Madeira Vine: an ironic Harvest

| Foraging, Permaculture, Permaculture Design | comments | Author :

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Now that we’re gardening in a frost-free area we have to get acquainted with a new bunch of sub tropical-ish weeds. This week, it’s been all about the Madeira Vine. In our new garden, the stuff is everywhere.

Look up Madeira vine and you will find gazillions of references to its invasive and terrible habits. But did you know that it’s edible? 

Madeira Vine
Madeira Vine
Madeira vine bubils (aerial rhizomes)
Madeira vine bubils (aerial rhizomes)

Last weekend we got stuck into our new rental home’s garden. Well, a corner of it, anyway. Small steps, obtain a yield, and all that.

Prettymuch every surface in the corner we started in was choked in the bright green, fleshy leaves of Madeira vine, a garden escapee which hails from South America.

Madeira vine (Anredera cordifolia) is a hardy perennial which climbs up trees and then proceeds to produce long tails of flowers followed by clusters of airborne bubils, which fall off, and make more Madeira vines.

It’s considered a real problem all across subtropical Australia – choking the edge of rainforests and other native vegetation – like many resilient pioneer species, it’s an aggressive little bugger.

And our new garden was choked with the stuff.

Madeira vine going nutso in our small garden
Madeira vine going nutso in our small garden
Maderia vine leaves - tasty cooked or raw.
Maderia vine leaves.

With the enthusiasm that only establishing a new garden can bring, I took on the madeira vine with gusto.

The tuberous roots were everywhere, and it trailed up the fence and the lemon tree, as well as thickly across the ground. I ripped and I ripped and I ripped it out.

During a pause in my ripping frenzy, I had a thought. And so I panted to Nick: “hey could you look up Madeira Vine and check what it’s good for?”

It turns out that Madeira vine is highly edible. Medicinal, even.

  • Madeira vine leaves can be cooked like spinach and are highly nutritious
  • Madeira vine roots (rizomes) can be baked like potato
  • Madeira vine bubils (the aerial seed-ish things) are used extensively in Chinese medicine as an anti inflammatory, anti ulcer and liver protectant.

So here I am, ripping out a perfectly adapted, naturalised and nutritious food crop that can be used like spinach so that I can, er, plant some spinach.

Oh the irony.

Our personal compromise? To meet the Madeira vine half way. We removed it from our intensive planting bed, But we left it be under the lemon tree, where it seemed happiest.

Our future strategy? Management and reduction, via eating it.

So we won’t plant any more spinach. Until we run out of madeira vine, that is.

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Our current management plan: Madeira vine removed from main veggie bed, with plans to eat the rest of it. Use what you have.

As I looked through the very many online articles and references to Madeira vine as a noxious pest, I was struck by the fact that only one article in twenty mentioned the vine’s eminent edibility.

Don’t you think that’s crazy?

I mean, don’t get me wrong. Native vegetation is essential to preserve, as are our remaining pockets of functional rainforest. And weed removal is a part of that.

But conversely, in an age of food scarcity, of ridiculously wasteful and polluting industrial agriculture being promoted as the only way to feed Australia (because we couldn’t possibly feed ourselves with localised small farm based food systems, apparently)…

In the middle of all this, we have yet another rampant food bearing plant that is everywhere, and which is being entirely ignored for the nutrient dense value to our communities that it represents.

In fact, we have a local food source dripping, literally, from the trees around us. And yet our only plan for it, no matter where it grows, is to eradicate it.

Madeira vine choking native vegetation. With edibility. Hmm.
Madeira vine choking native vegetation. With edibility. Hmm.
Madeira vine in the upper Macleay
Madeira vine in the upper Macleay

Does this mean we should let plants like Madeira vine strangle our local nature reserve? Hell no.

But this does mean that, yet again, we have an adapted, perennial, zero footprint and highly nutritious food plant right on our doorsteps, which we’re trying our best to wipe out.

Because it doesn’t fit our idea of food, our idea of nature.

But unlike many other edible weeds that are there for the foraging but which could be easily discounted from cultivation due to various factors, it’s interesting to note that Madeira Vine ticks many of the boxes desired for a food crop…

  • It grows without much assistance, is hardy and produces prolifically.
  • It requires minimal cultivation.
  • It dominates an area where it is planted (meaning far less weed control is needed)
  • It is spread only by humans and by water flows distributing the bubils – an easy factor to contain with good design

And if that’s not enough, Madeira vine is already successfully cultivated + eaten extensively in Japan, where it is called okawakame (land seaweed)

okawakame cultivation + cooking in japan
okawakame (Madeira vine) cultivation + cooking in Japan

At any rate, I feel fortunate that we looked it up, and now know of another local food that can be used to nurture our family and friends.

Seeking sustenance by whatever means available, and necessary.

Madeira Vine resources

It’s a pickle, isn’t it – what do you make of this issue?

Actually, speaking of pickles, i rekon Madeira vine would make a good pickle or kraut addition…

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**Update in response to the various folks who are determined to see the above post as a promotion of cultivating noxious weeds – people, read the post again. It’s not.

What I am saying is that using the resources around you (even as you attempt to eradicate them) is a good idea, and an ethical approach to energy + food consumption.

Whether it’s madeira vine, feral rabbits, whatever – eating it is an appropriate use of energy, and should be considered over the alternative of  exclusively approaching the problem with glyphosate or pindone.

And if you really want to talk weeds and the destruction of the Australian landscape, let’s start with the big ones – rice, wheat, canola, sugarcane and so on… it’s a long list, if you look at it in terms of adverse and invasive impact on our ecosystems…

See the comments

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34 responses to “Madeira Vine: an ironic Harvest

  1. I look forward to hearing how you’ll prepare it and how it tastes. It’s not a plant I’m familiar with where I live in New Zealand

  2. have the stuff in droves here ( Northern sydney). my solution is chooks. they love the stuff. I personally hate it with a passion. didn’t find it very palatable when I tried using it like spinach, but maybe I have a psychological hang up about it. Very happy to eat my (vegetative) enemies, but can’t come at this one. good luck with it!

  3. I lived in Saitama and never tried this. Interested to hear how it tastes. It should not be confused with the more commonly-known Japanese ‘land seaweed’ of okahijiki.

  4. This is such good news! I have loads in my rental property garden too and each time I’ve gone to research it’s goodness I’ve only discovered more of its evil. Thank you so much for this post and references. I will be experimenting tonight and indeed many nights to come:-)!

  5. Great post. I’m all for being able to eat anything especially if it saves me a 2 hr drive to the shops. I’ve just moved to the mid north coast so not much of a veggie patch yet. Anyone got any ideas for lantana recipes?!

  6. such an interesting post! 🙂 – have you tried eating it? – I want to hear about how it all tastes

  7. GREAT news. I’ve been trying to wrestle it out of my yard here in Melbourne and now can give it a use, thank goodness 🙂
    What have your edible experiments been like? Are the roasted tubers palatable? Would love a follow up on your Madeira eating adventures!

    1. We’re cooking up some tubers this week – will report back. The leaves are fine, they’re just going in everything that needs greens – soups, casseroles, canneloni etc 🙂

  8. It’s articles like this one that makes me look forward to the regular emails. My friends are clearing this plant from their land; I’ll be scrounging off them for a meal. I’ve seen this plant many times and didn’t know its name. I suppose it won’t taste like chicken huh? 🙂

  9. Really impressive article! I have worked in bush regen and this weed is a shocker in bushland….but of course in the garden an asset! Thanks for sharing all sides, esp the edibility!

  10. Uggh, I’m happy for the chooks to have it but then I don’t think even they could keep it totally under control. Frost can and I for one would prefer to live with the frost than have this plant. Dandelion, on the other hand, the more you harvest the better they gets.

  11. I’m in the Northern Rivers and it is a major pest , smothering the rainforest and choking the temperate forest , I have tried to get rid of it and it takes years and surprisingly the tubers will stay viable for 2 years ! As to eating it not for me , but i am interested to see how the tubers are roasted. the chooks are not that fussed , but I an persevering and hope they start to like it because the nearby forest has loads.

  12. Madeira vine is the only thing screening our otherwise perfect view of the neighbours back deck so I’ve done little to control it other than keep it out of the trees. The growth is extremely fast, the tubers large and it seems to flower at every opportunity. I imagined it robbing loads of nutrients from the nearby avacado and apple tree so I put a compost pile between them and try to keep the tubers out.

    Last week I started adding them to our fresh juice in the morning and quickly realized they are a much stronger taste than spinach so I halved the quantity and use younger more tender leaves. Kids didn’t complain so it’s all good. I also used them in place of spinach in an omelette chopped finely without disclosing the ingredients to the kids. My son (7) proclaimed after his first bite that it was the best omelet he’d EVER had….so we’ve officially befriended our Madiera:-)…now for these tubers!

  13. Rumour is, from the local ecologist, that permaculturalists are responsible for this particular problem weed. It’s one of the main reasons we have a bad name with the ‘experts’.

    1. Hmm. I don’t buy that – so your ecologist is saying all ‘the permaculturalists’ lobbed it over their back fence into reserves? Was it a mass co-ordinated nationwide action?

      The dumbass actions of one or a few people based on misunderstanding of the basic premise that weeds can be useful (and, as always, context, context, context) doesn’t equate to everyone using permaculture design theory, sorry.

  14. Hi guys,
    Just my own experiences with Madeira vine. I pulled out a row a shrubs along the back of our yard (10 or so metres) totally engulfed in this stuff last year. Despite making an effort to pick up all the bulbils, they are very easy to scatter and every single one grows into a new plant. We get mild frosts in my part of South Gippsland, and it certainly doesn’t stop Madeira! The problem comes say if one was to leave a rental or to sell up, and then some regular Joe-backyarder moves in and decides to take a load of Madeira to the tip. All it takes is a couple of bulbils to fall off on the way and bam, it’s in bushland. I am currently in the process of watching it choke out a patch of reveg bush that I helped plant about 15 years ago along a roadside. In an ideal world people wouldn’t take Greenwaste to the tip but unfortunately this isnt an ideal world.

    As for a spinach alternative, sure use it if you have it but I strongly discourage anyone from planting any more. The are plenty of other spinach weed alternatives that taste better and are less devastatingly invasive 🙂 my 2 cents

    As for my own garden I still can’t get rid of the stuff, it is outcompetint my raspberries 🙁

    1. yep, we’re not encouraging anyone to plant it, just saying that, if it’s edible, then maybe it should be seen for the resource it is rather than ripping it out while degrading other land to plant crops…

      1. Oh definitely, I only wish we could eat ours but (un)fortunately we have an over abundance of better greens such as nettles, self seeded kale, fat hen, mallow etc. Now if only meat grew on trees (or vines) we’d be set!

  15. Great article on madeira vine, Kirsten! This covers the different angles of looking at it; as an invasive weed and as a sustainable food source. It is actually quite a delectable vegetable in certain parts of the world. We recently had an opportunity to try it and the name ‘land seaweed’ is really suitable. If you like Malabar/Ceylon spinach, Madeira vine is even better. Supposedly the air bubils aren’t edible and we didn’t know that before eating some, but no trouble!

  16. I had an outbreak of Madeira Vine in my backyard. I baked the tubers and found they tasted like baked potatoe. If only I had known how tasty they were I would have started collecting the tubers long ago. I have not tried the leaves yet, but I will try incorporating them as a green addition in my cooking.

  17. Have had this vegetation in our garden for past 20 years. From personal experience the tubers lay dormant in the ground until they are disturbed and if you happen to break a tuber whilst digging it out a new plant will generate from the tuber portion. I used the leaves chopped finely and added to my chooks mash. They didn’t mind the sloppy green look but the eggs were the best and the laying improved. We have also contained the vine to 1 section of the garden without too much trouble being careful not to disturb the tubers so they grow big. Did pull a tuber from the ground around 20 years ago when we bought the block and the tuber was the size of a decent tree root and as thick as a person’s arm a real survival plant!

  18. We eat Madeira vine leaves quite common and for years. I plant some in my backyard (beside the fence) and eat them when we need green veggies. They are good for my weak stomach. I believe many Asian people like eating them, some of my friends ask for bubils to plant.
    In my home country- Taiwan, the ” Madeira vine leaves fried with black sesame oil” (麻油川七)is a famous, popular and delicious dish in restaurants . The raw leaves can be bought in fresh market and for some reasons, you will find they are more expensive compare with some other veggies.
    The following is the most common way we cook them:
    1. Use cooking oil ( just a bit, 1-2 spoon?)to fry ginger till the ginger turn brown.
    2. Put in washed Madeira vine leaves, quickly fry them till they turn dark green and tender ( add a bit water if necessary ).
    3. Add black sesame oil and salt.

  19. Madiera Vine was apparently planted next to the ubiquitous Aussie outdoor dunny as the leaves were believed to have a laxative effect! Guess it would have grown over and cooled down those dunnies too. It was probably imported and distributed around Australia because of its showy white flowers and is a cinch to grow for the lazy gardener. A much hated weed of the bush and well documented destroyer of rainforest. Please be very very careful with your harvesting folks as the aerial tubers fall off the vines so easily and it can grow readily from fallen vine stem sections and even leaves so please don’t transport it around…eat in-situ.

  20. Hm… harvest as you kill I reckon. Cons probably outweigh the pros. Actually quite hard to contain because birds will spread the bulbils. Definitely agree that larger scale agriculture is worse environmentally, but I still wouldn’t keep a patch of it in the long term

  21. Hi. I have this growing onto my fence from the rail line which sits behind my house. Every five years or so the council comes along to spray the bejesus out of it 🙁 i’m wondering if it would still be safe to eat?

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