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!

Friday, 13 January 2017

10 Non-toxic and Economical Cleaning Tips in the Kitchen

I much prefer to use natural non-toxic cleaners at home, especially with young ones about. There's really no need to use the chemical cleaners when we have access to things like vinegar. Simple vinegar is such a useful and economical helper in the kitchen, as well as around the home. It replaces so many 'products'.

It's amazing really, vinegar was discovered by accident more than 10,000 years ago and today it is still used today in so many ways. Similar to how we use it today, the Ancient Sumerians are known to have used it as a condiment, a preservative, a medicine, and antibiotic and a detergent.

Here are just ten of the ways to use vinegar as an affordable and natural cleaner in the kitchen:

1. Clean the fridge
Wipe down the inside of the fridge using equal parts of water and vinegar.

2. Clean the oven
Wipe out the oven with a cleaning cloth dampened with white vinegar.

3. Brighten stainless steel

Remove spots and streaks on stainless steel kitchen equipment by rubbing with white vinegar.

4. Rinse hand-washed soapy dishes and glasses
To get rid of the soap residue and get squeaky clean dishes, add a splash of vinegar to the rinse water. It helps to prevent water spotting on glasses too.

6. Rinsing in the dishwasher
To get streak-free, sparkly dishes just add 3 tablespoons of vinegar to your dishwasher's rinse cycle.

7. Clean stained mugs
I like the inside of my cups to be nice and clean. To get rid of stubborn coffee and tea stains coffee, wipe them with a mix of salt and white vinegar.

8. Clean chopping boards
To clean chopping boards, cut grease, absorb odours and reduce bacteria, wipe them down with full strength vinegar

9. Clean work surfaces
To clean all kitchen work surfaces and reduce bacteria, wipe them with full strength vinegar.

10. Revive kitchen clothes
Freshen up kitchen sponges by soaking them overnight in a litre of water with 3 tablespoons of vinegar added to it.

Source: Vinegar 1001 Practical Uses by Margaret Briggs

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Can You Compost Koala Poo?

An interesting question I was posed with today - can you compost koala poo?

As I write now in the late evening, I am listening to a great 'symphony' of koala calls outside - the 'growling' males and the squeaky young ones. The noises koalas make are really quite surprising - possibly some of the noisiest of the Australian natives - especially in mating season. You'd think there were great big monsters outside. Visiting friends and children can be quite alarmed!

Such soft and sweet-looking animals make such incredibly raucous noises all through the night.

Each day here on Raymond Island, in the middle of the Gippsland Lakes, we've been riding our bikes on koala-spotting expeditions. There are so many here - it's an amazing Koala refuge. There are lots of new babies too which is great. It's also wonderful seeing so many people from around the world here wandering around the sandy streets with their heads turned to the treetops experiencing koalas in the wild.

An easy way to find koalas is to look for their fresh scats below the gum trees. We've been encouraging this method after Hugh rode into a few garbage bins on the side of the road today !?! (he's OK).

Koala scats are oval shaped and olive green when fresh, and as little Monty informs us, they smell of gum leaves which is not surprising since this is their entire diet.

Looking for native animal scats is actually quite fascinating. Other scats we've found belong to the Eastern Grey Kangaroo and the wallabies, but we haven't spotted any echidna or wombat scats yet. We know there are wombats here, and we've seen lots of gorgeous echidnas with their amazing quills and feet - such lovely little faces - snuffling around in the leaf litter searching for insects.

So, can you compost native animal manure?

Herbivore poo is good poo for compost. A while ago I was going past a Llama farm and picked up a car boot full of llama poo which made great compost. Native herbivore poo also makes good compost although I hear it is generally slower to decompose. Also, being quite small, it would take a while to collect (unlike the llamas that poo all in one spot). Having said that, Koalas scat is often concentrated under trees so easier to collect than the poo of the wandering grazing kangaroos and wallabies.

We'll go out with a bucket tomorrow and see how much we can collect for Grandad's orchard.

Here's a link to some scats for Australian animal scats:

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Wild Harvesting for Dinner: Simple Free Food

Our meal tonight included a lovely bunch of wild harvested greens from the lakeside. 

After the floods a few years back, Warrigal Greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides) started appearing in the low-lying parts of my parent’s garden on the shores of the Gippsland Lakes. The seeds, or fragments of plants had washed up and found a new home. They have become quite lush and abundant - a great source of tasty, free greens.

Captain Cook used Warrigal Greens, high in vitamin C, to help fight scurvy on the Endeavour. It was growing abundantly around the shores in Sydney and still does. Cook picked, cooked and pickled it. Joseph Banks took seeds back to Kew Gardens and it became popular in England as a vegetable for some time.

Warrigal Greens are also known as Botany Bay Spinach, Cook’s Cabbage , New Zealand Spinach, Sea Spinach. It is native to Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and Japan.

Warrigal Greens were esteemed as a tasty dish by the Europeans, but from what I am reading it was a actually not eaten by indigenous Australians - possibly because the effort of having to cook it outweighed the benefits. 

Growing it

Warrigal Greens are found growing wildly in many places. You’ll typically find Warrigal Greens growing around the edge of water ways because they like moist shady spots, and they actually don’t mind saline ground.

You can also grow them in your garden for a hardy spinach alternative. They are quick and easy to grow, providing an abundance of food simply.

Grow them from seed, or take a cutting from a wild plant. 

Remember they love to ramble so make a feature of this - grow them under fruit trees in your food forest, grow them under a vine, put them in a hanging pot (well-watered)

They are hardy but for lush and tender leaves, they need good access to water and fertile soil. They’ll grow in poor soils with little water, but their leaves will not be lush and delicious.

It actually thrives in hot weather - a good summer plant - but does like a moist shady position. It is very hardy and insect, snail and slug resistant. 

Harvesting it

Use the young growing shoots. The older leaves become bitter. By harvesting the tips, it keeps this rambling plant in good shape.

Warrigal Greens: Tetragonia tetragonioides

Eating it

Warrigal Greens can be used just like spinach, although it is best cooked even when young due to the oxalic acid content. It is suggested that you blanch the leaves first before cooking and throw away the blanching water. I add it to soups, stews, omelettes, veggie pies and much more.

Tonight I made a delicious vegetarian stir fry to accompany what my kids call ‘eggy-bake’.  I blanched some Warrigal Greens to add to both dishes.

Eggy-bake is a favourite of my young children and I’ve found is a great way to squeeze more vegetables of all sorts into their diet. I throw eggs, vegetables, herbs into a blender and pulse for a few seconds, then cook in a baking dish until ready (15-20 mins - I keep it thin to cook quickly). Sometimes we top with a handful of grated cheese. 

The stir fry included garlic, onion, ginger, chilli, pumpkin, carrot, silverbeet, shallots and Warrigal Greens.


  • It contains oxalic acid so it is best to blanch the leaves for a minute or two in hot water before adding into a meal (throw away the blanching water).
  • It can be found as an invasive plant in North and South America

Monday, 9 January 2017

This Should Be Front Page News

Last year was the world's hottest on record. Earth's three hottest years on record have been 2016, 2015 and 2014. Around Australia, ocean temperatures were the warmest on record.

Soon a huge iceberg is going to break off the Antarctic. A long time rift suddenly grew in December. It is widely accepted by scientists that this rift has been accelerated by climate change. Once this iceberg breaks off, there will be further significant disintegration of the Antarctic ice sheet.

Within the next few months, this great iceberg - around 5000 square kilometres (twice the size of the ACT) is poised to break away from the Larsen C ice shelf in the Antarctic. It will bring the ice front to the most retreated position in recorded history.

With further break-up of the ice-shelf, the gates for glaciers, more glaciers will flow into the ocean. In the longer term, the result of this could lead to a sea levels rise of rise 10 centimetres.

Want to do something .... 

More background reading: