Madeira Vine: an ironic Harvest

1407 madeira vine - 01

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, via eating it.

We won’t let it spread, but we’re not going to eradicate a perfectly good food source without utilising it first.

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

1407 madeira vine - 11

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, 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 fabulous 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…

1407 madeira vine - 01

24 Comments

  1. Posted July 25, 2014 at 6:08 am | Permalink | Reply

    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. Sheri
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 6:46 am | Permalink | Reply

    Reminds me of an invasive we have been fighting called “Kudzu (/ˈkʊdzuː/, also called Japanese arrowroot”.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kudzu

  3. Helen
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink | Reply

    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!

  4. Posted July 25, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink | Reply

    If you’d like more to harvest do come to Mangerton Reserve :)

  5. Paul Starr
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink | Reply

    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.

  6. Michelle
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink | Reply

    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:-)!

  7. Alexia Martinez
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 7:35 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Kirsten, I thought I had read somewhere that tubers are toxic and can kill pigs and cattle. Did you come across this information?
    Lexxie

  8. Marlane
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 9:28 pm | Permalink | Reply

    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?!

  9. helsyd
    Posted July 26, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink | Reply

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

  10. Tess
    Posted July 27, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink | Reply

    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!

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink | Reply

      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 :)

  11. Fay
    Posted July 27, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

    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? :)

  12. Posted July 28, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink | Reply

    Reblogged this on FUNDACION SOCIAL "SALVEMOS EL PLANETA".

  13. megan
    Posted July 29, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink | Reply

    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!

  14. Alex
    Posted July 29, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Permalink | Reply

    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.

  15. Jhabel
    Posted July 30, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink | Reply

    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.

  16. Michelle Mairs
    Posted July 31, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink | Reply

    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 ubiquitous..plus 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!

  17. Posted July 31, 2014 at 7:43 pm | Permalink | Reply

    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’.

    • Posted August 1, 2014 at 6:05 am | Permalink | Reply

      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.

  18. Evan
    Posted August 17, 2014 at 7:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

    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 :(

    • Posted August 18, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink | Reply

      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…

      • Evan
        Posted August 19, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        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!

  19. Mary O
    Posted August 21, 2014 at 6:03 am | Permalink | Reply

    Chew on a leaf and whalla, canker sores disappear!

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] the folks at Milkwood Permaculture have thrown up a curly one – they’ve just posted on how Madeira Vine, one of the most horrific invasives of all time, not only has edible leaves and […]

  2. […] mentioned previously, we removed all evidence of madeira vine from the bed, despite it being on par with the […]

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