Useful Weeds at our Doorstep by Pat Collins

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Useful Weeds at our Doorstep - in touch with the earth Pat Collins with illustrations by Kath Mitchell

In Australia, the term ‘weed’ is highly subjective, depending on what industry puts food on your family’s table… so this book caught my eye. In short, it’s great. A no-nonsense run through of every weed you are likely to find in the Hunter Region of NSW, what to use them for, and why to use them.Useful Weeds at our Doorstep is a handy reference book for several reasons. Firstly, it’s thorough. It includes photographs of many, and illustrations of all of its entries, and lists common names, origins and current distribution as well as uses (for farm, garden and medicinal), recipes, and when to harvest….

Secondly, this little manual, printed in 1998, is specific to the Hunter region of NSW. And that Bioregion in question has a great deal in common with just about every other region in NSW, making it a great reference for use across the state (give and take a couple of species). And probably a fair portion of the rest of Australia too.

Thirdly, the weeds in this book are from wide origins and like so many plants have found their way here from other lands in animal feeds, in birds droppings, on shoes and in foodstuffs over the centuries. So, although many of the species mentioned  have either speciated+acclimatized to suit Australian conditions, they share basic similarities with their european or asian cousins… all the better for us.

Pat Collins is a bit of a legend in my books. A Herbalist based in Musswellbrook, NSW, she has published a series of 5 books focusing on the use of herbs for all things medicinal and nourishing. Having moved to a remote location I am especially thankful for this. In country Australia, there are times between the weekly trips to town when everything edible and green has been consumed, and one is faced with the prime dread of country living, frozen vegetables (ok – one of the two prime dreads, if you include powdered milk). If you do not have established and rip-roaring vege gardens, sometimes you are stuck in a situation with no greens in your bowl. dandelion

However. Enter our good friend the Nettle. Growing quietly in the paddock, untouched by the sheep, the wallabies and the birds. Yes, you have to pick it with gloves on. No, it doesnt sting your tongue once its cooked. Yes, it is amazing in potato soup made on a good chicken stock. Pat is also well-versed in the nettle, and once you read the grand sum of its uses in her book you will never curse it again.

Lastly, the idea of a Weed is very culturally and geographically specific, and there is a BIG melting pot of thought and conjecture around the term going on around the world in terms of what should and shouldn’t grow where, and why. The presence of unwanted, pioneering species that can function in poor soil,  is something that I think is crucial to our understanding of natural systems, but one that has been barely touched apon yet in mainstream science and land management. I shall keep the larger conversation on weeds for another time, but in the meantime, I’m happy to know how to use the ones at my doorstep. Cheers Pat.

Getting a copy:

  • GreenPatch Organic Seeds sells the title as part of their book section.
  • Total Health and Education Centre – run by the Author Pat Collins in Muswellbrook, NSW would, I assume, also be able to provide a copy.
  • Number Fourty Seven is a very funky gallery/multi-use space in Rylstone, NSW. It’s where I got my copy of this book from and Pat Collins also holds weed workshops out of this venue a couple of times a year. No website can I find, but the lady that runs the place is lovely and could help you out:Virginia Handmer on 6379 1345 Thurs – Sat, 6457 5010 on Mon-Wed or 6379 1338 after hours.

Update: Kirsten – 22/09/2007

Just a note that our friend Nobody has created a kick-arse weed database for Australia – with species origins, uses and lots more. good stuff, and yr welcome to contribute weeds to it…

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