Posts tagged ‘weeds’

May 15, 2011

growingpeople goes coastal

by growingpeople

My mother, my daughter and I spent a few days this week on the Hampshire coast, where we spotted a whole lot of familiar and some more unusual edibles, among a host of wild flowers and natives. A welcome change from Vicky Park.

Armeria maritima (sea thrift), a small perennial adapted to coastal environments.

Ulex europaeus (gorse), an evergreen shrub adapted to extreme dry conditions. The flowers are edible, high in protein, and could be used in salads, or made into tea. This recipe for gorse flower cordial is really making me wish I’d brought some home with me, as is this one, for gorse flower wine.

A young Pteridium aquilinum, or bracken – commonly cooked as a vegetable in Korea, China and Japan, but thought to be responsible for the area’s high levels of stomach cancer, so not recommended.

Silene vulgaris, or bladder campion, is a common ingredient in Spanish cooking, where the leaves, known as “collejas” are used in salads or added to stews.

(left) Equisetum arvense, or common horsetail, is rich in calcium and its tips can be eaten as a vegetable. It is a diuretic and can be used to treat kidney and bladder problems. (right) Cirsium palestre, or marsh thistle, has edible leaves and stems which can be peeled and eaten raw or cooked.

Rumex acetosella, or red sorrel, is a spreading perennial, whose tart leaves can be used in salads and garnishes, or as a curdling agent for cheese.

(left) The flower buds of Leucanthemum vulgare, or oxeye daisy can be used as a substitute for capers, Trifolium pratense (red clover) is made into a tea to treat symptoms of the menopause. (right) Plantago lanceolata, or ribwort plantain, can be cooked as a vegetable or brewed as tea, and its seed husks, known as Psyllium, are sold as an expensive dietary fibre in whole food shops.

(left) The berries of Sambucus nigra, or elder, are used to make jams, the flowerheads to make infusions and elderflower cordial. (right) Anthyllis vulneraria, or kidney vetch, was traditionally known as the “wound healer” and used to soothe skin.

(left) Brassica napus, or rape, is high in essential fatty acids and is heavily cultivated for oil production. Here it grew in the wild on the cliff tops. (right) a field of thrift, red sorrel and rape.

(left) Aquilegia (right) Lupinus beans are pickled and served as a snack similar to olives in several Mediterranean countries, and used in a similar way to soya beans to make tofu.

(left) Silene dioica, or red campion (right) Glechoma hederacea, or ground ivy, is a member of the mint family and can be eaten in salad or infused for a vitamin C-rich tea.

March 1, 2011


by growingpeople

Several of my friends have asked me recently what exactly they should be doing now in the garden to be sure they have vegetables growing or ready to eat by the summer. So here’s a guide to what I’ve been doing the last few weeks (and should be done sometime before mid-March).

Sowing seeds

Tomatoes, peppers, aubergine and summer squash should be sown in February and March and kept indoors on a warm window sill until the end of April or beginning of May. Sow seeds in shallow trays of clean compost (don’t use soil from the garden, as seedlings are very susceptible to fungal infection – the first lot of tomatoes I sowed in the beginning of February were all killed by damping off, a blanket term for a range of soilborne fungal infections that affects seedlings soon after they germinate, causing them to darken, weaken and topple over at the base). Once the seedlings are 3 or 4 centimeters tall, move them on to individual pots, where they’ll live until you plant them outside in the spring. At this point you can be less fussy about the soil you plant them in as developed plants will be less susceptible to minor diseases.

healthy tomato seedlings
seedlings killed by damping off











Pruning trees and shrubs is made to sound so complicated by bodies such as the RHS that most people assume it’s a dark art. Plants are categorised into over 20 pruning groups depending on when, how and where they flower, and each group has its own very specific set of pruning times and methods. Just to make it even more fun, not all organisations group them the same way, so one man’s pruning group 6 may be another man’s group 17. On top of that, several plants, such as Clematis, are subdivided into their own pruning groups because the many different species of Clematis all need to be treated so differently. To learn it all (I’ve tried) completely exasperated me, until I realised that in the fruit and vegetable garden, you really just need to follow three basic rules (and always making a downwards sloping cut, just above a healthy bud). Hoorah.

1) If it flowers before June, it’s spring-flowering, flowering on the previous season’s growth, and needs to be pruned as soon as the flowering has finished. For example, Akebia quinata.

2) If it flowers after June, it’s summer-flowering, flowering on the current season’s growth, and needs to be pruned in February or March (do this now). For example, Lavandula angustifolia (Lavender).

3) If it’s a fruit tree , it needs to have its branches shortened in August, and then again in the Winter (sometime between December and February) to stimulate Spring growth. Fruit is produced on two or three year old wood, so providing you don’t prune too far down, there’s no danger of losing your  fruit-producing wood.


You’re going to need weed-free beds to start sowing seeds in very soon, so now is the time to hand-weed, dig out or smother any unwanted weed growth. Skimpy weeds like Stellaria media can be pulled out by hand or trowel, Taraxacum officinale will need deep down digging. Ideally, last winter you would have covered your beds with thick carpet or cardboard and smothered them all – if not, give it a go this winter.


From March and April, you will be sowing the bulk of your seeds so now’s the time to buy them. Also buy some mesh if you plan to grow cabbage – it’s the best way to protect it from the cabbage white butterfly, and is also great for protecting lettuces from slugs and snails.

Chitting (or not)

Before potatoes are planted in about a month’s time, they need to be chitted. Chitting is just another way of saying “leave them in a dark cupboard for a few weeks to shrivel up and start sprouting shoots”. I’m also looking forward to growing Oca this year (thanks Naomi!), so they and any other tubers you plan on planting will need to be given the same treatment.

There’s actually a big debate among gardeners at the moment on the need to chit, which Emma Cooper sums up nicely here.

chitting potatoes

chitting oca

January 19, 2011

Cooking Weeds

by growingpeople

I’ve just discovered Vivien Weise’s excellent Cooking Weeds, a cookbook dedicated to, as the name suggests, using the abundance of edible native weeds available to us for free in a variety of imaginative and often mouthwatering recipes.  She only includes common weeds that can be found in any London park or tow path, and clearly describes which weeds (and which parts) are edible, as well as including nutritional information for each plant. Plus, they are all illustrated to facilitate your picking efforts.

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