“In Sydney, the forest speaks Polish at Easter”

…and Diego Bonetto listens. Last weekend, I had the privilege of participating in an edible weeds walk on the Cooks River. Led by Diego, about fifteen of us spent an enthralled couple of hours discovering some of the culinary and medicinal gems that typically just disappear below our shoes.

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Some of these weeds are comfortable and familiar to me. Cobblers pegs (bidens pilosa) I know from picking the spikes out of low-hanging clothing at the farm, and more recently as a salad herb. Chickweed (stellaria media) another salad herb. Nettles (urtica dioica) in rich wintry soups, and also as tea when we were unwell, and dock (not sure of its botanical name) crushed and smeared on the skin when nettles stung us rather than nourished us. I was always intrigued (and relieved!) that where nettles grew, dock was always nearby. Mother Nature’s compassion, I figured.

Others plants were familiar in appearance but completely unfamiliar in use. Fascinated to discover that plantain (plantago lanceolata, I think) can be wrapped around injuries as a super-healing bandaid. It’s an expectorant, and can be made into cough syrup, antiseptic and skin salve. After flowering, the seed husks can be taken as psyllium. Flatweed (hypochoeris radicata) is a weed I’ve ignored my whole life. I think it’s called pee-the-bed; maybe that’s what put me off trying it! Who knew, the leaves are edible (better cooked) and the roots can be roasted to make a coffee substitute, much like dandelion.

A few hours with Diego was enthralling and invigorating. He offers a new way of seeing the world. He makes me remember that nature is inestimably rich, and that goodness is *literally* all around us. He thinks about weeds as a cultural connector, a means of understanding ourselves and each other.

At Easter, the forests of Sydney speak Polish because the diasporic community can find a little piece of home in the edible mushrooms that they harvest.

In spring, we talk together about dandelions as Diego remembers a childhood harvesting them with a butter knife at his family farm in Italy, and I remember a childhood spent reluctantly eating them on our family home in Queensland, the bitterness making my face contort and my eyes water a little. Years later, we each revel in the wonder of weeds.
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If you are in Sydney, or anywhere nearby, I commend Diego’s weed walks to you: http://www.weedyconnection.com, http://www.facebook.com/wildstories and on Twitter @theweedone. If you aren’t, then find a book, an internet connection, or someone who knows a little about the weeds under our feet and start exploring. It will inspire you in wonderful ways.

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