Closely related to spinach. Harvest the young leaves and growing tips, and cook due to a high oxalic acid content. Steam and serve simply with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.
Ready for eating in mid to late summer when the berries have turned a deep black. Nutritionally high in vitamins C and K, manganese, folic acid and antioxidants, and the leaves (most commonly turned into tea) have powerful antibacterial properties. Take care (and gloves) when picking.
Not to be confused with deadly nightshade. A Eurasian native introduced to Australia as a vegetable during the gold rush, the green berries can be toxic so eat in late summer when the berries are fully ripe (they should be completely black, drop into your hand with a gentle tug and have no bitter flavour). The leaves and tender shoots can also be eaten.
Also known as pigweed, this crunchy, lemon-accented warm-season succulent green is used extensively in Middle Eastern and Mexican cuisine. It’s great to add texture to salads and is also good braised with tomato, feta and pumpkin. Native to Australia and much of the world, it has been an important food source for Indigenous Australians.
One of the earliest plants in literature (the Roman poet Horace wrote about it in 30BC), mallow has a mild flavour, grows all year round, and is similarly textured to okra (and it also helps thicken dishes in which it’s cooked). Shred and steam the young leaves, boil them, blend to use in soups or even stuff them. Pale green seed heads can be added to risottos and curries.
An ancestor of many forms of cultivated lettuce, it more or less tastes the same as its vegie garden brethren. The leaves are more substantial than many lettuces, so it can also be cooked. The leaves form a rosette at their best between autumn and early spring, after which the plant becomes leathery and thorny.
A pungent salad green that emerges with the first autumn rains and grows through winter. Can be eaten raw (including bulbs and flowers) as an excellent spring onion substitute with a mild onion-garlic flavour. Not as good cooked. Most commonly found along waterways.
An annual more abundant during the cooler months, chickweed (so-called because chickens love to eat it) is commonly found in vegie patches and pot plants. Another weedy superfood, high in iron, antioxidants, and vitamins A and C, it can be used raw in salads and sandwiches or cooked and turned into pesto.
Found in lawns, paths and parks, dandelion is the most nutritious vegetable ever tested by the US Department of Agriculture. All parts are edible, including the yellow flower and the stem. Best choose young leaves from near the centre of the plant and from plants that are yet to flower, to avoid excessive bitterness. Chop finely and use in salads, or cook to complement the sweetness of root vegetables.
Also known as plantain, a common lawn weed in Australia that grows all year round. A tussock-like plant with long flower spikes, the bitter leaves can be cooked or eaten raw (go for the youngest, tenderest examples) while the raw seeds can be sprinkled onto breakfast cereal or cooked.
A common perennial, so-called because pigs are particularly fond of it. The leaves are rich in all sorts of goodness and can be used in salads, sandwiches and cooked like spinach; the flower buds can be stir-fried.
A member of the brassica family and a biennial/perennial plant, the leaves of the wild cabbage don’t form a head like the cultivated variety. There are at least 10 wild brassica varieties in Australia including mustard greens and turnip. Yellow flowers can be added to salads, and the leaves (unless very soft and young) are best cooked in stir-fries, noodle soups and as a side of wilted greens.
A large desert-looking cactus, central to Mexican cuisine, the fruit – which ranges from orange to red over summer – tastes like a cross between persimmon and kiwifruit. The green new-growth pads, cut into strips or diced and fried until tender, can be used in salads, as a salsa for tacos, or as a side with beans and rice. Don’t overcook or it becomes slimy. The smaller young pads of early spring are generally regarded as best.
Blending, drying and cooking all disarm the sting that can make nettle picking quite painful (take gloves and a pair of scissors or a knife). Blanch the leaves in boiling water for a minute then plunge briefly into cold water to preserve the bright green colour – then it’s ready to use in pastas, soup, spanakopita and pesto. Steep the leaves in boiling water for ‘strengthening’ tea.
Otherwise known as oxalis, it is easy to confuse wood sorrel with clover. The tart flavour of the tender green leaves makes it a great addition to omelettes, stews, thrown in at the last minute, and salads. It is difficult to collect a large quantity so perhaps regard it more as a herb than a vegetable.
Also known as oyster plant, the fleshy taproot (which looks like a small white carrot and is its primary culinary calling-card) can be roasted, fried and boiled. Make a gratin, croquettes, or cream of salsify and mushroom soup. The root should be harvested in winter or spring before the plant has flowered. Young shoots can be eaten as a spring vegetable.
Miniscule hook-tipped hairs give cleavers its name. A common garden weed with a reputation as a lymphatic system stimulator, it has edible stems, seeds and leaves but the texture (like Velcro) means it’s probably best blended in green smoothies.
Leaves, seeds and the brilliantly coloured flowers of the nasturtium plant are all edible, with a distinctive peppery taste. Use the young leaves and flowers in salads; the leaves can also be used to make dolmades. Grows abundantly in cooler weather; dislikes the heat of summer.
A ‘super’ food full of protein and the essential amino acid lysine. Young leaves and tips are best when cooked. The Greeks like to serve amaranath as a simple side dish steamed or boiled, with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. The seeds can also be eaten but are small and difficult to winnow. Several varieties, most commonly green amaranth, can be found across Australia in spring and early summer.
Unlike its cultivated cousin, wild fennel does not create a bulb. It is however a great source for fennel pollen – simply shake the yellow flowers into a paper bag. The young feathery fronds can be chopped finely and used like a herb. Let the seeds dry and grind them for later use.
Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland generously shared these images with us. You can find more helpful images of these plants, and many others, at their flickr account and in their book The Weed Forager's Handbook.