I’ve recently enjoyed a visit to the Nelson area in the South Island where my friend Jasmin and I went searching for Hawthorn shrubs Craetagus monogyna . Its autumn and time to harvest the small red fruits (called haws). We found some bushes along roadside farm fences abundant with haws. Hawthorn is native to Europe and was brought here as an effective and attractive hedge plant. It’s Greek name Craetagus means flowering thorn and I was certainly made aware of the stiff 12mm long spines that are there to protect the nourishing and medicinal spring flowers, leaves and autumn fruits.
In my travels around the country I have been enjoying seeing the bright yellow faces of Hawkbit (Leontodon taraxacoides) in the ditches like a yellow continuous ribbon to look at along the side of the roads. They are about the only flower you see (now they’ve stopped sowing wild flowers) along the miles of motorway strips between the lanes approaching Auckland. I was so enjoying seeing them while crawling in traffic I took photos on the cell phone.
Why is it the only flower you see in the ditches? I thought it may have become resistant to herbicides, but it didn’t
show up on any list. However, it is very quick to recover in places that are sprayed. Turns out herbicides do not induce resistance in weed species, rather they simply select for resistant individuals that naturally occur within the weed population. This shows their incredible resilience and adaptability in their genetic pool. Food for thought: is spraying not poisoning ourselves in the long run?
Happy New Year everyone!
This is the first blog for 2017 and I thought I’d start the year with a plant that receives a bad rap. I’m sure you’ll be surprised to know that Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum) is an edible weed! It is commonly and mistakenly called ‘Deadly nightshade’ which is a completely different plant (although in the same solanum family) with the name Atropa bella-donna, deadly poisonous but extremely rare in NZ. However, Belladonna is a powerful medicine, used homeopathically and by optometrists to dilute pupils to examine eyes!
Black nightshade is an annual and starts out as a single stem with lush green, arrow head shaped leaves, growing into a many branched plant up to a metre tall. It has clusters of small, white flowers, with five pointed petals, followed by round berries that are initially green ripening to shiny black. The berries are full of seeds surrounded by a light green, juicy pulp. Read more
Puha (Sonchus oleraceus) or (Sonchus asper) are lushly going up to flower now in September/October. I
notice that the pony is seeking Puha out to eat and spring is the time many indigenous people including Māori gather it for making their boil ups. It is a well known spring tonic.
What does Puha look like? It’s a soft, succulent, tall, leafy annual reaching up to a metre. It starts out growing in a rosette, from which comes a tall stem with lots of flower buds. I thought the buds had woolly aphids because of the white substance at the base of the buds, but it’s not diseased just part of the plant. Yellow flowers appear followed by seeds with hairs that enable them to fly away like dandelion seeds. The leaves are soft, mid to dark green, hairless, smooth and divided into lobes, the one near the stem, wraps around the stem, sort of ear shaped. The stem is hollow, hairless and contains a milky sap.
Puha’s name oleraceus (Lat.) (photo left) means ‘of the vegetable garden’ and that’s where you’ll find it growing in your flower or vegetable garden, pasture or waste places.
August 30th 2016 saw me flying in a tiny FlyMySky plane across the clear, blue sky to Great Barrier Island from Auckland. The smooth flight gave panoramic views of the Island’s bays and inlets and bush clad peaks and valleys and the flat land, much of which looked like wetland.
I was met by family friends John and Lilian who live in Nagel Cove at the Northern end of the Island with access to their property only by boat. So the adventure began! We drove over very windy, luckily sealed roads to Port Fitzroy, stopping on the way at Okiwi Passion, the market garden run by Gerald and Kaitie Endt who
supply produce boxes to folk on the Island, and who a couple of months ago featured on Country Calendar. We picked up some eggs and Kaitie gave us a tour and I saw she had lovely weeds which they do their best to control with bamboo mulch. I pointed out some edible weeds and Kaitie is now going to include e.g. creeping mallow in her salad green mix. I returned to Okiwi later in the week to collect a range of weeds for the two popular workshops on identifying edible weeds I ran through the Art Gallery in Claris.
Once at Point Fitzroy, which consists of a store come post office, nurses’ clinic and small library we carried our luggage down to the wharf to John’s barge. He is the moorings maintenance man on the Island for all those essential tie ups for boats. All aboard we motored thirty minutes to arrive in their little cove to then unload into a small plastic dinghy with all the luggage and row ashore. Lilian had advised me to wear gumboots, and
now all was revealed, I clambered out of the dinghy into the water. Gear on the beach, we then hauled it up 45 steps. Fitness is a bonus of living there and I could totally appreciate all the work John has put into the property over thirty years with terraced rock (and now tyre) walled gardens, every rock of which has been carried up as well as all the recycled materials used to build the house, huge workshop, greenhouse, outside compost toilet and shower rooms. They have a wonderful pergola over a path up which they grow tomatoes, and beans in
summer. They have built the gardens on seaweed, resulting in very healthy looking vegetables, flowers, fruit trees and herbs. Frosts don’t occur allowing bananas, mountain pawpaw and citrus to do well.
I was very amused by Pete, the sun seeking Jack Russell who would only leap into action on hearing dolphins in the Bay and then bark from the shore like a good watch dog. I did get to see dolphins as a result.
John had excavated some land to create a flat area, disturbing and compacting the soil and scotch thistles had come up thickly, I pointed out that the deep tap roots would break up the soil and the refreshing tasty lemonade I made so surprised them that they could see these plants as a resource, rather than as a curse. I added that the roots are also edible and to prevent them spreading cut off the flower-heads.
John and Lilian have 12 solar panels for power and gel storage batteries backed up by a generator. They collect rain water, have composting toilets and wood fire for cooking and water heating, as well as gas cooking elements. They did have internet and Vodafone coverage but not Spark so I was off line for the four days that passed too quickly.
My time on the Island closed with two highly popular workshops identifying edible weeds run though the art gallery in Claris. I will definitely return to the beautiful Great Barrier Island.
A sure sign of spring is the new nettle shoots that are growing on the perennial nettle Urtica dioica (below left)
- . Urtica urns (left) is the other common variety which is annual stinging nettle or dwarf nettle which I have been eating all winter. It doesn’t mind cooler weather.
- Annual nettle is common in gardens, under trees and waste places, preferring light soils grows up to 60cm tall usually on a single stem, and has short stinging bristles on the stems & serrated leaves has clusters of tiny flowers in the leaf axils where the leaf meets the stem (photo below)
- perennial clump forming nettle
- to 1.5m tall if left undisturbed. It goes to flower in summer and the tall stems die and it goes dormant over winter.
- I grew mine in two containers to stop it spreading and we cut it down regularly and soaked it for 7-21 days to make a nutritious liquid plant food – it is said to be an insect repellent and a good foliar feed for plants
brushing the leaves of both varieties of nettle causes tiny bristles to release the poison histamine which stings
an antidote usually grows nearby such as dock or plantain – rub the leaves on the affected area
- grasping the leaves firmly (as in the saying “grasp the nettle” and be decisive) avoids being stung or use scissors to cut the leaves
- the sting becomes harmless when the leaves are dried, cooked or blended
- great in quiches, frittatas and soup (recipe below) as well as smoothies. Use like spinach or silver beet.Nutritional qualities
- nettles are highly valued by herbalists for their healing properties
- powerful blood cleansing and blood building plants
- rich in iron they are beneficial for anaemia, and other blood disorders and to boost energy levels
- diuretic (reducing excess water in the body)
- hair tonic, boil some leaves and once cooled rinse your hair with the strained liquid
- diminishes the susceptibility to colds
- restores digestion and deeply nourishes, because of so much nutrition
- Nettles are an excellent source of calcium, magnesium and chlorophyll, high in chromium, cobalt, iron, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and sulphur and protein B Vitamins,Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin A
- Nettle helps lessen allergies and menopausal problems
- as well as being a powerful preventative of rheumatism
- This is a wonderful wild plant, that deserves greater appreciationRecipes
To make an infusion (strong steeped tea): use 30gms dried leaves or two handfuls of cut-up fresh leaves in a quart/litre preserving jar. Fill the jar with boiling water, put the lid on and let it steep overnight at room temperature. Drink 1 or 2 cups per day.
You can also make a tea using an amount that gives you the strength of tea you like (maybe a teaspoon) of leaves in a teapot, steeping the brew for 5 minutes and then enjoy.
- 4 large handfuls of nettle tops (use gloves and ‘grasp the nettle’)
- 1 large onion
- 50 gm butter or coconut oil
- ￼ 2 potatoes 1 litre of vegetable stock
- 1 tbs crème fraîsche or yoghurt
- Seasoning including grated nutmeg
- Strip the nettles from the thicker stalks and wash
- Melt the butter and simmer chopped onion until translucent
- Add the nettles and chopped potatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes
- Add the stock and simmer for 20 minutes, using a wooden spoon now and then to crush the potatoes
- Add the seasoning with a little grated nutmeg and a swirl of crème fraîsche or yoghurt
- If you prefer a smoother soup, liquidise before serving.
- Reheat, add the other seasonings and serve. from
- “Food for Free” by Richard Mabey, Harper Collins Press, 1972.Nettle Smoothie– really yum!!
lots of greens like kale, chickweed, hollyhock leaves, lettuce, speedwell, including three sprigs of nettle, a banana, blueberries, a kiwifruit, some chia, turmeric and 250mls water. All blended up together to get the bubbly result below! ￼
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) has beautiful bright, pale blue flowers
on stems that can reach 120cm tall. It is not flowering now in July but I am still using the leaves, which are lobed, deep green and look like large dandelion leaves, and taste as bitter (the leaves can also be rounded, with a red tinge and not lobed). Bitter however, isn’t all bad, in fact it is very good for us and has a tonic effect on the liver and gall bladder and it primes the digestive system, triggering the release of bile and enzymes so that food is well processed. A lot of cultures around the world know this e.g. in Greece where they steam greens, dress them with lemon, olive oil and salt in a dish called ‘Horta vlasta’ to aid digestion.
I hear some groans with the mention of this plant because it is so hard to get rid of in the garden. Up until now I’ve not valued Oxalis at all as an edible weed. I’ve viewed it as containing too much oxalic acid for eating (the same substance in silver beet and spinach which we are told to eat in moderation) and a nuisance in the garden, where I try compulsively to get every last bulb out – an impossible task. That is the only way I have found that works to lessen the bulbs. The idea to keep hoeing off the leaves to deprive them of food and then they eventually give up and die, has not worked. We don’t spray either, so that means accepting them or taking the time to get the bulbs out. Not all species of oxalis have the bulbs, instead they have thick, fleshy rhizomes. This species often grows in shady places where not much else grows and they are filling in an empty place and I think they look decorative with their three leaves, each heart shaped that have distinctive Read more
They all have leaves somewhat similar to nettle, however the resemblance ends there for they are ‘dead’ and don’t sting.
Red/purple dead nettle Lamium purpureum is a widespread and common annual which can grow up to 50cm tall. It likes loose garden soils, river beds, arable land, driveways, footpaths, waste places. Such a variety of habitats shows its adaptability and it grows all year round. Its distinguishing feature is the tinged purple whorls of leafy flower-heads and reddish-purple hooded flowers that have spots of dark purple on the lower lips. The heart shaped leaves are in opposite pairs with long leaf stalks, the stalks getting shorter up the stem. Like all plants in the Lamiaceae or mint family it has square stems (which are hollow) and contains the volatile oil Germacrene produced by the plant for its antimicrobial and insecticidal properties, which protects the plant from being badly eaten, but I have seen the odd hole in the leaves. Bees like to pollinate the flowers.
Henbit Lamium amplexicaule is also an annual with a sprawling growth habit and it likes to grow in similar places to red deadnettle. To identify it you’ll see longer sections between leaves and near the top there are no leaf stalks, rather the rounder and smaller leaves clasp around the square stem which is also hollow. Bees go for the small flowers tucked into the leaves.
Staggerweed Stachys arvensis is the third look alike in this mint family trio. It is upright up to 50cm or sprawls and is an annual. It differs from the other two by having soft bristly, hairy stems that are solid, not hollow. The leaves are heart shaped but smaller than reddead nettle. The flowers are more lilac than pink/purple and the top lip is shorter than the bottom one, the other two plants have longer top lips that arch over the bottom lip. Its name comes from sheep staggering around when they’ve eaten too much, making them move on to new pasture.
This plant doesn’t have any smell and is not strong tasting either. We can harvest the young leaves of all three plants and use in salads and smoothies or use them in cooking e.g. stir fries, soup or omelettes. The smell of red deadnettle is quite pungent when the plant flowers (less when young) and I didn’t like it, however taking the time to chew it I find it has almost a sweet taste and a bit peppery. Other people tell me they like it as well. However, we’re all individuals and it is important to pay attention to how our body reacts to different plants. Till next time.
Barberry Berberis glaucocarpa made its first impression on me as a painful thorn in the middle of my foot and the long needle used to get it out, when I was about 8 years old playing barefoot near a hedge on our farm at Kakariki in the Wairarapa. It’s been many decades since then and I’ve recently discovered that besides being a prickly menace, it is actually a very medicinal plant! Read more