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Edible Weed

Hi, I’m Lisa, and I’m a second-year biotechnology student. My favourite food is sushi, and I’m

currently on the lookout for the best chocolate croissant. So far, Amano in Britomart and

Ferg bakery in Queenstown has been the top contender; however, croissant critiquing is a

lifelong journey.

Chocolate almond croissants from Luna Bakehouse, Newmarket

Perfectly Imperfect interested me as a unique company with a unique purpose of combating food loss, an issue that is rarely addressed. Due to the high standards for produce on grocery shelves and our lack of knowledge of diverse food sources, vast amounts of food are lost daily. Perfectly Imperfect’s beliefs and mission resonate with my values and interest in sustainability. They are trying to make a difference in how we eat, treat, and value food.

Everyone is different, so why can’t food be too?

Growing up, I would eat strange vegetables that I had never seen at grocery stores, and I couldn’t quite put a name to them. Now that I’m older, I’ve learned that these vegetables are edible weeds my mum had foraged or plucked from our overgrown backyard garden. Edible

weeds were a nutritious staple to our family dinners and can be found anywhere. In your backyard, in the park and around the uni campus… Best of all, they’re free! However, not all weeds are edible, so here are five edible weeds I’m most familiar with.

1. Amaranth

Mature purple amaranth

Amaranth is a personal favourite of mine. It is a tall, leafy summer annual with broad

leaves with prominent veins. Amaranth can be either green or red-purple.

However, I am personally more familiar with the green variety. The plant can be easily identified by its flowers, consisting of long, dense clusters of petals.

At home, we have the leaves stir-fried with garlic and soy sauce and served with a bowl of rice. Both seeds and leaves can be eaten, either raw or cooked and are high in nutrition.

Young green amaranth

The leaves are soft, tender, and have a sweet and nutty flavour. They are also a source of vitamins a, c, k and b6

and are rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and


2. Chickweed

A mass of chickweed

Chickweed is a favourite for many due to its tenderness and non-bitter flavour. It is a winter annual that sprawls on the ground with small, smooth, soft leaves. The stems are thin and easily broken. However, they have an elastic-like characteristic when pulled apart.

Chickweed grows in lush masses, which makes it easily harvestable and produces tiny white flowers that are also edible. It is commonly eaten raw and makes a pleasant addition to salads or can also be made into pesto.

When lettuce and spinach are expensive over the winter, I like to substitute them with chickweed, as the flavours are

quite similar (the texture is more similar to spinach).

Chickweed is also rich in minerals such as calcium, folic acid, essential fatty acids and vitamins a and c.

A yellow nasturtium flower with orange accents (rust present in leaves)

3. Nasturtium

Nasturtium is personally the prettiest weed on the list. It has sprawled over the empty plot of land beside my flat and produces beautiful, bright yellow and/or orange flowers. Every time I see the mass of bright flowers, I get a serotonin boost.

Nasturtium is an annual and has round, soft leaves, with prominent veins branching from the centre and hollow, tender stalks. It is a creeper and can be found growing on trees and other tall objects.

Mature nasturtium leaves

The leaves, stem and flowers can be eaten with the flavour of the leaves being peppery. I enjoy nasturtium best raw in a salad. However, it can also be cooked in a range of methods.

Nasturtium is rich in minerals such as vitamin c and is known as a tonic and blood purifier.

4. Puha

Puha plant

Puha was a frequent guest at our family dinners. It is a tall, leafy annual that grows lush in spring. The leaves are smooth and soft and have ridged edges, and the stem is hollow and contains white, milky sap. Puha is popular amongst Maori people and is commonly cooked in a boil-up method. My mum, however, would blanch puha and serve it with sauces. It can be eaten raw or cooked; however, it wasn’t my favourite due to the plant’s bitterness.

Cooking makes the bitterness milder and is, therefore, my preferred preparation method. My mum would rave about puha’s health benefits, so I

guzzled it down to the best ability. Puha is rich in minerals, good for blood and stimulates digestion.

A related species, the Prickly sow thistle, has more rigid and glossy leaves. The leaves are spinier, and the edges are prickly to the touch; however, they can be eaten and prepared similarly.

5. Dandelion

A young flowering dandelion plant

Personally, the flavour of dandelions is very similar to puha, and we also prepare them in the same way. They are leafy perennials that grow in a rosette with smooth, soft leaves with ridged edges (much like the puha).

Dandelion is easily distinguishable by its bright yellow flower or the dandelion seedhead, also known as blowball. They have deep tap roots, which bring minerals from deep within the soil to above the ground within their leaves. Therefore, the leaves are highly nutritious, containing high amounts of vitamins A, B and C, potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorous and other minerals.

Dandelion is known to improve digestion, help purify the blood and help lower cholesterol levels. The root is also edible and commonly used to make a coffee alternative.

It is always important to be cautious when foraging for edible weeds. Some weeds can be

poisonous, so if you are unsure what it is, don’t eat them. It is also vital to forage in areas not sprayed with pesticides or around contaminated water or soil. If foraging for edible

weeds is something you’re interested in, I highly recommend doing more research and

exploring other free food sources.

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