All around us are healing herbs that we take for granted and in some cases actively try and remove from our gardens. Take a moment to observe and it’s likely that you’ll find some gifts waiting for you in your garden. At this time of year the mallow Malva neglecta and chickweed Stellaria media are growing strong. While these two are delicious edibles they also have healing properties for the skin. Chickweed has the ability to gently heal any skin sensitivities and eliminate growths and cysts from the body. Mallow is also known for its skin healing abilities and getting rid of blemishes and irritation.
To take advantage of these healing properties they can be made into a salve. Salves are really simple ointments made from three main ingredients – plant material, oil and beeswax. This time of year local olive oil is being pressed and it’s easy to source. Beeswax can be picked up from people selling local honey. With a skin healing salve in mind I had a look in the garden to find other plants good for the skin and found:
- Plantain Plantago lanceolata which has antiseptic qualities and reduces skin irritations from bites and stings.
- Comfrey Symphytum works by increasing cell production which makes wounds heal quickly.
- Lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties which can help to heal minor burns and bites.
- Rosemary soothes the skin and is good for eczema and burns.
Another good ingredient to use would be Calendula flowers. These flowers can help with cuts, rashes and burns. This salve can be used for skin irritations, cuts, burns or bites and general skin repair and is applied to skin.
To make the skin healing salve:
- Gather clean vibrant plant material.
- Chop and dry overnight in a single layer on a tray to remove some of the water.
- Place plant material in a clean dry jar and cover with olive oil.
- Infuse the herbs into the oil. Infusing herbs can be done in many ways, I heated mine slowly at around 50C for about 9 hours all up over three days.
- Strain leaves from oil using some cloth and then place oil back in jar.
- Ratio to use is for each cup of oil add 80 grams of wax.
- Gently heat the oil and wax to combine.
- Once wax is melted, pour into containers for storage, wait until completely cool before putting the lid on.
Across South Australia right now is a sea of yellow. Oxalis pes-caprae also known as sour sobs is in flower. In our house we call it the love heart plant as its little leaves are in the shape of love hearts. These normally get pulled out in gardens due to them smothering and competing with plants around them. Before getting rid of them pluck the flowers and make a dye with them. This is a lovely activity to do with kids.
Kids seem to already know some of the secrets of this little plant because they will often pluck the stalk and suck the ends for the sour flavour hit. If you have a little person collecting flowers with you, let them eat the stems and leaves too. The stems, root and leaves are all edible. It has a lemony sour flavour and is harmless in small amounts. If you want to eat it in larger amounts just boil it first and discard the liquid before eating.
To make the dye collect a few cups of flowers. Fill and boil a kettle with about 1.5 litres of water. In a pot, add the flowers and boiled water and let steep. After 5 mins or so you will get a vibrant yellow water.
The fabric doesn’t need to be in the water for long to become dyed but if you leave it in for at least half an hour it should allow for the dye to be soaked up well by all the fibres and give a more even colour. Use natural fibres for this – eg cotton, wool, linen.
To make yellow, use either vinegar. To make orange, add bicarb soda. Now, I’m still trying to find an effective natural fixing agent for this dye as the yellow went orange after the first wash and vinegar and salt wasn’t strong enough to hold the colour after the wash.
I recently did a Growing Great Veggies course taught by Nat Wiseman from Village Greens and Steven Hoepfner from Wagtail Urban Farm. They both very generously shared their knowledge honed through experience running market gardens using organic methods. Well worth attending if you get a chance. The course was held at the Glandore Community Garden and growing in one of the patches was this gorgeous broccoli.
Broccoli is a favorite in our house and the whole plant can be eaten. The seeds can be sprouted. Leaves can be used in salads, juices or cooked. Stalks can be cut finely and used in stirfries or diced and put in stews and sauces. The heads can be chopped into florets and can be eaten raw or cooked in dishes like Gado Gado. The flowers are also edible. It’s such a versitile plant and fairly easy to grow through Adelaide’s wet winters.
A simple way to prepare broccoli is use it in a budda bowl. Budda bowls are a great way to put together simple seasonal produce into a nourishing meal. Braise the broccoli florets in stock, cook until tender. Roast some pumkin seasoned with oil, fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Assemble the bowl by adding broccoli, roast pumpkin, wild or salad greens (mallow, chickweed, cooked nettle), saukraut, and cooked chickpeas. Garnish with dandelion petals. For a simple dressing put together 1 part lemon juice and 2 parts olive oil, season with salt and pepper.
This recipe brings together all the winter flavours of Adelaide into a super simple dinner. Fennel seeds, orange and lemon can be foraged fairly easily. The hero of the dish is the oil that’s been freshly pressed from a friends family farm, bringing all the flavours together.
1kg chicken thighs
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons salt
2 large fennel bulbs
1/3 cup cold water
1 garlic clove, finely grated
2 teaspoons cornflour
Create the marinade by mixing together the oil, mustard, fennel seeds, salt, zest and juice of the oranges and lemon. Add the chicken, toss through so the chicken is well covered and marinate for a few hours or overnight if you can.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Cut the tube bits off the fennel and then cut each bulb into 12 wedges. Place the fennel into a large flat baking tray and put the marinated chicken and marinade on top of the fennel. Toss the marinade through the fennel but make sure the chicken is sitting on top of the fennel when placing it in the oven. Give the chicken a last drizzle of oil and bake for at least 1 1/2 hours.
Take the baking tray out of the oven then place the fennel and chicken into a serving plate. Make a gravy out of the juices by putting the baking tray onto a high heat on the stove. Mix the water and the cornflour together until there are no lumps. Then add to the pan juices. Add the clove of garlic and using a whisk mix the gravy for a few minutes until it starts to thicken.
There is a street in Adelaide that’s planted out with citrus trees as the street trees. They’re mostly oranges but there are a few lemons and cumquats in the mix. I’d love to know the story about how this cooperative act came about. They are clearly still enthusiastic about the citrus trees because I saw some more newer plantings down the end of the street. Verges and their street trees have so much potential for both food production and greening up spaces.
In my local council alone there is around 220km of verges. Right now there is a mix of street trees and under them dolomite and gravel. The gravel gets sprayed 2-3 times a year with glyphosate which is a known carcinogen. This results in bare ground that heats up in summer and is dusty. Ideally, money spent each year on poison and contractors could get diverted into planting out the verges. Local native ground covers as a bare minimum would make more sense that the current default option. On the other end of the spectrum is Buderim’s Urban Food Street which is 11 streets that grow edible food on their verges.
Other than planting a fruit tree on the verge, street trees can have edible fruit grafted onto them. This is the time of year to get grafting. All you need is some grafting tape, secateurs, grafting knife, and scions. You can use what you have handy for grafting tape if you don’t have it – eg electrical tape or plumbing tape. Any small very sharp knife can be used. Scions are just a piece of the edible tree you are going to attach to the root stock.
Select a tree close to home or a place you frequently visit that you’re prepared to look after. Pick a branch that hangs over the verge so the fruit doesn’t fall on the road or the foot path. The main principle is most fruit trees are compatible with root stock from within their genus. That means plum onto plum, cherry onto cherry and pear onto pear. Other stone fruits – eg apricots, nectarines and peaches can be grafted onto ornamental plum. Time to get grafting!
If my family had to pick one habit of mine that annoys the heck out of them its when I’m driving or walking and stop to look at plants. Today when out and about I saw a cleared house block and had to stop. Normally these cleared blocks are pretty barren and usually sprayed to keep the weeds down. This one wasn’t so I wanted to see what was growing. I was pretty surprised by the diversity of edible weeds on this block.
Most of the cover was from Mallow Malva neglecta. I really enjoy eating Mallow. It has a very mild flavour and has a slightly gelatinous quality to it. If you find it growing in your garden leave it in there and start eating it. Other plants will grow happily around it. Harvest the smaller leaves up to about the size of your palm, these can be eaten fresh. The seeds and young roots can be eaten too. It’s most likely taken over this block as this is compacted clay soil. The mallow is healing and fixing the soils on this block by aerating and breaking up the clay with it’s deep taproot and bringing up nutrients from deep in the soil up to the surface.
Other edible plants found were:
- Lambsquarter Chenopodium album
- Love lies bleeding Amaranthus caudatus
- Narrow leaf plantain Plantago minor
- Common blackberry nightshade Solanum nigrum (only eat when the berries are at purple/black powdery bloom stage)
I’m sure there was much more there but this is what I saw in a few minutes. When I got home I went out to the garden and also found stinging nettle which is also a good edible winter weed. Best to eat the young new shoots when using these for cooking. They need to be cooked first to get rid of the stinging hairs. These can be eaten like spinach when cooked, or fermented into nettle beer. As they get older the stems can be used for weaving.
100 years ago the land I live on used to be a substantial orange grove. There’s still one of the original trees from the original grove in my next door neighbours backyard. Up the street another neighbour has a tree and can’t eat more than one a day because he’s diabetic so he’s been sharing the fruit with people in the street. About 10 kgs were dropped over to me one day after I’d foraged some from an orange tree that grows on public land. Needless to say I had way too many oranges.
Apart from giving a heap away we’ve been eating them fresh. I also made some juice. I have made Tunisian orange syrup cake in the past which is delicious but it doesn’t use up a lot of oranges. To use up the bulk of these ones I’ve cut them thinly into 5mm rounds and put in the dehydrator (10 hours at 70C) to make dried orange chips. They look like stain glass windows when ready. No need to peel off the rind this can be eaten too when dried. Once cooled and dried melt some dark chocolate and dip the orange chips into the dark chocolate. Put in the fridge on trays to set the chocolate. Store in an air tight jar.
I came across this Davidson plum that was fruiting right now. The flavour is like eating an intensely flavoured lemon tart. I never thought they could grow in Adelaide but like other subtropical plants they just need the right microclimate. While recipes say to add more sugar to disguise the tartness, I personally love tart fruit so wouldn’t add much sweetness to these if at all. These can be eaten fresh or cooked up like any other plum. Until I get my own little tree or access to more fruit I’ll have to just dream about cooking these up into a divine little tart.
My Kris Kringle bought me a subscription to one of the big Australian gardening magazines last Christmas. I really enjoy sitting back and reading the magazines that regularly turn up, but I was bemused at one little snippet in the mag on chickweed. It said that a job to do in the garden was to remove chickweed. I was confused. Why? Chickweed is such a good plant to have in the garden and is very good to eat. There was no mention of the benefits of this humble little plant.
So, this morning while out in the garden I came across a little patch of chickweed in a wooden box I was getting ready to plant in. Instead of removing it, I harvested it for eating before planting the other plant. To harvest chickweed, gather it up in your hand and cut with scissors like you’re giving it a crew cut. This will help it reshoot and grow again. When you bring it inside make sure you inspect the harvest carefully. This is because it scrambles and tangles up with other plants that you may or may not want to eat.
Chickweed or Stellaria media can be confused with Euphorbia peplus, which is definitely not edible. Chickweed has a line of hairs along the stalk which changes position at each node. Euphorbia peplus releases a white milky sap when you break the stem. This sap is great for burning off warts, sun and cancer spots. It’s not good if you get the sap in your eyes or mouth. Like all wild edibles, be sure about your identification before eating.
After its been separated out from any other plants, put it in a bowl of water. Swish it around to get any dirt off. I changed the water over a few times to get any gritty dirt out of the plant. At this point you can shake it dry and use fresh in a salad. Chickweed can also be pulped up and placed on any itchy skin conditions like a rash. Mine grows near nettle, and is a good remedy if you get a skin irritation from the nettle. It can be eaten a few different ways but today, I made chickweed pakora pancakes for lunch.
While this recipe makes heaps of pakora mix, keep the dry mix in a jar in your pantry for easy pakora when you feel like it.
1 kg besan flour
60 gm salt
40 gm cumin powder
30 gm garam masala
75 gm garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
25 gm asafoetida
25 gm fennel seeds
Mix all the dry ingredients well and store in jar in pantry. Just add a little water when ready to make a thick batter.
Chickweed pakora pancakes
2 cups chickweed, finely chopped
1 cup pakora flour
Enough water to make a batter
olive oil, for frying
Mix all the ingredients well. Add 3 – 4 tablespoons of oil to the pan and use medium heat. Add tablespoon of chickweed mix to the pan and flatten into a pancake. Fry on each side for 4 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with chutney.
These Lilly pilly had a lovely crunchy texture, refreshing mild flavour and didn’t have a strong tannin flavour like some can. This was a mighty tree but had some low branches I could harvest from. While they’re great to eat fresh I decided to preserve some of their goodness. They are high in vitamin C and I suspect are good for staving off winter colds and flus.
First I cleaned them up by tipping them in the kitchen sink with cold water and a cup of white vinegar. I let it soak for 30 mins and give it a little swirl. Then took out a hand full at a time and picked out the bad ones before placing in an extra large colander to dry. These were relatively big berries so it didn’t take too long. These can be stored fresh in the fridge or made into a pink fermented fizzy drink. I dried mine and made a mint jelly with them.
Dried Lilly Pilly
Cut them around the middle and pop out the seed with your thumb or the tip of the knife. Place each half facing up on a dehydrator tray. Place some foil underneath or silicon baking sheets so they don’t fall through when they shrink. Set the temperature on 70C for 7 hours. Good sprinkled on top of muesli or eaten in a trail mix.
Lilly pilly minty jelly
Native mint, Mentha australis
Add just enough water to cover the fruit. Chop the apple and include the skins and cores. No need to deseed the berries. Just put them in the pot whole. The berries will want to float so place a plate over them to hold them under the water. Bring to a boil and a rolling simmer for 30 mins. It’s ok if it cooks a bit longer, you just want it soft and for the flavour and pectin to release in the water.
Once it’s cooked set up a strainer over a large bowl and line it with a clean cloth. I used calico but any clean cloth will do. Place a small plate into the strainer to stop the big particles pushing through the cloth. This will result in a clearer jelly. Pour all the fruit into the strainer and carefully remove the small plate. Don’t gather up the sides of the cloth and squeeze or you will get cloudy jelly. Leave to drain into the bigger bowl overnight. In the morning I had a pink coloured opaque liquid. You can keep the liquid in the fridge until you’re ready to do next step
Ratios are 1 cup liquid to just over 2/3 cup sugar. Bring to a hard boil for at least 10 minutes to help it reach setting point. Do the freezer plate test to check if it’s ready.
While this is boiling prepare your native mint. This mint is quite strong so you don’t need a lot. Place it in a bowl and blanch by pouring some boiling water over the leaves. Take leaves straight out of the water and place on a clean tea towel and pat dry. Let the jelly cool down a bit in the jars before placing mint into the jar. This will help the mint suspend in the jelly rather than clump up together.
You can skip adding the mint step and just have Lilly pilly jelly if you prefer.