Cooking with nature

Department of Conservation —  11/09/2021

You may not realise it, but there are lots of natural ingredients in your backyard that you can incorporate into your home cooked meals.

Despite takeaways being available for parts of the country at Alert Level 2 and 3, there’s no reason why you can’t keep cooking your own lunch, dinner, and afternoon treats! We know not everyone loves to cook, but answer us this…

Can you successfully toast bagels in the morning without burning them?

Perfect! You qualify to cook with nature.

Have a go, expand your home-made-meal horizons, and take a moment to discover nature this Conservation Week by trying out these fun and easy ways to cook with nature.

Brought to you by one of our Digital Team colleagues – Benhi Dixon (seriously, she knows how to cook!)


You probably have patches of chickweed in your backyard, and don’t even know it.

Chickweed can be distinguished from similar plants by the single row of hairs along the stems, like a fuzzy mohawk. If you remove the outer stem, you can stretch the inner part a bit like elastic.

Try searching for chickweed in your garden.
📷: Benhi Dixon.

It tastes like delicate spinach and can be used like spinach, raw or cooked. I stirred some through hot cheesey pasta for a lazy nutritional boost. The kids didn’t even notice (though it helps they actually like vegetables).

Great to know this vegetable is just lying around, especially when fridge supplies are low.

Tip: Look like a pro chef by using chickweed as a garnish. A ‘poor’ man’s microgreen? More like smart.

Garnish your dish with nature! The kids will never be able to tell.
📷: Benhi Dixon.

Onion weed

If you suddenly pick up on a pongy smell walking through grassy areas, you could blame it on someone else, or you could blame it on onion weed.

Also known as three-cornered leek, the cross section of the leaves are triangular and its white flowers have green lines along the petals. The leaves, flowers, and bulbs are all edible.

The flowers of an onion weed are also edible.
📷: Benhi Dixon.
What’s that smell? It could be onion weed.
📷: Benhi Dixon.

I found onion weed similar to garlic chives, but milder, sweeter and way less pongy.

Try them in stir fries or savoury pancakes. I fried up some garlic and tofu, then added chopped onion weed with a splash of water. The dish was flavoured simply with soy sauce, oyster sauce and pepper.

Yum! Even for a meat-free dish.

Tip: Be sure to chop it up into chewable lengths, and check your teeth before a meeting.

Tuck in!
📷: Benhi Dixon.


Our kawakawa got heavily culled by the contractors digging the water pipe around it.

Luckily for us, the medicinal native bounced back nicely. Its glossy heart-shaped leaves make it easily recognisable when walking through bush.

Spot kawakawa on your daily walk.
📷: Benhi Dixon.

I tried it as a tea – simmered for 15 mins in water before using.

By itself, kawakawa tea has a unique aroma but no obvious flavour I thought. So to mix things up, I had three infusions: mint, lemon honey, and cinnamon honey.

I tried it on the kids, their faces were enough to tell me this wasn’t their ‘cup of tea’. Personally I thought the mint was relaxing, the lemon honey pleasant, and the cinnamon honey quite warming.

Tip: As often advised, go for the holey leaves as they’re the better ones. But not-as-often-advised – make sure you check for any crawlies before you go boiling anything.

Attention all tea lovers! You’ve got to try this relaxing kawakawa tea.
📷: Benhi Dixon.


Guinea pigs love dandelion… but I’m not a guinea pig. If I’ve learnt anything today, it’s that dandelion is high in vitamin C – and is very bitter.

Compared to similar looking plants, dandelion have leaves with almost no hairs, and their flower stem is hollow.

Dandelion – for guinea pigs AND humans.
📷: Benhi Dixon.

I tried going for smaller, younger plants, and even blanched some to compare the taste. Just a whole lot of bitter either way. So I only put a few leaves into my salad, because as adults you’re supposed to appreciate some bitterness in a salad right?  

It wasn’t too bad in the end. With all the halloumi, garlic croutons, broccolini and dressing (and wine, ahem) – the dandelion was fine.

Tip: Unless you’re a guinea pig, I would use it sparingly.

YUM. Need we say more?
📷: Benhi Dixon.

Get involved!

Feeling inspired, hungry, or both? Good! We told you Benhi knows how to cook.

Although Conservation Week is coming to a close, these cooking in nature tips are the perfect way to still get involved. What better way to spend your weekend.

Grab your close mates, entertain the kids, or jump on a zoom call if you’re in Tāmaki Makaurau/ Auckland, and get cooking!

3 responses to Cooking with nature


    Ahhhh Benhi!

    A woman after my own heart – my kids grew up on Chickweed, and I love to munch on it whenever I find a fresh juicy crop in my backyard.
    Dandelion: traditionally you boil and reboil to get the bitterness out. Or, to eat them raw/sauteed, pick them very young before flowers appear.

    The French and Italians have yummy ideas for using them 🙂


    Nice one! To remove the bitterness from pubs you bash the steams a bit and then wash them. I wonder if the same would work for dandelion?


    This is so good! Heaps of excellent ideas.