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Edible & Useful Weeds


Notes prepared by Christine Rockley of Chris Rockley Studios, April 2024

Have you eaten a ‘weed’ before?

Firstly, let’s define ‘WEED’?
‘A plant growing in the wrong place’ or a opportune plant thriving in a foreign but idyllic location.

The term WEED is a blanket term and does not discriminate if the plant was formerly a crop plant, herb, garden plant or landscaping plant. Look for its ORIGIN and historic USE, that will tell you how you can use it.

What are the characteristics of a successful weed?
Resilience – Frost free, fire propagated, drought free – Fleshy reserves,
Protection – spikes, toxins, ground hugging.
Easy to propagate – growth from one than one method ie air, aerial roots, stoloniferous roots, fan-shaped seed appendages for easy propagation – helicopter propeller, seeds covered in sweet fruit – making it easily spread by birds – with free manure, ants with free stockpiling and no dig method.
Evolutionary functional engineering  Bathurst Burr hooks on seedhead inspired Velcro. There are many examples of this.

As our natural world evolves to a changing landscape, we have a lot to learn from weeds. They are thriving and adapting. Perhaps, we can utilize them rather than plant inefficient crop plants and vegetables that are water and nutrient hungry.

Look at them as a potential resource instead of a problem that needs dealing with or poisoned. For example, Amaranthus is a drought free staple food. Sow thistle was eaten by indigenous people for years.

Just a word here, WEED means a plant is out of its location. They are different in each location. The ones we are looking at today are centric to Hobsons Bay.

The benefits of foraging

We are natural foragers (gatherers). Supermarkets have made us lazy.
The vitality in a totally wild plant is astonishing, packed with vitamins and medicinal qualities. If you’re looking for new food staples, look at the ‘Families’ of what you normally eat. This can reveal lots about the edibility of a plant.

SOLANACEAE – Edible fruit and root nodes (eg. Tomatoes, potatoes, blackberry nightshade)
ASTERACEAE – Edible seeds, tubers (eg. Sunflowers, Jerusalum artichoke, Salsify, Dandelion)
APIACEAE – Umbelliferous seedhead, roots, stems (eg. Carrot, Parsley, Coriander, Fennel, celery, wild carrot)
CARYOPHYLLACEAE – leaves and stems (Carnation, Chickweed) Swollen nodes a giveaway feature, white or pink flowers.
AMARANTHACEAE – Seeds, leaves, root tubers (Spinach, Beets, Quinoa, Amaranthus)

Eating Seasonally

When you start foraging, note down the dates you see them growing, flowering, fruiting. A journal, diary or calendar will do the trick. This way you can determine which season you can expect them to pop up.

Get to know when plants are flowering and fruiting in your patch. Create a simple calendar and note what shows each month. The following year you’ll start to see the seasonal patterns.

Autumn: Wild Brassica, radish, rocket; Hawthorn berries, Dog Rose fruit, late blackberries, Cleavers, Prickly lettuce; Sow thistle; Dandelions.

Warning Bells

Over doing it
Too much of anything can be bad and Oxalates, arsenic and formic acid can build up in the body and cause health Problems. These are also in basic foods we commonly eat eg. Tomatoes, spinach.

Food allergies

Learning the Plant Family can alert you to commonalities ie Pepper Tree is related to cashews (nut allergy)

Poisonous (never eat)
Italian buckthorn
Inkweed (Phytolacca octandra)
Capeweed – Hayfever
Mothplant (look like choko fruit)
Prickly paddy melon (Cucumis myriocarpus)
Ragweed – pollen allergy
Pattersons Curse

Weed Foraging basics

Where to find weeds
The safest place to find edible weeds is in your own back yard. At least you know they haven’t been sprayed with any poison.
However if you don’t have a back yard or don’t have weeds, here are some tips to finding good weedy harvest sites.

Check the weather and dress accordingly. Regular walks around your area to look for spots. Look out for poisons, dogs or other pollution. Also hazards such as snakes. Take a small ID guide with you to start recognising your finds.

Like most plants weed need water, minerals and sun. Look for untouched, neglected wild spaces. Empty or unmown blocks, former dump sites, gullies, watercourses, fields and paddocks, roadsides, and track edges. Look carefully at the site and what is growing there, does it look healthy and lush?

Check for signs of Chemicals

Pesticide, herbicide, petrochemical or fertiliser. What is or was the land used for? Could be in remediation for chemicals, mining, or a petrol station. Even council planting beds and Landcare sites are full of herbicide residue.
If recently sprayed the plants will be wilting, browning, or stunted. Recent spraying will show red or blue dye in targeted plants.

Water Quality
If there is an obvious water source there, where is it coming from? Is it clean? Is it runoff from stormwater or agriculture? Healthy rivers or ponds will show signs of animal (birds, fish, insects and water bugs) and plant life. If you see no signs of life – get out of there.

‘Get your eye in’ and watch out for Look-alikes eg Hemlock. It’s a good idea to learn one at a time until you know it well. I learnt by pulling them out, saying their name and studying them while bush regenerating.
Once you do this a drive anywhere will be fruitful but slightly dangerous.
Use a wide range of ID guide: Weeds; Herbals; Weed ID apps;

Identifying what you have?
Do you know its common name? – This is a starting point only as more than one plant can have the same name. Also don’t rely on just one image only when searching on the internet. Each photo will give you more information.

What is its scientific name? Once you find its scientific name you can google search for country of origin and uses in that country.

Look at the plant description – All of the visual features must add up. It is not enough to have the same flower type or leaf formation

GETTING YOUR EYE IN…learning to recognise some botanical terms and features

Look closely at:
Overall plant size and habit
Is it a Herb (< 30cm), grass or sedge, shrub (1-3m), liana (vine) or a tree (3m plus.)

Leaf shape – Shape of the leaves (tip and base) and how they are arranged around the stem ie alternate or opposite.
What are the edges of the leaves doing? Undulating, serrated, lobed? Are there hairs or spines, pores, strong patterning? What are the veins doing? Parallel, divided?

  1. Flower – Colour, Shape, petals, sepals, reproductive parts (Stamen, style and ovary. What develop stage is it at? Bud, Flower, pollinated and developing seeds, pods etc or fully mature and ripening fruit or seedhead – Dandelion, rose-hip
  2. Stem or trunk – Herbaceous or woody?
  3. Roots – Fibrous (lots of tiny roots); Tap root; stoloniferous


Time of day is important. Early morning is best for greens. To collect your harvest, take along a knife or scissors, and a couple of vessels for your finds. Choose something you can comfortably carry for example: Basket, bucket, Clip lock bag, paper bag or produce net bag.

Collect only young, healthy parts. Take what only you need (what are you collecting for?). Taking along jars, containers can help over collection.

Remember you are dealing with ‘weeds’ and extra seeds/cuttings in the compost or green bin will only spread them further. Don’t create a bigger problem.

Care for site
If you are wanting to come back for more, don’t decimate the spot.
Use sharp scissors or a knife to cut leaves, a knife to get roots/tubers out.

Be discrete
Unless you want everyone to go there or the place changed, keep your spot secret. Also, not everyone is open to harvesting weeds, some will even poison areas if they know people are collecting from there.

Research and further learning
Books – Herbals, weed ID from Australia and other countries, gardening books and biosecurity.
An excellent reference book is:
‘An illustrated botanical guide to the weeds of Australia’ – B.A. Auld and R.W. Medd.

Web / FB communities – edible weeds, others in community from around the world or where the plant originates from, use the common names from the country of origin to search for recipes.
ID – Weeds Australia –
Weed society of Victoria –

What to do with your harvest
Don’t delay – Keep it fresh in water or preserve, freeze or dry.

Incorporating weeds into your everyday life

Raw Leaves

  • Sow Thistle
  • Prickly Lettuce
  • Purslane
  • Chickweed
  • Dandelions
  • Watercress
  • Wild Brassicas (Rocket, radish)
  • 3 Cornered Garlic
  • Fennel
  • Ribwort
  • Salsify (young leaves)
  • Soursob
  • Prickly pear (paddles)

Raw herb (external use)

  • Ribwort
  • Dock
  • Petty spurge (never eat)


Herbal Teas

  • Marshmallow
  • Cleavers
  • Horehound
  • Rose Hips
  • Stinging Nettle
  • Fennel
  • Blackberry leaf (dried)


Cooked leaves or Blanched

  • Fat Hen
  • Amaranthus
  • Cleavers
  • Chickweed
  • Marshmallow
  • Dock
  • Common Sorrel
  • Stinging Nettle
  • Bristly Ox Tongue
  • Ribwort


  • Dandelions
  • Brassicas
  • Soursob
  • Salsify
  • 3 Corners
  • Dog rose, wild rose
  • Honeysuckle
  • Bitter Gorse
  • Nasturtiumd
  • Hawthorn



  • Blackberry
  • Elderberry
  • Prickly Pear
  • Firethorn
  • Cape Gooseberry
  • Hawthorn
  • Dog Rose
  • Blackberry nightshade (ripe only)
  • Tree Strawberry

Tinctures / Infusions

  • St Johns Wort
  • Evening Primrose
  • Mullein
  • Dock
  • Variegated Thistle
  • Dog Rose (cough syrup)



  • Salsify
  • Dandelion
  • Chicory (coffee)
  • Wild garlic
  • Cardoon
  • Marshmallow
  • Dock
  • Soursob
  • Variegated thistle
  • 3 Cornered Garlic


Leaf Stalk

  • Cardoon
  • Chickweed


  • Fennel
  • Amaranthus
  • Purslane
  • Dock
  • Ribwort (Psyllium)
  • Peppercress
  • Shephards Purse

All the very best with your foraging journey!

Cheers Chris

Chris Rockley Studios