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  • Dr Gill Banks

Weeds re-imagined

The Scottish Farmer Cluster gets up close to the many sides of plant biodiversity.

credit: stock

The second Aberdeenshire Farmer Cluster meeting was held on 29th June, 2022. It focussed on wild edibles that the farmers can find around the cluster and involved a quiz, a walk, and a BBQ.! This was slightly different to the usual Cluster meetings, which up to now mainly took place online or visiting just one member of the Cluster. The event was designed to bring all of us together as one group. It also aimed to demonstrate that the plants that are generally called “weeds” are not just weeds but that they can be useful as a food source or that they may have other uses such as producing fibres. Thinking in this way can help Farmers open up their own professional worldview of biodiversity, which is often multifaceted.

This was particularly well demonstrated by nettles (Urtica dioica) from which the cluster facilitator made a soup that the farmers thoroughly enjoyed and had also produced some nettle fibres that had been knitted. Nettles also support native bee and butterfly pollinator populations that help farmers deliver 85% of the apple crop and 45% of the strawberry crop in the UK through their pollination services. Re-imaging what a 'weed' means may help all of us to consider the pros and cons of agrobiodiversity, or even what's in our own gardens, on a more objective basis.

The host farmer let us hold an indoor BBQ and use their kitchen for preparation of the wild edible foods as the weather was very poor when we first arrived.At this point, the facilitator decided to change the format of the event and turned it into a quiz, where some members of the HUTTON team were asked to collect specified wild edible plants from areas that surrounded the host’s farm whilst the facilitator compiled some information about them along key identification and features. The plants were handed around the farmers who had been divided into 2 teams to compete for points and a grand prize of beers. Points were awarded for the correct identification of plants.

The menu consisted of nettle soup, “weed burgers”, salad, sweet cicely sweetened rhubarb crumble and orange flavoured jelly ears covered in Belgian chocolate for dessert. All the farmers also ate the wild edibles which consisted of Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), Sheep’s Sorrel (Rumex acetosella), Lime tree (Tilia cordata) leaves, nettles (Urtica dioica), ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria), sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) and jelly ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) mushrooms.

The wild food went down well with comments ranging from:

“What a fine feast we had”.

“Thanks a lot – good meeting, scrumptious nosh. I carefully munched my jelly ears for a few days and survived”.

“Like everyone else I thoroughly enjoyed our food. Guess I was eating lime leaves and never knew!”

During the walk outside the farm, the lead farmer used an app (PlantNet) on the walk to identify some of the plants on the walk. As the farmers had met 1-2-1 and not as a group, they enjoyed the social aspect of the BBQ and were able to get an update from the field team on some of the surveys that had been carried out on their farms. The FC facilitator was able to briefly meet one of the farmer’s agronomists and the group looked at a cover crop consisting mainly of “sand vetch”.

The group were also given a homemade 30 mL sample of plantain (Plantago lanceolata) salve, which is made the ribwort plantain, a common weed on cultivated or disturbed land. The salve can be used for small cuts, scrapes, bee/wasp stings, rashes, and abrasions but the idea was to again demonstrate that “weeds” can have different uses.

All attendees enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and felt as though they got something out of the event – such as appreciation that many of the plants that they see as “weeds” were edible. They were interested to hear about the medicinal or other uses of the 10 wild edible plants that were used.


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