Common weeds and herbs for your summer salads
Many of us don’t realise how useful our garden plants can be in making colourful, nutritious additions to summer salads. They are also great as a source of dietery fibre (see New Research Articles page for more on this). Here’s a short list of common plants that can be eaten raw! Have a look at Wikipedia’s “List of leaf vegetables” for more. (Recipes from allrecipes.com.au. Pictures and facts from Wikipedia).
Common Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Although purslane is considered a weed in Australia, it can be eaten as a leaf vegetable. It has a slightly sour and salty taste. The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible. Purslane can be used fresh as a salad, stir-fried, or cooked like spinach. Australian Aborigines use the seeds to make seedcakes. Purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid in particular) than any other leafy vegetable plant. It also contains vitamins (mainly vitamin A, vitamin C, and some vitamin B and carotenoids), When harvested in the early morning, the leaves have 10 times the malic acid content as when harvested in the late afternoon, and thus have a significantly more tangy taste. See below for recipe!
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
Peppermint has anti-oxidant properties and a clear cooling taste, due to menthol. Clinical trials of peppermint tea support the traditional use of peppermint to treat gastrointestinal and respiratory tract inflammation Added to salads or cooked vegetables such as peas, beans and potatoes, that are then cooled and used in salads, it adds a wonderful aroma. Minced and combined with yogurt it can be used as dressing.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris L)
Thyme oil contains thymol and is strongly antibiotic. It has a strong taste, but can be used fresh to add flavour to salads
Summer Thyme Salad
1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped
3 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
The fresh leaves can be added to salads in the same way as mint. Teas containing lemon
balm are very cooling, with a flavour of both mint and citrus. It’s a brilliant herb for iced tea (with a little honey). It’s also great added to vinegar as a dressing.
Lemon Balm Vinaigrette
3 tablespoons light olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
6-8 leaves lemon balm
Fresh black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
Gotu Kola (Centella or Indian pennywort)
Centella is used as a leafy green in Sri Lankan cuisine. It is used in salads and most often prepared as mallum; a traditional accompaniment to rice and curry.
1 bunch leafy vegetable (centella, plus silver beet, chicory, beetroot leaves, turnip greens, parsley)
1 tsp black mustard seed, handful curry leaves, 1 tsp turmeric, pinch of salt, green chilli, finely chopped, 1 cup grated fresh coconut, oil
Wash the leaves and shred them finely. Heat a little oil in a wok or frying pan, add mustard seeds and fry till they begin to pop. Add the curry leaves, turmeric, salt, stirring all the time to prevent the leaves burning. Immediately add the leafy vegetables and stir rapidly. When the leaves have darkened and become limp, add the green chilli and coconut and stir through for 1 or 2 minutes at the most.
Take the mallum off the stove and serve.
Parsley (Petroselinum hortense)
This member of the carrot family comes in many leaf forms and can be used in the above recipes as a “leafy green”. It’s most popular salad role is in the Greek salad, Tabouli
Ingredients (serves 6)
135g (3/4 cup) fine burghu,(or soy grits or quinoa)
80ml (1/3 cup) fresh lemon juice
60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
Sea salt flakes & freshly ground black pepper
3 ripe tomatoes, halved, deseeded, finely chopped 1 cucumber, halved lengthways, deseeded, cut into 1cm cubes
3 green shallots, ends trimmed, thinly sliced
4 cups loosely packed coarsely chopped fresh parsley plus 2/3 cup loosely packed coarsely chopped fresh mint
Place the burghul in a medium bowl. Add enough cold water to cover and set aside for 1 hour to soak. Drain burghul through a fine sieve and squeeze out excess moisture. Spread burghul over a baking tray lined with paper towel and set aside for 30 minutes to dry.
Combine the lemon juice and oil in a screw-top jar. Season with sea salt flakes and pepper. Shake until well combined. Combine burghul, tomato, cucumber, green shallot, parsley and mint in a large serving bowl. Drizzle with dressing and stir to combine. Serve immediately.
Add flower power to your salads:
Marigold (Tagetes - various species)
The marigold is very significant in Indian and Nepalese culture where marigold garlands are used during festivals. It is always sold in the markets for daily worship and rituals. It is used as a culinary herb in Asia, Peru, Ecuador, and parts of Chile and Bolivia,
1 bunch purslane, in 1-inch sections, thick stems removed
1 small cucumber, cut into matchsticks
2 Tbs basil, chopped (or any other herb you have on hand)
2 Tbs parsley, chopped (or any other herb you have on hand)
1 large marigold
¼ cup chopped leek (the light green part)
Juice of ½ lemon or lime
3 Tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Put the cucumber in a strainer over a bowl and sprinkle with about a teaspoon of salt. Let it drain while you get the rest of your ingredients ready, and the cucumbers will lose some water and stay crunchy. Rinse the cucumbers and drain again.
In a medium bowl, combine purslane, cucumber, basil, parsley and leeks. Use scissors to snip the marigold petals into the bowl. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and stir, then taste and season. Serves 2 as a side dish.
Tropaeolum, commonly known as Nasturtium
All parts of the plant are edible. The flower has most often been consumed, making for an especially ornamental salad ingredient; it has a slightly peppery taste reminiscent of watercress, and is also used in stir fry. The unripe seed pods can be harvested and pickled with hot vinegar, to produce a condiment and garnish, sometimes used in place of capers, although the taste is strongly peppery.
Violet, (Viola odorata)
The flowers, leaves and roots of various Viola species are used for medicinal purposes, being rich in vitamins A and C. Viola flowers are also used to make an herbal tea that is used in Chinese herbal medicine.
When newly opened, Viola flowers may be used to decorate salads The young leaves are edible raw or cooked as a leaf vegetable.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Traditionally used in salads and to make tea. The flower petals, along with other ingredients, are used to make dandelion wine. The ground, roasted roots can be used as a caffeine-free dandelion coffee.
Dandelion leaves contain abundant vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C and K, and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron and manganese.
1/2 pound torn dandelion greens (use young, soft leaves)
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, toss together dandelion greens, red onion, and tomatoes. Season with basil, salt, and pepper.