Foraging Guide: Getting to Know Your Neighbourhood, One Plant at a Time
On the weekends, I try to get outside as much as possible. During the week I'm lucky enough to walk along the ocean most mornings, but there isn't much time to dawdle around looking at plants before work. That's why when the time affords me, I like to meander on my walks, taking in all the sights, smells and plants along the way. Although studying herbal medicine is a great way to learn the history and science behind plants, the methods of growing, foraging and harvesting herbs are pretty much left for you to figure out in your own time. I've been growing herbs for a few years, and although it's satisfying in it's own way, there's something deeply fulfilling about foraging. It might be because there's still a certain "wildness" associated with the plant, even if it's decided to sprout from a crack in the footpath. There's also so much more to observe with a plant in it's natural habitat, rather than in a pot or garden. Truly, my dream is to have a rambling garden with herbs and flowers growing as wild and free as they like. But for now, I love wandering around my local spots and observing what's growing and where. Further to adding to your plant knowledge base, there's a school of thought that whatever herbs are growing around you in abundance are probably the exact plants you need to cure your specific ailments.
On my last outing, I wandered up the gully near my house and came across some plants that I was a little familiar with, but wanted to know more about. I picked a few of these with the intention to come home, identify and study them. There's a real spark that is felt when you are walking through a leafy part of the world and you are able to identify the plants around you. Suddenly, there is a whole other level of connection and knowledge right around you. I could have picked more common plants that I know are of medicinal value - but this would be defeating the point. As a result, the below pickings are not all herbs or medicinal, but that's an inevitable part of this project! They are, however, all edible and non-poisonous plant allies.
In the hope of making this a regular thing and encouraging others to get out there and do the same, here are four plants, some of which aren't classified as herbs, but nevertheless worth knowing.
Cobbler's Pegs, Bidens pilosa
There are several different types of Bidens, this one being the most common one I see around Bronte. A native of the Americas, and a member of the daisy family, Bidens have little burrs which get stuck to your socks and pants as you brush by, hence the common name "Cobbler's Pegs". Bidens pilosa is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat digestive orders such as stomach ulcers as it is thought to lower stomach acid and have a cooling effect on the body. Herbalist Michael Moore recommends it as a mucous membrane tonic, citing it's anti-inflammatory effect as decreasing irritability in the urinary tract. Stephen Harrod Buhner also cites it's anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial prowess as beneficial in treating UTIs, gastritis, diarrhoea and inflamed mucous membranes from colds and respiratory infections. I'd never heard of this herb until I spotted it growing from my neighbour's lawn and I'm glad I came across it, as it's a seriously powerful little plant which I intend to use in future.
Fringed Quickweed, Galinsoga quadriradiata
Interestingly enough, this second plant is also a member of the daisy family and said to be native to central Mexico. It's bright, attractive yellow flowers caught my eye as I spotted it sprouting from the sandstone cracks of a house down the road. Although not widely used in herbal medicinal practice, the leaves are high in calcium, vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals. The leaves, flowers and stems are edible and added to salads, soups and stews, most commonly in South American dishes.
Wood Sorrel, Oxalis acetosella
Ok, so, I may have cheated a little bit with this one. Wood sorrel is a very common plant which can be found just about anywhere. Having said that, I've never really paid much attention to this little guy before. You could very easily mistake it as being clover, but if you look closer you will notice it has heart shaped leaves and distinguishing yellow flowers. Wood sorrel has a high level of oxalic acid, similar to other leafy greens such as kale or spinach, so try to eat in moderation. This lends it a sour, lemony taste, which can offer refreshment if you find these while hiking around on a summer's day. You can add the leaves and flowers to salads to add a bright pop of flavour or enjoy it as a tea. Wood sorrel is high in vitamin C making it anti-scorbutic, and it's also used as a diuretic. It's also said to have a refrigerant (cooling) action, useful for healing fevers and catarrh.
Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima
Last in my little bouquet I picked myself a few sprigs of alyssum. Recently on a trip up north to Byron Bay, I had breakfast at the cosy Folk cafe and they garnished my tea with this sweet smelling flowering plant. It has a strong honey-like scent and works as a heavenly garnish, not only for the smell but also their beautiful clusters of flowers resembling snow. It's not used in herbal medicinal practice, but it's a wonderful addition to herbal teas and attracts beneficial bugs in the garden.