Smoothie Club Part Three – Edible Weeds

Healthier than a healthy thing!

Healthier than a healthy thing!

EARLIER THIS WEEK, I went along to my third Smoothie Club evening (my posts about the first one can be found here, and the second here). The June event was once again held at The Local, a cool café in Mount Maunganui (324 Manganui Road), where my drink of choice is a hot ginger toddy that’s strong enough to strip paint but oh-so tasty.

The topic for the evening was an interesting one – Edible Weeds, which I of course found irresistible. I’ve heard mutterings over the years about how healthy certain weeds can be, and I’m always looking for new foods to add to my already green-centric diet. Plus there’s the added attraction that weeds are… well, they’re weeds, which means they grow anywhere and they’re basically free if you know what to look for.

Once again, Kim Renshaw, the founder of Smoothie Club had picked a local expert to chat to the assembled healthy folk. This time it was Julia Sich, who runs Julia’s Edible Weeds. Julia’s a Wild Food Educator, and when it comes to weeds, she knows her stuff, which helps when you consider just how many New Zealand plants are classified as weeds – she brought along a book that covers every single weed that can be found on our fair islands, and believe me when I say it’s a thicker tome than anyone would expect.

Julia Sich from Julia's Edible Weeds.

Julia Sich from Julia’s Edible Weeds.

Julia’s had her fair share of health challenges, which have led her to a green diet, rich in smoothies and weeds. She outlines her story on her site better than I can:

“With a background of interests such as mine and thinking I was a healthy person you can imagine how shocking it was in 2004 to be diagnosed with Idiopathic Thrombocytopaenic Purpura (ITP) or low platelets, meaning I bruised easily and didn’t clot blood very well. It is an autoimmune disease.  I tried many alternative health remedies from homeopathy to acupuncture to aura healing to cure it. Nothing worked.  I also had heavy menstrual bleeding, which together with low platelets is a dangerous combination.  Thus in June 2008 I had to have a hysterectomy.  

Three months after that operation I suffered a stroke when the platelets were again extremely low although it is not clear whether the low platelets caused the stroke or not.  I spent six weeks in hospital, surrendered to the healing process of relearning to use my left hand and to walk again. It is with total gratitude, a lot of loving family support, a positive attitude and determination that I am completely recovered and I can honestly say that today I feel the healthiest and most energetic I have felt in all of my adult life!

How can that be?  I have to thank a combination of western medicine and edible weeds, leafy greens and fresh fruit turned into a rich green smoothie.”

That makes a lot of sense to me because I feel better and have more energy on the edge of 45 than I did at any point in my 30s, and it’s all down to a clean, green diet, with at least one green smoothie a day, usually two or three.

Julia recovered from the stroke but still wasn’t feeling all that great – she was stiff and had aches and pains, but it was only when she was urged to get into green smoothies by Palmerston North gardening expert Wally Richards that she noticed some major changes. She reckons that she basically wasn’t getting enough nutrition from her diet, even with supplements, but the smoothies changed all that, and now she drinks around one to two litres of green smoothie every day.

According to her, smoothies offer “…increased amounts of enzymes, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential fatty acids and fibre. They help boost the immune system, maintain the correct pH balance in the body, cleanse our inner organs and are a complete, easily digestible superfood.”

DrF-SC-Weeds2She now has heaps of energy, needs less sleep, wakes up alert and raring to go, and isn’t stiff and sore anymore. In addition, she’s lost weight, doesn’t have any issues with low blood sugar and her platelets are now stable.

So as far as green smoothie testimonials go, that’s a pretty powerful one but Julia’s talk was on eating weeds, and weeds were what we spent most of the evening looking at.

There are a number of reasons to eat weeds, and the most obvious one is that weeds are hardy plants. They don’t just magically grow anywhere with all that gardener-provoking vigour, they thrive simply because they’re strong enough to make it wherever they end up, which translates into high levels of nutrients, many of which are medicinal and useful for treating specific conditions, exactly as people have been doing since time immemorial.

As I pointed out in this article, organic fruits and vegetables are basically better than the stuff you find in the supermarket. Organics needs to survive more or less on their own merits, with far less help than an average conventionally farmed veggie, which is mollycoddled and nurtured within an inch of its life. If that’s the case, then surely a weed is the ultimate organic plant? It gets no help from anyone: there’s no pest control, no fertilizers, just Mother Nature’s grand plan.

The line between what’s a weed and what’s a valuable plant is a blurry one. In some countries, they prize weeds that we consider to be garbage, so consigning all weeds to the bin based on preconceived notions is just plain silly. A subtle change in fashion or some aggressive marketing could turn today’s weed into tomorrow’s popular superfood or tasty herb, so why not get in early?

So assuming you don’t pick weeds that have been sprayed, or the ones growing in polluted conditions on the side of the road, and you pick edible ones, then you’re onto a winner (the edible part of that equation is quite important). Most Kiwi gardens might well yield a small but ongoing harvest of edible weeds, and best of all, they’re always in season because unlike farmed plants, weeds don’t grow when they’re not meant to.

Julia runs edible weed workshops, and she’s got a book (and an eBook) called Julia’s Guide To Edible Weeds and Wild Green Smoothies – Learn How To Make Delicious Green Superfood Smoothies From Edible Weeds and Leafy Greens.

There are more edible weeds than you can shake a stick at.

There are more edible weeds than you can shake a stick at.

On the night, Julia had a tray full of edible weeds, some of which were quite familiar, and others that I’d never heard of. But one by one, she outlined the benefits of each – it really is a virtual pharmacy out there if you know what to look for. Try nettle, chickweed, plantain and dandelion for size, all of which are deeply nutritious, healthy and easily accessible. Dandelion for example is a nutritional powerhouse, as this extract from Julia’s site shows:

“Dandelions are perennials that grow in a rosette and are commonly found all over New Zealand in lawns, pastures, roadsides, and wasteland. They originate from Europe and are known for their deep tap roots which easily break when you try to dig them up. They don’t give up easily and will send up more leaves bringing up minerals from deep in the soil, benefiting the plants around them and us.  They can be dug up in autumn when the plant is withdrawing its energy into the root, dry roasted and ground into a delicious coffee substitute, which was a practice during the rationing of the Second World War in England.  The root is well known for being highly medicinal for the liver, gallbladder and kidneys. The root has laxative and diuretic qualities, which is the origin of the English folk name ‘piss-a-bed’ or in modern French ‘pissenlit’. 

The leaves contain high amounts of Vitamins A, B and C, potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorous, and other minerals. They also contain protein 19-32 percent in 100g which is an impressive amount just from green leaves.  Dandelion leaves are bitter which stimulates the release of saliva, and improves digestion. They are also a tonic, help lower cholesterol levels, increase blood and lymph circulation and are blood purifiers.  The leaves and flowers can be used in smoothies, salads, pestos and stir-fries. The flower-heads can be used to make wine.”

Recipes for a dandelion smoothie, coffee and pesto can be found here.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s worth noting that rooting around in your garden and grabbing what you think is an edible weed isn’t the best idea. If you’re keen on the idea of eating weeds (and I very much am), then get a copy of Julia’s book or an edible weed book.

As an interesting aside to the weed talk and a neat tie-in to my intense interest in fermented foods, Julia also ferments weeds, which seems to be a rare, if not unique approach to probiotics. She just takes a standard sauerkraut recipe much like this one and adds a selection of edible weeds to the cabbage and salt. I consider this to be a work of genius because this takes a food with superb nutritional qualities and makes it even better. Once I know what I’m looking at in the garden, you’d better believe that I’m trying this out.

Kim Renshaw and a smoothie made with weeds, sauerkraut, bananas, apples and avos.

Kim Renshaw and a smoothie made with weeds, sauerkraut, bananas, apples and avos.

And speaking of trying things out, it wouldn’t be smoothie club without a smoothie, so Kim whipped up a weedy smoothie with an assortment of Julia’s fresh weeds and some of her fermented weed sauerkraut (!) plus avocado, apples, bananas and blueberries. The result had a distinctly weedy smell but tasted quite good – something else to add to my must-try list.

Weeds seems to be a cunning way to get more goodness into any diet, and judging by the reaction of the others at Smoothie Club, I’m not the only one who’s intrigued by the idea of foraging in the garden for these green storehouses of nutritional goodness.

If you’re keen on finding out more about smoothies, green stuff and Kim’s deeply refreshing take on health – check out our fascinating interview with her (part one and part two). If you’re looking for more information about Smoothie Club in Auckland and Tauranga and soon in Taupo, check out her site at ASHLEY KRAMER

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