Meet the weed eaters

go! Platteland - - WONDERFUL WEEDS -

KwaZulu-Natal na­tive Nikki re­mem­bers be­ing hor­ri­fied when a farmer sprayed her­bi­cide on the cow pas­ture near her ru­ral Dar­gle home: “He didn’t want any­thing to com­pete with the grass for his cows and in the process ru­ined the real food that the farm labour­ers gath­ered ev­ery evening.” The food ac­tivist, writer and veg­e­tar­ian was fu­ri­ous, she says, as he was de­stroy­ing “ex­cep­tion­ally healthy food that might be turned into un­healthy burg­ers”. She cred­its Nom­buizelo Mokhoakhoa, a Se­sotho woman who came to work in the Mid­lands, as well as other local Zulu women, with teach­ing her about many of the edi­ble weeds she now eats “al­most ev­ery day”. A favourite dish is ama­ranths stir-fried with chilli, gar­lic and chopped toma­toes, and she loves net­tles steamed with pota­toes. Chick­weed is added to scram­bled eggs or sal­ads.

Nikki is the au­thor of the cook­book Mnandi (due in spring 2016), in which the im­ifino sec­tion “will en­cour­age you to take a whole new look at the abun­dant green­ery in your veg­gie beds”. Pro­ceeds will be do­nated to the Mpophomeni Con­ser­va­tion Group.

mpophome­ni­con­ser­va­tion­group.word­ No­ord­hoek-based con­ser­va­tion sci­en­tist and home gar­dener Dono­van has an open-door policy on edi­ble weeds: “I leave and even en­cour­age use­ful weeds that come up in the veg gar­den, where they are more ten­der and tasty as a re­sult of good grow­ing con­di­tions.” Black night­shade is al­lowed to do its thing, but, he adds, “When the chick­ens are out they eat all the ripe ones and leave none for us.” Chick­weed is a favourite: “I think it has one of the most dis­tinc­tive and pleas­ant flavours of all the edi­ble gar­den weeds.” He is more re­served about ama­ranths, say­ing, “De­spite the high pro­tein rep­u­ta­tion, I sus­pect they have lots of de­fen­sive chem­i­cals and may be ac­tively antin­u­tri­tional.”

Don’s in­ter­est in edi­ble wild plants be­gan in his 20s, when he was “still en­am­oured with this idea of liv­ing off the land”. And what is a weed? “It im­plies a strat­egy,” this ecol­o­gist with a PhD be­hind his name an­swers: “wild plants adapted to be ex­cep­tion­ally fe­cund, eas­ily dis­persed, and fast grow­ing… usu­ally evolved with min­i­mal chem­i­cal de­fences against pre­da­tion, so very of­ten quite palat­able.”


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