Friday, 25 April 2014


“One man's meat is another man's poison” – Proverb

Ever since I can remember our family meals were at times supplemented by wild green plants, growing in abundance in country and city, field and garden, mountain and plain. Greens that nobody sowed intentionally and so often contemptuously dismissed as “weeds” by the “serious” gardener. However, having a Greek heritage, I was brought up to know of wild things that grow abundantly in uncultivated places and which can be gathered at pleasure to be put to all sorts of uses. Wild plants that are carefully collected for food, for medicine, or to make into pleasant drinks for winter or summer. Wild plants to repel insects and to add fragrance to freshly washed clothes. Flowers to dry and hang up to repel unfriendly spirits, herbs to use for flavouring and spicing up traditional dishes. Wild plants to nibble on while one was walking in the fields or mountains, or greens to collect and use to create dishes that were tasty, nutritious and healthful.

I was learning from my parents, my grandparents and the rest of the relatives, each of them teaching me a little of the lore that they inherited from our forebears. These are plants that nature gives us most bountifully and which we should not be so quick to delegate to the list of “noxious weeds”. Serious medical and epidemiological research has shown us that diets such as the traditional Mediterranean diet are helpful in protecting against such diseases as constipation, diverticulosis, cancer of the large bowel, prostate and breast cancers, heart disease and stroke. The wild plants gathered from nature play their role in not only supplementing diet but also in protecting against disease. Active constituents in them preserve normal functioning of the intestinal tract, ensure that liver and gall bladder operate optimally. These lowly weeds lower fats in the blood, provide a wealth of vitamins, minerals and trace elements and contribute to healthy longevity.

Wild plants can be divided into several groups depending on the use to which they are put. There are medicinal ones and fragrant ones, others that are decorative and associated with traditional or superstitious uses. Many of the edible ones can be collected and eaten raw as a salad in their own right, or alternatively prepared in all manner of ways either on their own or alternatively mixed with spinach, silverbeet, etc.  Wild plants have here been divided into the following groups:
Tisane greens (eg. wild marjoram, dittany, chamomile, etc).
Herbs and flavourings (eg. wild thyme, oregano, dittany, fennel, etc)
Salad greens (eg. dandelion, chicory, rocket, mustards, etc)
Boiling greens (eg. wild lettuce, mustards, rocket, etc)
Stewing greens (eg. docks, mallow, fennel, etc)
Toxic medicinal plants (eg. foxglove, opium poppy, belladonna, etc)
Highly toxic plants (eg. oleander, hemlock, aconite, etc)
Plants giving rise to allergies (eg. poison ivy, box elder, several pollens, etc)
Ceremonial or decorative plants (eg. palm fronds, wild olive branches, laurel, etc).

A great deal of skill, experience and knowledge is required to confidently and correctly identify most of the wild plants that are useful to collect. Unless one is sure that a plant has been identified correctly, one should not pick it, much less consume it! Many poisonous plants are unfortunately similar in appearance to the ones that are nutritious and beneficial (eg. wild mushrooms). Some plants may require special treatment in order to become edible (eg cooking rather eating them raw) and some plants belong to groups whose consumption is contraindicated in certain diseases (eg. kidney disease or gout).

When collecting plants, one should be sure to do so only in places that have not been sprayed with weed killers or pesticides. Many of the plants I have mentioned above are considered by many to be “weeds” and steps are taken to eradicate them each season. The chemicals used for spraying are toxic and can cause harm or serious poisoning.

Wild plants should be harvested in a manner that does not damage the ecological niche in which they are found. Most of the plants I mentioned above are considered undesirable by the majority, so few will object to their removal and they will self-sow the next season. However, one must be careful in how and where one's bounty is collected, as one can easily trample on fragile protected species while harvesting one's “noxious weeds”. 


  1. Hi,
    Just paying you a visit since you're the only blogger that post daily.
    It's nice knowing that I'm not the only crazy one.

  2. I did not know rocket was classified as a weed. I don't like wild rocket but I do like Arugula which is also called rocket.....not easy to get here anymore because it is out of fashion where I live...