Monday, 30 January 2017

Purslane: Nourishing Produce or Annoying Pest?

Purslane, one of the most common garden ‘weeds’ in the world and is most often considered an unwelcome guest. It was originally a native to India and Persia, but has for a very long time, been found extensively around the world - from Africa to Australia, Asia, America, Europe and the Middle East.

It pops up in gardens, pokes out of the corners of stairs and pavements. I recently found a few morsels tucked up in a corner next to our little rural tennis clubhouse. I'm not sure I'd eat these ones - quite a few dogs mark their territory around here, but when I find it it my garden, I am so delighted to have it's presence.

Purslane thrives in dreadful soil, and grows where most other things will not -  which is why I appreciate it so much.

Many dig out purslane and curse it, but actually, since antiquity it has been regarded as a valuable edible and medicinal herb, and it is a great companion in the garden. 

It’s one of those so-called ‘weeds’ I have been encouraging in my garden. I am known to dig up useful 'weeds' from forgotten corners of my neighbourhood and transplant them into my garden - dandelion, chickweed, radium weed and others. Usually though, they just come themselves without any effort whatsoever, which is a really great reason to love them - simple practical functional abundance!

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is an annual succulent, known also as  pursley, pigweed, or verdolaga, amongst a plethora of other common names. Here are some of the many reasons that I think purslane deserves a place in my garden:

Purslane is Edible 

Purslane is very edible. The leaves, stems, flower buds and seeds of purslane are all edible. 

As a leaf vegetable, purslane can be eaten raw or cooked - in salad, juice, stir fry, quiche, soup, curry, stew, sauces.... Many cultures around the world have special recipes for using purslane. Young leaves are a little crunchy with a lemony taste, and a bit like watercress or spinach - perhaps a little salty tasting too. The young leaves taste really good in salads and sandwiches, the yellow flower buds as well.  I like to add it to dips and blend it in with basil and other super greens to make a wonderful pesto. There is s much enormous potential for this delicious and nutritious ‘weed’.

The little black purslane seeds, found in the finished flower heads, can be used as a tea. The seeds actually can be eaten raw or cooked - they have a flavour a bit like linseed. Apparently indigenous Australians used to use the seeds of purslane to make flour for their seedcakes. In dry parts of Australia each plant can yield 10,000 seeds (more than cooler wetter climates) and the seeds can remain viable 7 years or more. 

If you are going to cook purslane, I recommend that you cook it for a short time at a low temperature to preserve as much of the nutrients as possible. Also, it will go a bit slimy if overcook it - which is good if you want to thicken your soup, but I'm not such a fan of a slimy green side dish.

Purslane is a Healthy Food

Purslane is low in calories and fats, while being rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals. 

Purslane has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable - a good source for vegetarians. Omega 3's are considered to be important for preventing heart attacks and strengthening the immune system.

Purslane has seven times more beta carotene than carrots.

Purslane is an excellent source of Vitamin A (44% of RDA) - one of the highest among leafy greens - powerful natural antioxidant and an essential vitamin for vision and skin. Purslane also contains vitamins B, C and E, and also minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron.

Purslane is a Hardy Pioneer Plant

Purslane is an incredibly hardy plant that can withstand compact soils and drought - it is tough. It can grow in sun and shade, without water, fertiliser or any help at all. Not only can it survive and flourish in very difficult situations, but it actually to prepare soil for other plants. I think of it as a helpful pioneer - opening the soil with it’s taproot, so other roots can follow. The deep tap root of purslane draws also up moisture and nutrients to the surface allowing other plants around it to benefit.

Purslane can be used as a Cover Crop

Purslane covers the soil to create a living mulch which helps to protect soil and retain moisture.  It adds organic matter as it dies back too.

Purslane for Animals

Pigs, chickens, goats, cows all love purslane and it is reported to help increase milk production and wellbeing of cattle.

Purslane is a Medicinal Plant

Throughout history, purslane has been used for many ailments.  There are too many to mention - check out some of the resources below for more details on this.

I appreciate purslane to help sooth burns, insect bites and caterpillar itching - just crush up some leaves and either apply as a poultice or squeeze on the juice.

Some plants deserve to be more widely recognised. I think purslane is one of them.  It certainly contributes to a healthy, diverse and sustainable food system.

Note about oxalic acid:
Purslane contains oxalic acid, a naturally-occurring substance found in some vegetables, which may crystallise as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some people.  Cooking destroys the oxalic acid so people with rheumatism or gout should avoid eating it uncooked, but remember, cooking it too much also destroys it’s benefits. Isabell Shipard discusses in ‘Herbs are Special’ that a high oxalic acid intake is not necessarily considered to be a problem if foods rich in calcium (vegetables, greens and dairy products), as well as daily sunshine for vitamin D synthesis, are also typical in everyday life.

Note about harvesting weeds
Make sure if you are wild harvesting that you know that it is a clean site.

To read more:

  • Low, Tim (1991) Wild Food Plants of Australia. Harper Collins Australia.
  • Grubb, Adam and Raser-Rowland, Annie (2012) The Weed Forager’s Handbook. A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds in Australia

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Edible and Ecological Windbreaks to Support Home and Garden

A good windbreak can make all the difference - for your house, for your garden, for being outside comfortably. It's important to protect natural windbreaks and integrate new ones in the design of your property and garden - different types in various places. In my permaculture garden I have designed edible windbreaks, and at my parent's place, their windbreak is the natural tea tree foreshore reserve. Both have great habitat value for native species and the people living there.

 Natural windbreak on coastal foreshore (Image: Morag Gamble)

The picture above is part of the natural windbreak between my parent's house and the Gippsland Lakes. It is essential during the gale force winds often coming off the Bass Strait.   Sometimes standing down on this beach you really have to lean into the wind to stop from being blown over. In many parts of the island people cleared the foreshore to get the views, but this not only destroys the ecological value, it destabilises the coastline and it makes living next to the water much more difficult with the winds and salt spray. You can even have an edible garden behind a windbreak like this.

The regular uprights of the trunks of the young tea trees (Melaleuca spp) in the foreshore reserve, and the multiple layers, break the wind rapidly, and even with just a thickness in some places of 10-15 metres a huge difference can be felt.  Even if it is really blowing down at the beach, back up near the house and orchard, it is calm.

The winds can come powering across Lake Victoria to Raymond Island. I'm so happy to have the beautiful protective  wildlife reserve along the foreshore. It also means that the people with houses along the water do not own the waterfront. There complete access for anyone to walk along and enjoy. (Image: Morag Gamble)

The coastline is retreating on this part of the island. I've been coming here for about 40 years and I estimate there has been at least a 2 metre erosion of the coast, more on Harrington Point - which is no longer visible here as a point. The foreshore reserve trees are also critical in holding the sandy soils together, but also as they die back and fall to collect sand on the wavy days. The washed up seaweed also acts as a buffer and sand collector.  Where the trees have been cleared they have had to build rock/concrete walls. (Image: Morag Gamble)

I planted up windbreaks early in the development of my home in subtropical Queensland to protect my house and main garden particularly from the strong south westerlies - the storm winds. I focussed on natives from the local landcare nursery such as lilly pillies and grey myrtle - not highly flammable, dense leaves and evergreen. They are now 3-4 metres tall and quite bushy. They deflect the winds wonderfully, but are located to allow the more gentle breezes to flow through this living space.

The dense foliage of the lilly pillies and grey myrtles provide great western shade in the afternoon as well as filter the strong storm winds. From my observations at the Island, lots of uprights help a lot, as well as dense small foliage. The shape of the windbreak scoops the wind up and over the house.

The bonus too is that the lilly pilly (Syzygium spp) fruit is edible and the grey myrtle/cinnamon myrtle (Backhousia myrlifolia) leaves make a lovely tea.

Delicious edible lilly pillies - raw, sauces, preserves, baking...

The Grey Myrtle has lovely foliage - dense green with slightly red new growth. These new leaves are my favourite parts to harvest for teas and flavouring in soups and curries (a kind of nutmeg, cinnamon aroma)

Backhousea myrtifolia, Grey Myrtle, is a good windbreak plant in this region - and an Australian native from the rainforest margins. (Image source: 1 million women)

My windbreak also shades our house in the afternoon making the hot summers more tolerable on the verandah. This is important to me, because it means we can use this outdoor space - our main living room and homeschool classroom for most of the day.  I love the windbreak too because these trees are full of a diversity of birds, and just sitting outside while I work, I am surrounded by birdlife and birdsong.

I usually plant temporary in-garden windbreaks to help new vegetable gardens areas become established. I often use Canna edulis or lemongrass because they grow quickly and are easy to manage and remove later. As well as wind protection, these plants also provide afternoon shade for young vegetables and other perennials. Once the perennial kitchen garden system is up and running, I phase out the extent of the canna and lemongrass, move it elsewhere, mulch it, eat it ....

Canna edulis has large leaves that grow quickly and provide great shade, protection and mulch, as well as food - a great multifunctional permaculture plant in this climate. (Image: Morag Gamble)

The Canna is visible at the top of the picture - the contour row helped to act as a windbreak, sun break, but also as a vegetative terrace, source of mulch, source of food, and great addition to compost, no-dig garden layers and the chicken yard. (Image: Morag Gamble)
Designing a windbreak to be multi-functional is the key - to provide wind protection, to provide shade, to provide food, fodder, mulch, timber, habitat,  and other resources. I am also very careful to select species near my house that have low flammability and are recommended.

More information is coming soon about the windbreaks at my place on my Our Permaculture Life youtube channel. I am making a short information clip to upload.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

10 Reasons to Climb a Tree

Have you, your kids, or grandkids climbed a tree lately? Not only is it great fun, there are so many reasons to shake off the shoes and scramble up a tree.  
  1. Discovery and connection - as you climb and get to know a tree intimately, you connect with nature and explore the incredible diversity of species that live in and on trees
  2. Perspective - see the world from a different angle, from a birds-eye view
  3. Contemplation - up a tree is a calm and quiet place to be alone with your thoughts
  4. Challenge - some trees are quite tricky to negotiate and it requires quite a lot of strategic thinking to work it out.
  5. Face Fears - climbing a tree can be scary, and sometimes coming down can be scarier - being up a tree helps us to build confidence and self-esteem
  6. Energy, Strength and Coordination - climbing uses energy, builds physical strength and cultivates coordination.
  7. Slow and focussed - being in nature and climbing a tree slows us down and helps us to concentrate and focus for an extended period - a wonderful contrast in our fast-paced society.
  8. Creativity and imagination - typically when my little one is climbing a tree (above) there is a huge story happening with it, usually around an encounter with amazing and dangerous wildlife, and being a rescuer and protector of that animal...most kids, alone or with a group of others will be cultivating wonderful worlds up the tree.
  9. Resilience - a few little cuts and grazes from tree-climbing adventures don't seem to stop the fun 
  10. Happiness - the sense of absolute delight at being up in the tree, connected with it, above the action ... brings great smiles to my kids faces
I want to keep going with this list, but I think it's unnecessary. We all get it - we just need to get out and find more spaces to do it. Our trees are still pretty young here, but more and more we're cultivating climbers. We find better ones though around the community and down by the river.

Where are the best climbing trees near your place?

I just came across a couple of websites with listings of great climbing trees in Brisbane.  I wonder if there are similar listings elsewhere

Sunday, 22 January 2017

One in Three People Are Sensitive to Fragrances

I picked up the Saturday Age (the Melbourne paper) today at Mum and Dad’s and happened across an article called “On the Nose” by Kate Grenville, popular Australian novelist. She was talking about how fragrances give her headaches, make her eyes feel dry and sore and mess with her sinuses. I immediately related. I though I was just becoming oversensitive because I’ve been living out in the country, away from artificial scents, for two decades now. I thought I was just being a bit silly.

But Kate Grenville is about to release a book The Case Against Fragrance exploring this topic in depth. Apparently studies from the University of Melbourne and other places show that one person in three gets some kind of health problem from fragrance. I am not alone!

You just need to take a look in any cosmetic or beauty section now to find increasing ranges of products that are fragrance-free to know there is an issue. Increased sensitivity is being caused by the increasing level of irritating chemicals and fragrances in our environment - put into the things we use every day on our bodies, on our clothes, in our homes. There are over 5,000 types of these chemicals used in these types of products.

I do find it challenging to go into large shopping centres - particularly past fragrance counters, candle shops and into bathrooms with automatic scent releasers. Office buildings aren’t much better, particularly lifts. Restaurants and theatres are not great either - any place really where people get dressed up and spray on their finest perfumes. Thankfully my way of life does not include the necessity to go into many of these places.

I suppose it’s a bonus being sensitive to fragrances - it gives me real incentive to eradicate these things from our lives. I can’t sleep well in sheets washed with synthetic fragrances or wash my hair with shampoo with synthetic fragrances. Even if I use a moisturiser with small amount of fragrance, my skin becomes irritated and I can’t wear make-up. Scented toilet rolls, scented bin liners - a lot of things down the cleaning aisle at the supermarket I need to avoid too.

I’ve found the only cure is avoidance and I choose to make a lot of my own products and buy natural items.

By choosing the ‘hypo-allergenic’, ‘sensitive skin’, ‘fragrance-free’, ‘unscented’, ‘for babies’, ‘children’s’ products, I thought I was safe. However, I just read that I might need to be wary of products that are labelled "fragrance free" or "unscented" as they may still contain fragrance chemicals, but that they might also contain a masking fragrance to cover up the odour. I’ll soon find out which ones are the genuinely fragrance free ones though.

Thankfully, there is a growing trend of scent-awareness policies in public places - universities, hospitals workplaces and other centres. There are signs requesting people to refrain from wearing scent. Still a small movement, but the awareness is growing. It’s not a small amount of people this affects.

My general plan for reducing contact with fragrances and odours that irritate me is:

  • No chemical cleaners
  • Real fragrance-free products - personal, laundry, shower, kitchen 
  • No perfumes
  • No indoor pets
  • No VOC paints
  • Hard floor surfaces
  • Lots of natural ventilation.
  • Minimal soft furnishings
  • Keep away from places where people wear lots of fragrances
  • Living in the country
  • Working from home
Are you affected by fragrances? What do you do to cope?

Read more:

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Underground Adventure for Budding Earth Sceintists

We've just been caving. Wow! I normally rave about the life under the soil being so amazing (it is!), but today its about the rock formations. Under the surface of the earth is an incredible world. Like many children (and adults), our kids love rocks and geology -  so caving was a great opportunity to further feed that natural interest and see things from another perspective. I was absolutely fascinated too.

The crocodile and the fairy pools in the Fairy Cave in Buchan, Victoria.

The keen earth scientists down the cave.
Buchan Caves, not far from where we are right now, in East Gippsland (Victoria, Australia), is a 4 km network of limestone caves containing spectacular stalactites, stalagmites, pillars and other formations. The limestone rock at Buchan was laid down during the Devonian period about 300 – 400 million years ago. These caves themselves are up to 20 million years old. The Buchan Caves Reserve was handed back to the people of the Gunaikurnai Nation who manage it in conjunction with Parks Victoria.

Buchan and it’s surrounds are one of the most significant caving areas in Victoria - with over 1000 caves in total. A few of them are open to novices like us. They are not particularly long or deep, but they are highly decorated, making it a world-class caving experience. 

Mum and Dad came caving too.
Calcium carbonate is the basis of the limestone formations in the caves, which comes from the shells and coral that were deposited here when the sea still covered this part of Gippsland. You can see seams of the shells in certain passageways .

Seams of shells in the cave passageways.

We ventured into the Fairy Cave yesterday for a guided tour with informative Ranger Ben. The cave was about 400m long and went down to about 55m in depth. Inside it was constantly cool - around 17 degrees celsius - a welcome retreat from the summer heat. 

'Drinking straws'  - the beginnings of stalactites.

We learnt that the stalactites and stalagmites grow at a rate of around 1cm every 100 years  incredibly slowly. Understanding this helped me appreciate even more what I was seeing around me - so many of the formations we were looking at were many millions of years old. In one part, estimated at 10-12 million years old. 

Sparkling flows of 'fairy dust' adorn the walls in many places - this is why this is called the Fairy Cave.

The 400m path through the Fairy cave brought us through the middle of some amazing chambers full of formations of various shapes and sizes, sparkling flows. They were all around us - so intricate, such incredible textures and colours - white (just calcium), red (tinted by iron oxides), green (tinted by copper) … Poor Ranger Ben. He had to get quite grumpy with a few visitors who insisted on touching the stalactite formations that we passed (they were SO close). The acids on our hands are damaging to the formations, and I can imagine they could break off quite easily.

There are other cave areas nearby that are not open to the public - some of them were used by Aboriginal people . In them have been found rock paintings, middens, hearths, and tools from 17,000 years ago. Also found were the remains of extinct megafauna species, including a kangaroo and wombat the size of a horse (incredible!) , the Tasmanian Tiger and a Tasmanian Devil (now extinct in the area).

We all emerged from the caves with such enthusiasm for wanting to know more. I highly recommend a visit there if you are in the region. Next time we'll bring our bathers to dip into the pool filled with by the mountain spring!

For more information: 
For serious caving information:

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Oldest Surviving Mammal on Earth

Every day we see calmly wandering echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) as we ride around Raymond Island, here in the Gippsland Lakes region of Victoria.

I am amazed that we see them so often. These unusual animals are typically quite elusive. They must feel quite safe, because they don’t seem to be fussed in the streets of the little village, or even as we quietly watch them feed. They come close to the house too.

Monty and Maia chatting to the Echidna near the house.

I was fascinated yesterday as I watched one poking holes in the soil with it's snout on quite hard grassy soil on the roadside. I was thinking how effective they were at opening the soil for the next rain. Later I noticed another fossicking in the leaf litter before disappearing into the undergrowth. I realised how important these wild and 'messy' spaces are for them.

Echidna on the streets of the Raymond Island Village digging with her snout for insects. (I actually can't tell if its a girl or boy)

Fresh echidna digging holes.
The kids and I have become so enchanted by their their lovely little faces and antics. We realised we only knew a little about them so we decided to investigate. We found some really interesting facts about these curious creatures, and thought they would be interesting to share.

A great natural defence.

Two dozen interesting facts about echidnas.

  1. Echidnas are the oldest surviving mammals on the planet today (evolved 20-50 million years ago).
  2. Echidnas are egg-laying mammals (monotreme) like the platypus - soft leathery eggs about 2 centimetres in diameter.
  3. Echidnas keep their young in pouches (like kangaroos) for about three months and wean them at 12 months.
  4. Echidnas are long lived - up to 50 years in captivity, and reports of 45 years in the wild, but usually 10-15 years.
  5. Echidnas have very large brains for their body size - the largest prefrontal cortex of any mammal
  6. Echidnas have the latest eye lens of any animal giving it the longest focal length.
  7. Echidna’s ears are sensitive to low-frequency which is ideal for detecting termites and ants underground.
  8. Echidnas are around 30-45cms and weigh 2-5kgs
  9. Echidnas have the lowest body temperature of any mammal - 32 celsius.
  10. Echidnas have a slow metabolism - the lowest energy-consuming mammal.
  11. Echidnas hibernate in winter. They can slowing their heartbeat to 4-7 beats/minute and taking a breath every three minutes
  12. Echidnas are covered in fur and spines - the 5cm spines are actually modified hairs.
  13. Echidnas eat ants, termites, grubs, larvae, worms.
  14. Echidnas are electroreceptive - the echidna has 400-2000 electroreceptors on their snouts (platypus have 40,000 on their bills) .
  15. This special snout (also called a beak) senses electrical signals from insect bodies. When it detects prey, it uses its sharp claws to dig into the soil then lick them up with its tongue.
  16. Echidnas are toothless - the use their fast 18 cm sticky tongue (Tachyglossus means ‘quick tongue’) to catch ants, termites, worms and insect larvae. They break down food with hard pads on the roof of their mouth.
  17. Echidnas are found all over Australia including rainforest, dry sclerophyll forest and arid areas. 
  18. Echidnas are able to survive extreme temperatures however they have no sweat glands and cannot pant, therefore need to protect themselves from high temperatures by digging into the soil.
  19. Echidnas are found only in Australia (short nosed) and New Guinea (long-nosed). 
  20. Echidnas are usually solitary animals 
  21. Echidnas are not often seen, but are classified as ‘common’ 
  22. Echidnas are not territorial. In some areas their range can be 50 hectares or more.
  23. Echidnas are protected in Australia by Law.
  24. The echidna is featured on the Australian 5 cent piece

Echidna puggle. Image: Perth Zoo

Echidna Threats

The key threats to echidnas are dog and cars. Thankfully here, traffic is slow and limited on the island, and people seem very responsible with their dogs, particularly as this is a koala reserve too. When echidnas need to protect themselves, they curl up into a ball with just their spines facing out.

Habitat loss is also a problem for echidnas in populated areas of Australia. They need fallen logs, tree stumps, rocks, leaf litter and debris. We often clean things up too much. Keeping the under storey is also important as it provides cover for echidnas as they move around. I often watch an echidna around my parent’s house disappear back into the dense bush after it’s had a wander here.  It’s good to remember too that these logs, leaf fall and rocks provide good habitat for things echidnas like to eat.

Some further reading on Echidnas

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Nature's Weather Indicators: Watching Animals and Plants

There is so much you can tell about the weather and what's to come by watching the animals around you. I trust these natural indicators and take heed in how I manage my permaculture system. I also share these observations with my children, and we delight in seeing what we can observe each day.

We've been watching a dangling possum tail out of this hollow old tree. Can you see it in the picture? This particular tree is just beside my parents house so we see it throughout the day. We've noticed that she sticks her tail out when the temperature goes over 30 degrees celsius. On a mild day, she's all tucked in. We call it the possum tail thermometer!

I love living an indoor/outdoor connected life and noticing the changes that are taking place around me - in animal and insect behaviour, in sounds, in smells, in the look of clouds, the look of the lake, the colour of the sky.... observing the patterns in nature.

At home in Crystal Waters I know to look to the south to see what weather is coming - typically this is where storm clouds build and now after years of watching I can tell what type of storm by the type of clouds. And when the sky is green, I expect hail.

A corroboree of kookaburras cackling between 10 am and 2 pm indicates rain is on it's way

I've been living at the same place for almost 20 years now and there's quite a few things I've noticed:

  • A corroboree of kookaburras cackling between 10 am and 2 pm indicates rain is on it's way
  • The arrival of the koel's (rain birds/storm birds) on their annual migration indicates that the wet season is about to begin. 
  • Little black ants come into the house en-masse  when rain is on its way.
  • Seeing a Mary River Turtle in the garden also means big rain is on its way.
  • Low flying birds indicate the wind is about to blow strongly
  • When a storm is coming, flocks of birds fly to the hills behind us, making a huge racket. The kangaroos head up with them.
  • There's a smell of rich soil/compost before a storm. (plants excrete their waste during a low-pressure change that leads to rain).
The koel (rainbird) has a distinttve call - they tell me when the rains are about to come. 

Animals feel the changes before we do. They are more sensitive to natural changes in the weather and will seek shelter in case of violent weather.

I also observe the changes in me too. An obvious thing is that my hair goes frizzy when there's very high humidity and rain is coming.

I remember reading an interesting book when I first moved to Crystal Waters - it helped to guide me on what sort of things to look for. It was Nature's Weather Watch : A Guide to Forecasting the Weather by Observing Animal and Plant Life by John, Glenda.

I love being able to bring up my kids in close connection to nature and to share with them my love of the world of which we are an interconnected part. For them, watching nature, being in nature, feeling connected to nature is normal. I notice now that wherever we go they are always observing - even in middle of the city - and as a parent I smile a deep inner smile.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Edible & Medicinal Ornamental Herb: Lamb's Ear

I was reminded today how much I love Lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina). I have it growing in my permaculture kitchen garden and food forest. Whenever I walk past it I have to stop and touch it's gorgeous leaves. 

We all love Lamb’s Ear for these big soft fluffy leaves and because it's a tough landscaping ornamental, but there is so much more to this plant - a native to Turkey, Armenia and Iran (also known as woolly woundwort). 

Lamb's ear - it's so soft. Every time I walk past it I just have to stop and feel it. Image source: Morag Gamble

Here is a brief overview of it's uses ....

  • ornamental - fabulous border plant and robust ground cover with interesting contrasting silvery grey-green leaves, summer flowering.
  • edible - young leaves in salad, steamed as a green, battered ('lambari' in Brazil), stir fried
  • medicinal - Homegrown antibacterial bandage speeds up the healing of cuts. Squash leaves and put on bee stings and insect bites. Infusions of dried leaves are good for colds, gum and throat infections, and asthma. Also, leaves simmered and cooled can be used as an eyewash for sties.
  • functional - leaves for compost and no-dig gardening, toilet paper, absorbent pads
  • ecological - pollinator plant, attract bees
  • sensory gardens - great in children’s gardens and healing gardens - people love to feel the thick felt-like leaves 
  • low-maintenance - Lamb’s Ear is an easy plant to care for and to propagate. It is hardy, drought-tolerant, frost-tolerant, grows well on sandy poor soil, likes sun and 

  • for urban gardens - hardy and grows well in containers

Do you use Lamb's Ear in other ways? It'd be great to hear from you. 

Flowering in Bairnsdale (Victoria, Australia) today. Image source: Morag Gamble

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Edible Flowers

Thyme flowers are edible and delicious. I often add them to salads and stir fries for the flavour and the visual interest.

When herbs flower, they not only look beautiful, add colour to the garden, attract bees and other beneficial insects - many are edible too.

I photographed this flowering thyme at the new Raymond Island Community Garden run by a small group of volunteers at the community hall. I visited there for the first time yesterday - what a great little garden.

It's best it pick flowers in the cool of the day. Early morning is perfect, just after any dew has evaporated.  Once the flowers have finished on the herb plants, freshen them up by giving them a trim.

I made a short film about some of the edible flowers in my permaculture garden back in August. Here is the link to this film on my Youtube Channel, Our Permaculture Life:
Edible Flowers by Morag Gamble 

As well as thyme flowers, I often eat the flowers of:

  • rosemary
  • oregano
  • basil
  • rocket (arugula)
  • coriander (cilantro)
  • garlic chives
  • chives
  • pelargonium
  • lavender
  • chamomile
  • mint
  • lemon balm
  • dill
  • fennel

I also eat the flowers of other plants in my garden such as:
  • rose
  • hibiscus
  • fucshia
  • nasturtium
  • calendula
  • marigold
  • pineapple sage
  • pansy
  • radish
  • pumpkin
There are so many more too. 

What are your favourite edible flowers and how do you eat them?

Edible pansy flowers.

A few notes on safely eating flowers:

  • eat flowers you know are edible (if you are not 100% sure what plant it is while you're out foraging, leave it)
  • eat flowers you have grown yourself, or know how they've been grown (florist flowers are usually treated with chemicals)
  • Choose flowers that are at their peak. 
  • avoid roadside flowers because of vehicle pollution
  • avoid park flowers which may have been sprayed
  • I would eat the entirety of small flowers such as thyme, rosemary and oregano, but it is recommended to eat only the petals (not the stamens, pistils or sepals) of larger flowers because they interfere with the flavour and the pollen can affect people with allergies. You wouldn't bother with thyme flowers - way too tiny and fiddly.
  • If you suffer from allergies, asthma or hayfever - probably best to avoid or go easy.
  • I usually eat them fresh from the garden, but if you want to harvest and keep them, one idea I read was to place them on moist paper towel and refrigerate in an airtight container. They can last up to 10 days.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Wild Foraging at the Beach - Pigface: It's All Edible!

Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens) is an amazingly common plant, often seen, but quite overlooked. It is so abundant around our coastal environments, so easy to grow at home and so useful. I love wild foraging for this plant along the beach, but I am also thinking of trying this plant as a ground cover in a food forest situation at home.

Did you know ….  

  1. that every part of the common beach plant, pigface, is edible - raw or cooked? - the leaves, the flowers and the fruits.  Eat it in salads and stir fries, make pickles, enjoy the slightly salty fruit.
  2. that like aloe vera, the juices of the succulent pigface leaves help to soothe itches, bites and burns?
  3. that you can you can use roasted pigface leaves can be used as a salt substitute.
  4. that pigfaces contain a lot of drinkable moisture and is a good source of water in a survival situation.
  5. that pig face can also be used as a gargle for sore throat and mild bacterial mouth infections.
  6. that it attracts bees, butterflies and other insects

Small pigface sample showing how it is a runner. Propagate simply by taking a length and planting it into some damp soil.

About Pigface

Pigface is a easily found on the east coast of Australia - right close to the beach and in the dunes. It is a hardy perennial ground cover native to Australia. I have been spotting it a lot around here in the Gippsland Lakes.  There are actually around 30 varieties of Carpobrotus, and 6 of these are native to Australia. (The main ones I see are C. glaucescens and C. rossii)

The delicious red fruits are safe to eat.

name, Carpobrotus, refers to the edible fruits - coming from the Ancient Greek karpos "fruit" and brotos “edible”. Pigface was harvested and used a lot by indigenous Australians both as food and medicine. Early European explorers used the plant as an anti-scurvy treatment. 

Because grows quickly as a low spreading creeper into large heavy mats, it helps protect dunes.

Pigface is playground Friendly

It’s a playground friendly plant because all it’s parts are edible. In Spring and summer, it also has such bright daisy-like flowers - usually bright pink or fucshia purple. Also it is not prickly - quite the opposite, it’s succulent leaves are soft, and fun to squish.  

I have fond beach memories as a child, sitting amongst the pigface playing with the juicy leaves, nibbling on the little berries and collecting the incredibly bright pink flowers. 

Pigface is low maintenance.

Pigface is a low maintenance plant that can be grown in arid landscape situations - like containers, courtyards, rockeries.  It is drought resistant, salt tolerant, as well as being fire resistant.

Please share how you eat or use pigface.

More Reading:

Note: A friend of mine pointed out that "rules about foraging on government-owned land vary between states in Australia and fines for foraging illegally can amount to thousands of dollars...". That's something worth exploring more!