When you book accommodation with Airbnb, a list of interesting things to do in the area, pops up. In collaboration with Slow Food International, Airbnb are encouraging unusual and unique foodie experiences. The Edible Weed Experience, is exactly that.
“People traveling abroad are increasingly seeking authentic and transformative travel experiences. Slow Food can provide them with a unique lens through which they can better understand the history, people, and the culture of the destination they visit.”
The first official Slow Food Experience in South Africa is in Howick. More are certain to follow soon.
To start 2020, visitors from Gauteng, Zambia and Denmark gathered to meet Nikki Brighton – a locavore, food activist and regular weed eater. Nikki knows all the spots to find edible weeds and wild food – and where to source the best local ingredients in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. She told them, “I am astonished at the free food all around us, which often goes unused and am constantly trying new plants that I find on my wanders.”
As they walked towards the uMngeni River, Nikki explained the Slow Food movement. “It is about good, clean, fair food, about honouring traditional foods and community, conserving biodiversity and above all it is about taste. Food must be delicious.”
Nettles are prolific at the moment. Dan, who is interested in functional medicine, suggested that our bodies know what they need and we should always be eating the plants that are in abundance. “We have lost the knowledge of wild plant food available in our environment. They have an abundance of phyto-nutrients that allow our DNA to get what it expects and needs in the chemistry of life.” Nettles are crammed with goodness and immune-boosting compounds, including flavonoids and carotenoids which strengthen the immune response, encouraging immune cell activity.
Plenty of Ribwort (Plantago lanceolata) was in bloom. The young flowers taste of mushrooms when fried. Leaves added to stews impart an earthy, mushroom-like flavour, the seeds can be added to biscuits and bread, or cooked like sago.
Plantago major (broad plantain) was also flourishing in the cool damp conditions. This plant is high in calcium and vitamins A and K. They are tastiest when picked small and tender in early spring. Stir fry leaves, add them to stews or crisp them up as you would kale. Traditionally, broadleaf plantain has been used as a poultice to treat bee stings, cuts, burns, sores, and to reduce inflammation.
Amaranthus, black jack and gallant soldier covered recently disturbed ground. There was enough in this patch to feed a family for days. Why do people turn up their noses at fresh,nutrient-dense food? Amaranthus leaves are packed with protein, gallant soldier is full of iron and is effective in the treatment of wounds (anti-bacterial and coagulant properties), and black jacks are full of fibre, contain antioxidants and sterols (known anti-cancer properties), reduce risk of heart disease, help with cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, and many other ailments. All of these can (and should) be added to your daily smoothie, or tossed into soups and stews.
Keen golfer Janet , said that she often observed the estate staff picking leaves along the edges of the greens. “These areas are well watered, so the weeds flourish. Glad that they are providing food for people.”
As the group sauntered along the banks of the river, shoes came off spontaneously, to make the most of this lovely walk.
While some plants looked delicious, it is not advisable to try everything. A little research is required, and first try a tiny amount, was the advice. Nikki related a personal experience of over enthusiastic day lily bud consumption, and encouraged caution.
Ines Maria thoroughly enjoyed herself. “A very educational and exciting tour in Howick. Making happy and beautiful memories of my visit to South Africa.”
We headed back to the cool veranda for a wild lunch. Tucking into nettle pesto, amaranth leaves with potatoes and popped amaranth seeds, steamed lambs quarters, cucumber with purslane, kefir cheese with Tulbaghia, spekboom pickle, wild rosemary hummus, pumpkin stem salad, spekboom, chickpea and tomato salad, purslane and pecan pesto, pumpkin leaves with chilli & tomato, pumpkin stem salad and Wild Bread Co sourdough bread.
Washed down with elderflower, nettle or mint cordial and interesting conversation. “This was fantastic. I will definitely be back” said Kelvin.
“It was an awesome experience – well balanced, filled with much valuable information in a beautiful environment, and topped off with a delicious lunch made from the wild weeds/plants. You deserve every success in sharing this lost knowledge ” commented Dan and promptly bought a copy of Mnandi to take home.
Mnandi – a Taste of Mpophomeni, compiled by Nikki as a fundraiser for the Mpophomeni Conservation Group, includes a section on the most common edible weeds in KZN. A great resource and a good read. All proceeds of sales go to supporting the Slow Food Community of Mpophomeni and providing free wifi to the community in the area around the library. To purchase a copy, email email@example.com
Nikki is often invited to do talks about edible weeds (and other wild ideas). In this way, inspiring everyone to give free nutrient dense food a try and encourage gardeners to change their activity from ‘weeding’ to ‘gathering lunch’. Sometimes there are startled gasps, but almost everyone goes home determined to try at least one thing. Learn more here.
A donation was made to the uMngeni River Conservancy, for the privilege of using this well maintained area. All participants were most impressed at the voluntary community effort to keep this public area conserved and beautiful.