Eating the weeds

nettle and salad

With all the recent activity in the gardens, there’s been a lot of preparation for the coming months – what we’re going to grow for our summer salads, autumn crops and for storing over the winter.  We can get a bit preoccupied with the never ending battle with the weeds, but at this time of year some of these weeds are the tastiest crops around! 

Spring was traditionally known as the ‘hungry gap’, a time when winter stores have run out and the new season’s crops aren’t quite ready, but it is also a time when there is an abundance of nettles, ground elder, wild garlic, miner’s lettuce, dandelion, plantain, chickweed and sorrel – all delicious weeds that can be found around the edible campus.

At the weekend our gardeners took a break from nettle bashing and weeding to enjoy some pasta and nettle pesto and a salad which included ground elder, dock and rosebay willowherb – all picked from the Community Garden (we are blessed with a wide variety of weeds!).  Weeds are after all, just plants growing in the wrong place, and they often contain higher levels of nutrients than cultivated plants.

If you fancy a free and nutritious weedy meal, it’s important to take the following precautions:

1. Don’t eat anything you aren’t 100% sure about – make sure you can safely identify the plant.

2. Think like a dog!  Don’t take plants that are low down next to paths – Rover might have left his mark!  Similarly, it’s best not to forage next to busy roads, as the plants can soak up pollution.  You can find a helpful code of conduct here and an interesting discussion about roadside foraging here.

3. Some plants contain high amounts of oxalic acid, most notably docken and sorrel.  These are best eaten in small quantities – and avoided altogether if you are prone to kidney stones.

Nettle Pesto Recipe

Large bunch of nettles (remember to wear rubber gloves!)
1/2 cup of sunflower seeds
2 garlic cloves
Lemon juice
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Bring a pan of water to the boil and chuck in your washed nettles for 1-2 minutes to remove the sting.  Run them under cold water, drain and chop roughly.  If you have a food processor, blend the ingredients together, otherwise you can use a mortar and pestle.  Adjust the amount of garlic, oil and lemon to taste.

Enjoy!