Monday, October 4, 2010

Grazing with Greengaged

My lunch today!
Please click on any of the images for a better view.
Last week I got to live out a little fantasy and play Nigella (without any gratuitous fluttering of the mascara) with some new friends, a gathering of like-minded horticulturalists. I intended to share some off-the-beaten-track type of edibles, and decided that the Nigella method would be a good way to add context to what might otherwise have been an unappetizing parade of greens and weeds. Taking inspiration from my tame chef, I grabbed a huge plate, knocked the snow from the borage flowers, pulled a few edible weeds, and in a completely random and opportunistic manner, came up with this salad. (Arranged, as is my wont, in plant family groups).

First I attempted a stumbling outline of my thoughts on the food we were to eat, which I'll try and make more succinct here.

Diversity is key. Without access to your own plot it can be difficult to find and afford to eat a wide variety of foods. Here, we walk out the back door and gather up to 20 different green things, from herbs to salad greens in the back wilderness. Much of it is self sown, some of it is what is often called 'weeds'. I am no nutritionist, but it seems to make sense to me that eating a wide variety of foods, as fresh as possible, is the best way to nourish our bodies.

Environment is one of our other big motivators. We enjoy breathing, so we want to take care of our planet. Every little thing we harvest means a little less fossil fuel, a little less packaging and a little less time in the supermarket neon, being tempted to buy more stuff we don't need.

Reducing waste. If you waste less you save money and work, and lessen your load on the environment. And you can find some taste sensations along the way! Just look at the weeds and bolting plants below.

French sorrel

Red dock. I mostly use this because it is stunning to look at. It is slightly astringent, but young leaves are tender and mildly flavoured. See the picture at the top of the page, it's the leaf with the rather fetching maroon veins.

French sorrel. Spring is the time to enjoy this zingy green. The newly shot, tangy leaves are wonderful straight from the garden. Later in the season they can become a little intense and are delicious cooked into a tasty, but mildly ugly, khaki coloured sauce or soup.

BRASSICACEAE: I used 3 edible weeds from the cabbage family, and some, often discarded, buds and flowers from bolting rocket and mustard greens, and a most noble representative of the family, wasabi leaves.

Shepherd's purse
Shepherd's purse. The young leaves of this plant were described by another new friend as 'agreeably hairy'. The leaves have a robust flavour, but are not challenging like some of their cousins.

Landcress. If shepherd's purse is mild, this treasure occupies the other end of the scale. It is earthy, pungent and hot. But young leaves are crisp and juicy with a pleasant kick. One of the salad eaters there suggested leaving pungent leaves to soak in cool water to leach out some of the kick. Something to try for the next salad!
Flickweed, Cardamine sp.
Flickweed. The bane of the nurseryman and the tidy gardener's life, this little weed has the ability to launch its tiny seeds great distances with its little, spring-loaded seed capsules. But when it is young and lush, the tips of flowering stems and unripe seed pods are pretty on the plate, and pleasant to eat. But don't plant any on purpose, you'll regret it!
Wasabi. As well as the famous paste made from the grated rhizome of the plant, wasabi leaves and stems are delicious. Juicy and with a wonderful whisper of wasabi kick. More wasabi talk here!

Rocket buds and flowers

Rocket and mustard flowers and buds. Often when crops are bolting we yank them out. But this shortens our harvest, and we miss out on the pleasure of a floral feast! Right now, before aphids strike, they are a delight to nibble on, as you wander about in the garden deciding which job to tackle next. Rocket flowers are faintly rockety and sweet, and have more texture than you'd imagine. Very nice!

Orach seedlings

Purple orach sprouts: Many plants have naturalised in my garden, and one I really get good use from is the purple orach. It is self sown from seedlings planted a few years ago. It germinates in early Spring and is tasty right from its very tiny beginning. Our salad tonight included the thinnings from my patch, normally discarded, but if gathered carefully, it is easy to pinch off dirty roots and rinse and eat the whole, tiny, pretty plant. As it grows, young leaves and tips can be enjoyed raw, older leaves can be briefly cooked, and flower buds are great quickly blanched, or wilted in garlicy, herby butter.  


Mitsuba, or Japanese parsley. This is a lovely, mild, slightly astringent herb. Apparently used in Japan in savoury custards (which I've found is a great way to get to know the flavours of any new herb) and mild broths, cooked very briefly. Choose young, shiny leaves for your salad and throw them in whole.

Miners lettuce

Miners lettuce. My kids and I love it, chooks can eat, it will put on a wonderful show of teensy edible, white flowers, encircled by a leaf to bring some glamour to the Spring barbecue table, and it comes up in Winter to feed us salad hungry gardeners. It's also reputed to have saved Californian gold miners from scurvy. Nutritious, delightfully pretty, juicy and refreshing, what more could you ask?  


Shungiku. This one I grew for the first time last Summer, and it has obligingly self seeded and given me a few lovely plants that have stood all Winter. The leaves have a savoury, almost meaty flavour and a feathery appearance. It's on the top left of my lunch plate, at the top of the page. Yum!  


Chickweed. This one, I must admit, has been relished by the chooks, but ignored by me until I was influenced by the worlds very best restaurant, Noma in Copenhagen, and a team of local chefs at Garagistes in Hobart who are putting all manner of wonderful, edible plants on their plates. I hope Food Tourist don't mind me linking to their inspiring site! It's the one with the tiny white flowers on the right of my salad plate.

I scattered our plate of greens with flowers, pineapple sage and borage, and the tips of young pea plants, to transform a salad into a celebration of Spring! And the dressing. I used the magic trick of adding freshly ground pepperberries to an acid, in this case Meyer lemon juice and apple cider vinegar, and watching it turn pink! We shook this up in a jar with some salt and olive oil and bruised leaves of lemon-scented savoury, and drizzled it all over my big pile of weeds.
Pepper berries and lemon juice

I'll be at the Australian Plant Society's show at the City Hall, celebrating 'the joy of native plants' this weekend, from the 8th to the 10th of October, and then at Tas Farm Gate on Sunday the 24th of October with lots of the tasty things above, as cut greens for the table, and plants for your patch, so come on down for a chat about your garden.

Please let us know your thoughts, your favourite greens, or some you'd like to try, and we'll see what we can do for you. It's great to hear from you! And there is a post on local Hobart plants on the way......lots of them are sprouting up in the hothouse, ready to green our urban spaces!


  1. Hi Paulette ......what a stunning fun blog.......really enjoyed it......can't wait to see you at the farmers market and get some of those weeds for my future home.......all the best til I see you next Zeer

  2. Hi Paulette, sadly I did not seem to have the wasabi when I got home from the market! I think I must have left it on your stall, when your mum put the plants into the bag for me.... so I came back the next Sunday but discovered you were not there! Is it possible to call in and see you in Kingston some time? Nice to see you on my blog and I LOVE yours.... wow, I am so pleased to have met you.

  3. I came here via link on the Vegetable Vagabond blog and I'm so glad I did! I'm in the UK, but I'm off to investigate whether I can grow some wasabi in a pot next year ;)

  4. What a fine blog you have established here, I love that you are interested in such a wide diversity of edible plants. Now, like Emma, I am off to read more about Wasabi to see if it is something that I could possibly grow in my own region. Your Japanese parsley has peaked my interest as well. Thank you for sharing.:)

  5. Thanks for your comments everyone, and thanks for visiting. It's the wasabi we all love isn't it! The lure of the exotic....

    Zeer, I'll bring your plant to Greengaged on Wednesday, mine are loving all of this rain and growing flat out! I'm sure you have lots of 'weeds' in your own garden to nibble!

    Kate, now you have your wasabi, thanks to your detective skills in the back alleys of Cygnet. Thanks for the link on your lovely blog, never have I had so many visitors! And Madi from the market thought it was brilliant too.

    Emma, I'm sure you could grow some wasabi in a pot! The first plant can be expensive, but if you make it happy, within a year you'll be able to have some wasabi paste and divide 10 or more new baby plants from the first one.

    And Mr H, what can I say? I adore your work, and seeing what you do makes me feel that we can do something here. Japanese parsley is a great plant, and also makes many seeds so you can have sprouts in your chilly Winters. And don't believe what you read about wasabi, all of my books say I need to grow it in running water, but it does well in my fern garden, so find your own niche, if you find a plant that is!