Weeds, what are they good for?
I reckon the answer to that is everybloodything!
Straight off the bat, I will say we don’t use synthetic herbicides as it’s just silly, and I talk about that in greater detail in the article Are you organic certified.
“Weeds” are a valuable asset to us.
They can be eaten by us, the chooks, or guinea pigs, and instead of thinking of them as the enemy to be eradicated, by just considering some as “Bonus Vegetables” and the rest as “Free Tools” then by definition you no longer even have weeds!
After all, a weed is just a plant species growing in a situation that you would prefer it didn’t. Change your perspective and like magic, “poof” they no longer even exist…
While some edible weed species don’t taste as good as the supermarket vegetables you pay top dollar for, in most cases, it’s just because you haven’t spent your whole life perfecting your cooking and preparation techniques.
Bitter or tangy sour tasting pot herbs can be blanched by dipping in boiling water for 1-5mintues, before being removed and dipping into cold water to stop the cooking process.
After that, they can be prepared as per normal and this simple step tenderises them making them easier to digest, and it removes most of the bitter tasting compounds, along with the majority of the oxalic acid. Blanching is a really easy three in one. If it seems wasteful to do this water-wise, then just do what I do and pour that water straight into a watering can then back onto the garden instead of down the sink.
Woody fiberous herbs and small tuberous roots can be frozen, then later thawed and used as needed.
The benefit of this is first of all convenience. If you peel and chop them first you don’t even need to do any preparation later. Just grab a handful from the freezer as needed and chuck them in the pot.
The other benefit is that the long cellulose fibres that make then tougher than the spuds and carrots you normally eat, are broken up by the ice crystals that form when frozen. When defrosted the cell walls collapse and this tenderises them even further. Just like “frost bite” does to human fingers and toes.
If you defrost them fast using heat, like by chucking them into a pot of boiling stew soup or curry, the temperature change and damage to the cells is far more dramatic, and therefore it makes them even softer still.
This is also why with “frost bite” affected fingers and toes it’s important to warm them very slowly. If warmed too quickly the damage and destruction to the tissue in the area is massive and they just fall apart.
With really tough chewy fibrous roots and tubers that’s the whole goal!
Soaking in water overnight before cooking will also do a similar thing with many species.
What happens is that the cell walls really soak up the water like little balloons. This causes some to overfill, pop, and then collapse. If you then drop them in hot water the rapid temperature change makes them rapidly expand even further before exploding, which can make a huge difference in the tenderness and texture of many species.
It is not ideal for all species though as in some species it works too well and they completely fall apart, and in other species it causes oxidisation making them a go really gross grey, brown or black colour, like when you cut an apple and leave it on the bench. In a few other species it does bugger all as the cell walls are too thick to allow any expansion, or even rarer still the osmotic action of the cell walls of that plant is working the opposite way, and they actually shrink, shrivel and get even tougher.
Slow cooking at low heat over long times, using a pressure cooker or pressure canner, is also a great option for tenderisation. I bloody love my pressure cooker and I generally make a pot of something awesome twice a week all year round. It’s just me and the Mrs here so generally a single pot makes a soup, stew, or curry for two to four meals now for today, leftovers for tomorrow. Then I freeze the other two to four meals from that batch individually for use later on down the track.
These ready to rock “easy meals” can be just whipped out and used as needed and they are a real lifesaver when we are running short on time, as well as providing a huge range of variety to our diet. Speaking of variety, that’s one of the reasons folks give up on wild herbs and uncommon food crops. They keep looking at them like chips, mashed potato, pasta and rice.
Something they can half fill a plate with next to their steak, chops, fish, or sausages.
If it was that easy everyone would be doing it!
You have to look at edible weeds like onion slices in a salad, or peas in a stew, or bacon on a burger.
They really add some oomph, but if you just had a plate of any single one of them it wouldn’t be that great, and it isn’t possible to order just a plate of onion, peas or even bacon from a restaurant for this reason. These are all ingredients that you use to enhance the flavour of a meal. They are not normally a meal in their own right.
In the case of weeds and wild pot herbs they not only enhance the flavours and providing a whole heap of minerals and vitamins and trace elements lacking from our standard diet. They also cost bugger all, saving you a heap of cash at the same time!
Big fan of that, and it is only thanks to them that I can still afford to keep the rent paid and run our little business.
Our “profits” are kinda pathetic and would definitely shock a few folks, but for us and the help of “weeds” it works out to be an awesome lifestyle. One we wouldn’t ever dream of changing!
Just like supermarket onions, peas and bacon, there are specific preparation methods needed for each one, and specific dishes that they pair best with. This is where the real fun starts, and being free or at worst costing far less than any other option to produce, you can really go wild with your experimentation. If you fail and it tastes pretty crappy just feed it to your chooks or spread it back on the garden to feed your soil and plants.
Self-sufficiency nutters like me are often loners, and they generally don’t feel the need to show off their culinary creations to the world. The same goes for most first nations people who are often just doing their thing as they always do, without the need to promote their methods to the world at large.
Folks that actively invest huge sums of money into more common food crops, and then invest even further to market it for sale, all have a very strong financial motivation for ensuring folks know exactly how to get the most from their “product”.
If folks don’t know how to cook and eat a potato, then farmers can’t sell the bloody thing. If you had never seen a potato before and someone just handed it to you, then you would no doubt stuff it up the first half dozen times you cooked it.
This is why it is always super easy to find info about them.
It also means “recipes” for weeds and uncommon food crops are often super hard to find as there just isn’t a buck in promotion of it.
It doesn’t mean they are not as tasty, or in many cases even yummier!
It doesn’t mean that they are not as healthy for you, or in many cases even healthier!
All it means is that you just have a crack at it yourself.
Since they cost bugger all it’s financially sensible, and since it’s kind of “new”, your own special little project, the sense of achievement you get when you work out a winner is far greater.
It’s pretty bloody awesome to look at a plate of food that YOU grew or harvested, and a recipe that YOU created all by yourself makes it even cooler!
I’m addicted, this is how I roll for life!!!
What to do with Inedible weeds?
If they are smelly or toxic and nothing eats them that’s good news!
Those guys can be used to make insect repellent sprays that either mask the smell of your edibles or even actively poison the little bastards eating your crops. They can be painted onto the stems of trees to prevent ants farming aphids on them, or to prevent the herbivores from chewing all the bark off during the dry drought times.
I talk more about that at my Insecticides Repellents and Poisons page.
If they are spiky, thorny, covered in little needles, or even irritant hairs, they can be placed around your crops to create a physical barrier. This is what the first fences were, just something the critters don’t like that kept our crops protected and here it is thousands of years later and they still do a great job.
As a bonus they are renewable, they trap carbon, they provide humus when they rot down improving and feeding your soil, and as well as all that, they cost bugger all. There are millions of them freely available in every habitat on the planet.
If they are prolific and take over everything even that’s cool! Species that rely on a heavy seed set and don’t grow well from cuttings can be harvested before they flower and drop their seeds, then just chopped roughly to be used as mulch.
Species that reshoot easily from cuttings can be spread out on the lawn or driveway in full sun to dry and die. You can also hot compost them to kill them, before again be used as mulch on the garden. They can be burnt for cooking fuel, or packed tightly in bundles and used to make biochar.
Alternatively, they can even just be shoved into a drum of water and drowned before being used as a type of liquid fertiliser.
That’s what I normally do here and my Liquid Compost link may be worth a look?
Larger woody weeds and trees can be cut off and used to make trellis and teepee’s for your climbing crops to grow up. If the wood you use is from species that don’t have many insect pests attacking it in your area, then that timber will also actively repel just as many insect pests from your nearby food crops. I also use them to make tools like brooms, pick and shovel handles, and all the roosts in my chook house are made from these “useless weeds”.
To my eye, there really is no such thing as weeds.
They are all just highly profitable resources waiting to be exploited for my needs. If everyone put the same huge amount of time, money and physical effort they do into a never-ending war on weeds, into utilising these freely available resources instead, then the benefits to not only humans but the ecosystems we live in would be truly mindblowing.
After all, a war can only be “won” when one side concedes defeat. It is ridiculous ego-manic nonsense to think that we can beat nature by sheer force of will. That bitch never gives up!
She’s been rocking along long before us, and she will still be rocking along long after we have gone.
Be friends with her or at least a non-combative acquaintance.
Work with her, accepting that you and I are just fancy animals that all share the same home too. Exploit every single excess and overproduction she produces, in every single little niche.
Nature, the critters, the plants, and even your wallet is a winner if we all just did that…
Makes sense yeah?