Want to learn more about the medicinal and nutritional value of the common weeds in your garden? Today Tracy Armbruster – our weed enthusiast – kicks off her series for all of us to learn together:
W.E.E.D’s (Wild, Enriching, Edible, Delight’s) are simply amazing!
What I love most about them is their pioneering spirit. Their “survival of the fittest” attitude. They have gone up against some of the worst poisons mankind has invented and have lived to ‘tell the tale’. Each year farmers use stronger and stronger herbicides against them and yet they RESIST! They come back stronger each year in order to try and rebalance nature. To bring diversity to the mono-cropped field. They restore fertility and precious nutrients to fallow ground.
They are the quick growing pioneers, their life and death cycle makes way for other plants that will live longer. This ecological succession is how nature builds healthy fertile soil and richly diverse ecosystems. This is how nature thrives!
Endless benefits to using weeds
There are numerous benefits to eating wild edibles!
- They are freely available and grow abundantly in “wasteland” areas and along pavements.
- They are genetically stronger than many other mainstream consumer greens as they haven’t been genetically modified, hybridised or selectively bred to bring out certain qualities deemed necessary. This allows a product to “live” on a shelf in a supermarket for days on end looking appetising. To most of the commercial farmers it matters not what it tastes like or how nutritious it is – it simple has to sell!
- Wild edible plants in most cases have not been treated! They haven’t been irradiated or waxed or picked unripe and then treated with chemicals to slow down the ripening process. Sure some pavements have been subjected to “the city’s” weed control methods (where they are sprayed with various herbicides) but these can easily be avoided.
- Many of these weeds have long tap roots making them hardy, drought-tolerant and able to endure these unpredictable weather conditions far better than many of your fragile garden greens.
- Most wild edible plants are more nutritious than your hybridized store-bought greens. In some cases up to 10 times more nutritious!!
- Eating local wild plants means that the plant fights off the same organisms as your body – those in the same environment – making them highly beneficial to your immune system.
- Eating “local” wild food also has many many environmental benefits such as zero carbon kilometres from plant to mouth!
- Picking your own edibles means you get out into nature – you exercise, get plenty of sunshine D, and you get to forage for food directly from nature.
- And finally the knowledge empowers you! It creates within you a very self-satisfied feeling that you could survive “out there” in nature should you ever have to – and that is priceless.
Veldkool a popular vegetable
The wild edible plant I am going to talk about this month is the trachyandra ciliata species of the Asphodelaceae family. These edible plants are fairly common around the Cape. Occurring primarily along the coastal sands from southern Namibia to the southeastern Cape – although I have also spotted them as far inland as Montagu.
Commonly referred to as Veldkool, the wild edible bud is a popular vegetable.
There are several different species that can all be used in the same way:
This is an interesting collection of perennial bulbous plants that can lie dormant until the winter rain comes. A “new” and rare Trachyandra species (only 3-4 cm high) has only recently been “discovered” in the Gamsberg area by those who document – officially name and barcode new species.
Threatened by urbanisation, agriculture, invasive species
Two of the Trachyandra species have been listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN red data list – namely: Trachyandra erythrorrhiza from the Transvaal area – its natural habitat is slowly being eroded by urbanisation, agriculture and invasive plant species – and Trachyandra peculiaris, native to Namibia, who’s tiny range seems to be targeted rather frequently by succulent collectors.
Luckily none of the edible ones mentioned above are at risk. In fact most appear to be fairly common!
The plant flowers from July to September so this is the last month you will be able to harvest these beautiful buds.
They are quite easy to spot amongst the wild flowers. The young flowering stalks or bud clusters are harvested before the flowers have opened… and this is what you eat.
Flowers for your salad
The individual flowers can be added to salads – they have a pleasant grassy flavour – but the young buds are really best cooked. They can either sautéed lightly like asparagus and used in similar ways – quiches or warm salads – or they can be steamed and served with butter, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. You can also use them to make a traditional dish called veldkool bredie – which is pretty much a slow cooked lamb stew.
Trachyandra divaricata, which is slightly more succulent looking than the other species, can also be used medicinally – it has a soothing sap inside the stem and bulbous part of the root that can be used as a lotion for sores – much like many of the other bulbines, to which it is related.
Please harvest with care not to damage the plant. Remember to harvest only what you need – don’t be too greedy. Please also bear in mind that is it illegal to pick wild flowers in a nature reserve.
By Tracy Armbruster