edible weeds which are found worldwide.

Edible Weed Safety

As with any foraged food, if you’re not 100% sure about identifying a plant as edible, then don’t eat it.

Other things to be mindful about are the potential for weeds to have been in contact with herbicides such as Roundup, particularly on roadsides, and from any pollutants that may already be in the soil.

It’s a good idea when trying any new food to only consume a small amount in case you are part of a minority who develop an allergy to a particular food item. For example, the milk thistle contains a natural latex.

Sticky Weed

Edible weeds: sticky weed
Sticky weed, growing next to sport’s oval

You’d be a rare person if you haven’t had this weed cling to your clothing when out walking, or thrown it at your siblings or friends with much laughter.

It’s said that velcro was created after studying this plant and its ability to stick.

For culinary purposes, the leaves and stems can be finely cut up and used as a cooked spinach substitute (although, I think it tastes more like silverbeet), added to soup, sautéed, or dried to use as a tea.

An alternative to coffee can be made from roasting the sticky weed seed pods.

This plant contains high quality vitamin C, and silica which is good for your hair, nails and teeth.

Dandelion

Edible weed: dandelion
Dandelion

I’ve eaten this plant as a child, and really have no recollection of the taste so it must have been okay.

Until recently, I didn’t know how to tell dandelion apart from fake dandelion (aka cat’s ears) and that’s what has stopped me from eating it again. Although, now I know that cat’s ears are as edible as dandelion.

For identification purposes dandelion has flowers on a single stem, a stalk that exudes a milky sap when broken and sharply serrated leaves. Have a look at Dandelions and Cat’s Ears for more information.

According to a study, dandelion is one of the most nutritious leafy greens to eat. This plant contains vitamin A, C and K, calcium and iron.

The young leaves and yellow flower petals of the dandelion plant can be used in a salad, sandwiches, go well with egg dishes, added to soups and stews, or cooked like spinach.

No doubt you’ve seen dandelion coffee at the shops. It’s made by dry baking the dandelion root and grinding it up as a coffee substitute.

Mallow

Edible weed: mallow
Mallow

Where I live, mallow is everywhere.

Every part of the mallow plant is edible: leaves, flowers, fruits and root. Its is said to have a mild flavour and is high in vitamin A & C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and selenium.

The leaves can be eaten fresh and used in a salad, or as a substitute for spinach. They have a very pleasant mild lettuce flavour – I’ve used them as little wraps containing fried rice.

They can also be cooked and make a handy thickener for soups and stews. Dried leaves make a tea.

Mallow fruits look similar to little cheese wheels and are best eaten when still green and fresh. They are much like mini okras.

Edible weed: mallow fruits, like mini okras
Mallow fruit

When the roots are boiled in water they release a thick mucus which can be beaten as a vegan substitute for egg white.

Interestingly, the sap from the roots of the mallow plant (commonly found growing in marshes) was a core ingredient of marshmallows. Confectioners now use gelatine instead of mallow root sap.

Sorrel

Edible weed: sorrel
Sorrel, grows everywhere!

I know this plant as sour grass and have chewed on many a sour stalk walking to or from school as a kid. Little did I know that it’s actually edible.

There’s a good reason it’s called sour grass as the taste resembles lemon and gives a sour zing. I can see why it would be great to use the leaves and flowers in a salad or as a garnish on food, but not the stalks as they are too fibrous.

The sour taste comes from oxalic acid which can be toxic in large amounts. However, many other commonly eaten plants such as chives, parsley, spinach, bananas, chocolate, cashews, soybeans, almonds, oats, pumpkin, cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes, lentils and tea are also high in oxalic acid.

Each too much of any plant high in oxalic acid can cause digestive and kidney problems. However, eaten in small amounts, these plants are perfectly safe.

The sorrel plant looks a lot like clover. Sorrel has three heart shaped leaves with a fold in the middle, whilst clover has three rounded shaped leaves. You’ll be glad to know that clover is edible too.

Sorrel is high in vitamin C and A.

Purslane

Edible weed: purslane
Purslane

I’ve seen people forage purslane next to a walking track that I live near. I was curious to ask what they were doing, yet decided against doing so in case I appeared rude.

Now I know they were probably picking purslane to eat.

This is one very versatile edible weed. You can add it to salads, juices, sandwiches, dips, pesto, stir fry, quiches, soup, curries, stews, sauces, or pickles.

The Indigenous Aboriginals also ground the seeds to make a flour.

You may have guessed it: the leaves, stems, flower buds and seeds are edible.

It is the highest known vegetable source of omega 3 and also contains vitamin A, C and B and iron.

In fact, experts say purslane is so nutritious that should be commercially grown and sold.

As with sorrel, this plant contains oxalic acid when eaten raw. The levels are comparable to eating raw spinach. However, if concerned, oxalic acid is destroyed by cooking the plant.

Clover

Edible weed: clover
Clover, found everywhere!

A few weeks before writing this, my 7 year old asked me if ‘you could eat clover’. I replied with, ‘Nah, only horses, cows and sheep eat it.’

Turns out I was wrong – people can eat clover too.

Clover is part of the pea family. If you look closely at the clover flower you’ll see it’s a bunch of little pea like blossoms.

All parts of the clover plant are edible including the leaves, flowers, seed pods and roots. I’ve only eaten the leaves and they have a taste reminiscent of peas.

Young clover leaves can be eaten fresh as a garnish or in a salad. The older leaves are best cooked and used in the same way as spinach.

Fresh young flowers can be added to a cake mix or other baked goods and are said to have a mild vanilla flavour. You could also use the fresh flowers in a salad. Dried blossoms can be roasted until crispy and eaten, or dried and infused as a tea.

A flour can be made from the dried seed pods which have been ground into a powder. The cooked root is edible too.

Clover is high in protein, vitamin A, C and B and bioflavonoids.

Warning: some people are allergic to eating clover. If eating clover for the first time, only eat a small amount until you know if your body will react or not.

Plantain

Edible weed: plantain
Plantain, a common weed

I have a hazy memory of eating this weed as a young child. I’m fairly sure it was added to a salad with dandelion leaves.

Apparently, plantain has a similar taste to asparagus. Although, I don’t remember the flavour. Must be time to try eating it again!

The most important attribute of the plantain plant are the seeds which are commercially sold as Pysllium. These seeds have the ability to absorb huge quantities of water and are marketed as a mild laxative.

The Indigenous Aboriginals and colonists used plantain seeds to make a porridge which was sweetened which nectar producing flowers or native honey.

The small young tender leaves can be included in a salad, added to a soup or stew, or pan fried in oil for a few minutes. Some recipes recommend blanching the leaves before eating them to make them more tender.

There’s even a recipe for eating the flower buds. Collect the buds just before they blossom, leaving a stalk attached. Boil, then sauté in oil. Use the stalk as handle to eat the now cooked flower buds.

Plantain is high in vitamin C, E and K.

Thistle

Edible weed: thistle
Thistle, an unusual edible plant

You know those horribly spiky plants that are difficult to pull out, they’re edible too. In fact, all thistles are edible.

The stalks are said to taste of garden peas. It’s recommended to peel the outer fibrous layer of the stalk off. One recipe said to peel the stalk, then boil the stalk for a few minutes and eat with melted butter, salt and pepper. Another suggested stuffing the hollow stalks and roasting them.

You could eat the leaves, if you remove all the spines first.

Or you could eat the mid-rib leaf stalks for a lot less hassle. It’s said to taste like celery.

Directions to prepare the mid-rib leaf stalks are to strip away the leaf matter, rub the ‘wool’ off the stalk and use raw as crudités or chop into salads.

A tea can also be made from the leaves.

Thistles do have a lookalike – the sow thistle, also known as the milk thistle.

The tender young leaves of the sow thistle can be used in a salad, or cooked like spinach and are high in vitamin C. As with the thistle mentioned earlier, prepare the stalk by removing the outer layer before eating.

The flowers and roots are edible too.

Warning: contains latex. As some people are allergic to latex, it’s recommended to be cautious if consuming sow thistle for the first time.

Ready For More Information

There’s many sources to find out more about edible weeds. Check out these examples:

  • Your local library: The Weed Forager’s Handbook, or Edible Weeds and Garden Plants of Melbourne
  • Facebook groups: Edible Weeds, Wild Food & Foraging in Australia
  • Purchasing a reference guide to keep on you
  • Edible Weeds blogs
  • Local foraging workshops
  • Asking a local forager for advice
  • YouTube

A very informative free movie about edible weeds can be found below. Enjoy!

Which edible weeds have you tried before?

Comment below with how you used an edible weed in a recipe.

Mrs Hack

I'm an everyday person on a journey to save money and care for the environment at the same.

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