I went to the edible weeds workshop on Saturday, run by Kate Wall. Kate really knows her stuff, I get the feeling she has an encyclopedia on the subject tucked away in her brain. The workshop was catered to the needs/interests of those attending, so would most likely be completely different next time.
For me, the most important take away message was that all weeds are messengers. They communicate what’s going on with the soil where they are and what needs to be done to correct it. If you fix the soil according to what the weeds are telling you, you’ll probably never see a weed there. A good example of this is Billygoat Weed, it only grows in soil that has been extensively farmed or overworked. The message is to rest the soil and add in plenty of compost and minerals to help address the issues.
Weeds with deep tap roots grow in minerally depleted soils. If you can leave them there, the deep tap root is excellent at drawing up the minerals from deep down. Later on, you can chop them back as a green manure.
With Billygoat Weed, you can’t eat it, but it’s excellent for butting the leaves on insect bites. It’s high in insecticide goodies, so dry the leaves, then sprinkle them around the chook house or around plants with aphid problems.
Lantana can be used the same way and is good for making a tea to get rid of powdery mildew.
Cobblers pegs/ Farmers friend is highly nutritious. The UN promotes it as a survival food in Africa. You can use it as a micro green, it’s antimicrobial and the flowers are good for mouth issues (I think you’re supposed to make a tea from them).
The tiny berries on the Blackberry Nightshade are edible but ONLY when fully black.
Chickweed helps to strengthen the skin and blood vessels if eaten regularly. Use it in salad instead of lettuce.
Peppercress is an excellent substitute for wasabi, which won’t grow very well here.
Radium weed’s sap is highly acidic. Some people use it as a treatment for pre-cancer skin cells. Use your own discretion.
Shepherd’s purse if eaten regularly, helps wounds stop bleeding faster.
We covered a few more weeds but I was having difficulty keeping up with writing information down and I was too engrossed in listening. Everyone also got to try a leaf or berry from the edible weeds discussed. Kate has an amazing garden it would be easy to get lost in for days. She runs a few different workshops and if one catches your interest, I’d definitely suggest going alone. I’ll be going to more workshops in the future.
Kate turns out to be a gardening friend from my time living in Fairfield - just up the road from Kate's house. I knew her as Katie but we've both moved on since then.
I bought a book on what weeds tell us by Eherenfried Pfeiffer who's a pioneer of Biodynamics. He talks about European weeds most of which don't grow up here. More suitable as a reference for those living down south or inland where it's colder. So far I've not found a book on weeds and their message which is more specific to our conditions here.
One way to make use of the weeds is to chop and drop. That way the soil gets the benefits without having a weed forest. Though personally I like a weed forest ;-) I prefer not to pull up the weeds although I do sometimes, depends a bit on where they are growing. Making a weed tea and putting it back where the weeds came from gives the soil the nutrients it needs and at least theoretically, stops those weeds from needing to grow in that spot.
Yes it is a long game. I don't know who said it but it's an old-fashioned quote: 'Nature abhors a vacuum'. Bare soil is not a natural occurrence and it's covered by whatever is to hand in the natural world. We love to have bare soil - heaven knows why! - and do our best to fight the weeds. We need to learn to live with them.
Thank you Che for the report, it's good for we non-attenders to read about the events that we publish on our site.