On a crisp autumn morning earlier this year I joined a weed walk on the banks of the Yarra to find out more about the plants that are invading my veggie patch. I have always been curious to know if the plants I (try my best to) diligently remove from between the carrots tops and tomato plants could actually be more useful, both for humans and our furry companions, than those ‘normal’ vegetables. Here are some of my discoveries:
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
The dandelion has been eaten by humans across the globe for centuries. It grows in abundance in most backyards, and is often a bunny’s weed of choice. There are many leaf variations, ranging from a distinctive saw-tooth pattern to a rounder edged variation. According to The Weed Forager’s Handbook the main plants to distinguish dandelions from are Cat’s Ears (apparently not as tasty) and Yam Daisy (a nearly lost indigenous food source), which are also both edible. Although plentiful in the wild, seeds can be obtained from www.edenseeds.com.au and many other seed companies.
Mallow (Malva parviflora)
The mallow plant is difficult to mistake with its round, dark green leaves, and was apparently a favourite of the Romans. It has a mild flavour, and humans can use this in any recipe as a substitute for spinach. Rabbits and guinea pigs prefer the young leaves picked straight from the plant. It has been found medicinally to assist with gastric ulcers, a common problem in particularly stressed rabbits.
Plantain (Plantago spp.)
While plantain looks like a weed you should avoid, it is used in the human world in salads, soups and stews. The two main varieties are greater plantain and buck’s horn plantain. The older leaves can have a distinctive mushroom flavour may only tempt the most interested rabbits and guinea pigs.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Purslane is the hidden power food of the veggie garden. It has a tart flavour and can be eaten by humans, rabbits and guinea pigs alike. The stem can be chewy, so young leaves are the best. Rabbits tend to know this themselves, often leaving the stem while nibbling off all the leaves. Purslane is high in omega-3s, and can be great for those rabbits and guinea pigs with arthritis as it assists with inflammation.
A weed to avoid…Angled onion (Allium triquetrum)
Also known as wild garlic or onion grass, angled onion is edible for humans but should not be feed to rabbits and guinea pigs. Like other plants in the onion and garlic family it can cause disruption of red blood cells. The resulting haemolytic anaemia causes lethargy, pale gums, and sometimes death. It is essential to clear your garden of this plant if you have free ranging rabbits or guinea pigs.
Rules for weed picking:
- Always make sure that you know what you are picking, many weeds have look-alikes which may be toxic or less tasty. Do not expect your rabbit or guinea pig to know the difference
- Always make sure that no weed spraying has occurred where you are picking
- Do not pick by road sides and risk pollution
- Most bunnies have a preference for young, tender leaves and then flowers
Want to know more, or ensure that what you are picking is right?
Adam Grubb, author of The Weed Forager’s Handbook: A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds in Australia, runs weed walks in Melbourne.