Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Guest Post - Weeds, by Clare Farrelly

Greetings, readers of Amity. I am Clare; (and amongst many other things) I am Emily’s friend, a photographer, writer, sister, and blogger over at my blog; Clare’s Spot. I have been racking my brains for an idea of what to post about ever since Emily asked if I would like to. And since you are reading this I have obviously thought of something; that something is weeds.

Weeds are only weeds because we call them that. Grass becomes a weed when it enters a garden and likewise garden plants become “weeds” when they grow onto the lawn. A weed is a plant that grows where we humans do not want it. I have been interested in weeds ever since I did a study on them for agriculture. During that I found that many of the plants I called weeds are actually useful for many things, or even edible.

Since then I have gone on a camping trip where I learnt about, and ate different plants, that I would normally call weeds. Just the other day I went to talk (in which we walked around outside) about useful weeds. So the content of this post comes from those experiences, and I am also checking my memory against a book I bought at the camp, “Useful Weeds at Our Doorstep” By Pat Collins. (Apparently this book is like a bible for weed lovers)

So here are five weeds that you probably had no idea were useful.

Fleabane has some interesting history. Its name gives away some of its uses. Fleas don’t like it, neither do many bugs. In medieval times people would plant it all around their houses, hang it up inside and at the end of beds. They believed it warded off plague, now we know fleas were often carriers of it so it makes sense. Fleabane can be found just about anywhere particularly in disturbed areas, unused plots of land and along roadsides in paddocks. This plant can also be chucked on a campfire and its burning will drive mosquitoes away. (I really have to try this one)

Wandering Jew is an edible weed which I think actually tastes nice. I can’t find any photos of it but you should be able to look up pictures of it on the internet. It is also called Scurvy Weed. There are two kinds of Wandering Jew and both are edible. The ones with purple-blue flowers are better for you and are native to Australia. The more common plant has white flowers and came originally from South America.  They both prefer to grow in moist shady places. They have smooth shiny leaves. The taste is unusual but crispy and much nicer than any other “Weed” that I have eaten. The young leaves are the nicest and can be eaten in salads or as you walk past the plant. Though do be aware that if it is not growing in your own garden you have no idea if the plant has been sprayed with any poisons.

Prickly Lettuce is actually edible.  I had never touched these plants before, because of their nasty looking spikes, but they are actually not very nasty. I would suggest that you only eat leaves off young plants whose leaves are less than 10cm long and the plant is still growing close to the ground. After that they get much more bitter and become more spikey. They can also be eaten in salads or cooked in a similar way to beans.

Wild or Hedge Mustard, is the other weed that I actually like eating. At least I have tried eating its flower heads, and they are quite nice. The leaves can also be eaten and apparently taste and can be used like cabbage. It is meant to be good for sore throats and the Greeks believed that it was an antidote to all poison; I am not sure how reliable that is though.  This plant is cultivated in other countries, as are many other “weeds”, but in the case of this “weed” European (particularly northern) countries. Its scientific name is “Sisymbrium officinale”.

Purslane is another favourite of mine. I call it Mosquito Weed. It is edible and has a VERY strong taste which I don’t like. It is high in vitamin C and other things, but what I find the plant useful for is mosquito bites. I crush up the juicy leaves and apply the resulting green past to the bite, and it actually works. I also use Aloe Vera plants for mosquito bites and green ant bites. I just snap one of the leaves in half and put the slimy green sap on the bite.

I hope you all found that interesting. There are many more uses/benefits for/from these plants, and many other “weeds” out there that are not really as useless as most people realize.


  1. This post is right down my alley Clare! Loved it! Only one small live halfway around the world from me so I do not have many of these plants. I do have Purslane though I call it Portulaca.

    1. Yep that is always the problem with things like this, a lot are local, but there are probably a lot of weeds that are everywhere. Dandelions for example, you can do a lot with them but I have never personally used or eaten them.

    2. I have...they certainly aren't my favorite dish. :) No doubt if I was in a situation where I badly needed food I would happily eat them though.