Urban foraging: Nutritious weeds growing in your backyard

Next time you weed the backyard, take a closer look at the plants you dig up because they could be more valuable than you realise.

Dandelions, plantain and cat's ear are three of the most common edible weeds growing in gardens and street verges across Canberra.

Urban forager Sarah Aylott told ABC Radio Canberra's Lish Fejer that these plants come from a long list of edible and highly nutritious weeds.

"Dandelion is the wild ancestor from which we cultivated broccolini, kale, brussels sprouts and kohlrabi," Ms Aylott said.

"We look at these plants and see them as something we want to get rid of from the garden, but they're unbelievably precious.

"The dandelion, apart from parsley, is the most nutritious plant ever tested by the US Department of Agriculture."

Ms Aylott is a garden educator with the National Botanic Gardens and facilitates foraging workshops at the Canberra Environment Centre.

Learning to forage safely

She said the safest place to eat plants is from your own backyard.

But in order to forage for edible weeds safely, you need to be very sure the weeds you are picking are what you think they are.

"There are many plants out there that I don't know and could be toxic," Ms Aylott said.

"I just look for the plants I know."

Reading a book on edible weeds, taking an edible weeds tour or studying reputable online sources are good places to start.

Ms Aylott said the plantain weed was one of the most common edible weeds and could be found all over the city in backyards and green spaces.

"Plantain has nice long oval leaves and a beautiful seed head which looks like a miniature grass tree.

"This is where we get psyllium husk from and if you eat something like Metamucil, this is what it is made from.

"Just break off the seed head and grind it up in your fingers.

"You can chop up plantain leaves and put them in your pesto, salads, stir-fry or a smoothie.

"You can sprinkle the seed head on your cereal or put it in your homemade bread or into stews or soups."

A bitter aftertaste

But if you are expecting a flavour that leaves you wanting more, you could be bitterly disappointed.

"Plantain has a very bitter aftertaste that improves with salt," Ms Aylott said.

"Those bitter tastes in the plants are from the alkaloids in the plant that have strong antioxidant properties.

"That's what's so good for us, but that's what we don't like because we'd rather eat chips and sugar.

"One of the nice things about getting into eating weeds is that you really start to appreciate the cultivation efforts of being able to eat a beautiful piece of spinach."

The Canberra Environment Centre will run a course on identifying and cooking with weeds on March 14 as part of a series of workshops.

(Picture: The dandelion root is both edible and nutritious and can be eaten fresh or cooked; ABC)