Healing plants hidden in plain sight

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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:

  1. Gather clean vibrant plant material.
  2. Chop and dry overnight in a single layer on a tray to remove some of the water.
  3. Place plant material in a clean dry jar and cover with olive oil.
  4. 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.
  5. Strain leaves from oil using some cloth and then place oil back in jar.
  6. Ratio to use is for each cup of oil add 80 grams of wax.
  7. Gently heat the oil and wax to combine.
  8. Once wax is melted, pour into containers for storage, wait until completely cool before putting the lid on.

 

 

 

Broccoli budda bowl

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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.

Chickweed

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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.

Pakora flour

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.