Book Review / Gardening / Self Sufficiency

{Book Review} The Weed Forager’s Handbook

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This wasn’t lined up to be my next review (I’m actually part-way through reading a new edition of John Seymours “The New Self-Sufficient Gardener” that will be coming very soon – stay tuned!) but I found this book while buying some books online recently and I was intrigued.

The book basically works on the premise that there is no botanical definition of a weed; a plant is a weed simply because we don’t want it to grow (nothing against the plant personally, we just have other plants).

The Weed Forager’s Handbook is broken up into two parts. The first has some handy background information, including the admonishment to not eat anything unless you are 100% sure it’s not dangerous. They include some of the plants that can be dangerous in this section, mostly as a warning.

The remaining section is then separated into another four parts:

  1.  Top 20 Edible and Medicinal Weeds
  2. Other weeds
  3. Weedy Recipes
  4. Weeds in the Garden.

Of the twenty edible and medicinal weeds listed, I was able to easily identify three of them as growing unwanted in my backyard (and sometimes frontyard) so these are the threeI shall be mentioning.  Some of the others (like rocket and nasturtium) I’m also familiar with, but since I want to be growing these, they’re not weeds. See what I did there?

The Dandelion

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I’m sure everyone is familiar with the ubiquitous dandelion. From its bright yellow flower to the seed heads that are oh-so-fun to blow around, these dandelions are the bane of my husbands existence. For some reason they tend to abound in the grass far more often than in the vegetable patch, and they grow far, far faster than the grass so he ends up having to mow them more often than he would like.

But now I’m wondering whether I should be stopping him! According to The Weed Forager’s Handbook the dandelion is right up there in the top two of the most nutritious vegetables ever tested by the US Department of Agriculture. It comes second only to parsley! My only memory of dandelions is picking (and smushing) the flower heads – don’t ask me why – and then having to remember to not lick my fingers because they would taste disgusting! Well, I am informed that the petals taste sweet! And the young leaves (while they can be bitter) can be eaten much like bitter lettuce. Even the roots are edible! Add this to the fact that the extract of the dandelion leaves can apparently help treat blemishes, and I’m sold! I think I’ll need to establish a patch of dandelion somewhere (the kids will be pleased, they do love blowing those seed heads around!).

Sow Thistle

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This is one that can sometimes be mistaken for Dandelion due to the bright yellow flower and the fluffy seeds (and which photographs much better when you do it before the plant has shut up shop for the night). It is also often mistaken for the milk thistle, which many a farmer has spent much time trying to remove. The milk thistle has purple flowers though, and spikes.

I am informed by The Weed Foragers Handbook that this plant is rich in vitamins, iron and calcium and the leaves can be used in salads and as a substitute for spinach (this could be handy since I forgot to plant any spinach this year…). Medicinally they’re also good as an anti-oxidant, anti-fever and anti-inflammatory!

I’m not sure whether I’ll be cultivating this one, but now I can claim that my front garden beds aren’t filled with weeds; they’re filled with herbs!

Plantain

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When I was a child we used to sing a rhyme about this plant. You’d wind part of the stem around the head (as in a knot) and you’d chant “Mummy had a baby and it’s head popped OFF” pulling the knot tight and the flower head would fly from the plant. It seems particularly gruesome now, and I only mention it for two reasons: 1) I had no idea what this plants name before now and 2) I had no idea that it could be used for anything else! Shows what I know, doesn’t it?

Apparently plantain has been following humans around for thousands of years. The husks are full of soluble fibre, and are used commercially to produce products such as metamucil. The leaves can also be used for treating poisons, cuts and infections. I’m not sure this will convince Nick that I don’t have to pull them out, though!

Other ‘herbs’ mentioned include: oxalis (now this I can’t seem to keep out of my vegetable patch!), mallow, amaranth, onion weed and blackberries.

I’ve been umming and ahhing about whether this book is a keeper or a “borrow from the library-er” (which is what I’ve done currently). It’s full of such handy information that I think it would be worth keeping on hand, but only if you truly wanted to actually use the ‘weeds’ currently infesting the garden.

It’s available from Booktopia for around $20. I think if it was closer to the $15 (including postage) then I’d be inclined to buy it. Otherwise I might just make handy notes about the relevant weeds and then return it to the library.

At only 150 A5ish sized pages, it’s definitely a quick and interesting read though, well worth it for anyone interested in plants!

Have you ever tried eating ‘weeds’? Or grow plants most people consider undesirable?

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10 thoughts on “{Book Review} The Weed Forager’s Handbook

  1. I’ve got this book! But I’m glad you posted because I haven’t dug it out since moving house, and your post let me know what all those weeds in my garden are: sow thistle!

    I think it was this book which put me onto purslane, which grew in abundance around my old house and is delicious. I wonder if there’s any here at the new place? I’ll miss it if it’s not.

    • It’s really amazing how the book completely changes the way you view those weeds! Now I’m actively looking around the garden thinking “ooh, I wonder if I have that one!” and then being mildly disappointed when I don’t!

  2. Looks interesting. I sometimes eat the chickweed from my garden. Mostly I value the weeds for making great compost.

    • I’m now very tempted to try eating the dandelion petals, just to see what they’re like! Normally the only weeds I would eat are blackberries, but they’re hard to get hold of now that everyone is spraying them.
      I often don’t compost my weeds, partly because I am an inept composter, but also because the weeds I have seem to be ones that will survive (like oxalis and runner grass).

  3. I have plenty I can send you if you don’t have them!

    Many people confuse Dandelion with Catsear, which is common at this time of year in lawns, and has lots and lots of yellow flowers. Now, if you could find a use for that!

    • I just googled catsear (never having heard of it before) and you’re not kidding about them being similar! I had to double check to see which I had! Unfortunately the book doesn’t have any suggestions for the use of catsears (except their basic, general advice, which is basically just let them grow between your plants – they’re probably doing more good than harm. How that works with water sharing I’m not sure.).

      If you’ve got any violets, wild fennel, nasturtiums or blackberries feel free to send them this way 😉

  4. It is easy to tell Cats Ear (or Catsear?) from dandelion – the Dandelion always has one flower to a stem on a fleshy stem, Cats Ear is a smaller flower, multiple to a stem in good conditions, and a wiry stem.

    I have a blackberry growing on the fenceline I am having trouble getting rid of, but there is no way I would even think about passing one along. They get out of control quickly, and volume of produce to area covered is actually quite low. Much better putting in something like a Boysenberry or Sylvan Berry (tried them the other day – wonderful).

    Apart from everything else, they are a declared noxious weed in Victoria, and will devalue your house should ever want to sell it.

    • I know. I dream of one day being able to have a blackberry bush (we used to have one growing wild down the end of our street when I was a kid, and I remember picking blackberries off it) but we really can’t grow them.

      I’ve got a loganberry in that’s quite tasty, but I don’t think I’ve tried a Boysenberry of Sylvan Berry. I might add those to my berry list!

  5. I have dandelions taking over my front lawn…. or am I cultivating a healthy, edible and versatile crop? Well maybe not, but the girls do love picking little bouquets of them. Sounds like a very interesting read,

    • It’s totally changed the way I view my disaster of a front yard – though Nick is still yet to agree with me!

      It was very interesting, if only because it changes the way you think about plants.

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