Note: this website is written for Australian readers, and as an accessory to our book Let’s Eat Weeds: A Kid’s Guide to Foraging (available below). If you’re viewing it from elsewhere you may have other look-alike plants in your area, so check local guides.
first off – let’s look at the real gallant soldier
If you’ve read Let’s Eat Weeds, you’ll know that gallant soldier (scientific name: Galinsoga parviflora) is a bright little plant with a yummy flavour that’s very popular in Brazil. If you live in Melbourne, or anywhere colder, gallant soldier is not all
that common. But it is pretty common in Sydney and warmer parts of Australia.
On this page we want to take a closer look at some of the look-alikes we listed in the book. Luckily, none of them are especially toxic or anything, but it’s worth knowing what they are.
So first, this is gallant soldier.
It tends to have really bright green leaves (when it is young and healthy). But that’s not much to go on, so let’s take a closer look.
The leaves are a bit pointy, and they come in pairs opposite each other. Can you see the pairs of leaves in the photo above?
The yellow flowers with white petals are quite small. How small?
Each flower is no bigger than a pea.
If you think the flowers are small, the petals are tiny. A fairy couldn’t even use one as toilet paper.
When the flowers turn into seeds, each seed has a fluffy tuft on the end of it, so the wind can blow it away.
A plant with similar little flowers is cobbler’s pegs (scientific name: Bidens pilosa).
Cobbler’s pegs’ flowers usually have bigger petals than gallant soldier, although sometimes the petals aren’t there at all.
Cobbler’s pegs’ leaves come in pairs just like gallant soldier’s, but each leaf is broken up into three or five ‘leaflets’. So they look very different from gallant soldier’s leaves.
The main way to know it’s cobbler’s pegs is that the seeds come in spiky balls. The spiky seeds easily get stuck in your socks or shoelaces.
Cobbler’s pegs is edible (usually cooked). One of us likes it and thinks it tastes nutty and the other one thinks it tastes a bit like pine floor cleaner and isn’t so keen on it.
There are a few other close relatives of cobbler’s pegs (other Bidens species) in Australia – but they look even less like gallant soldier. Most, but not all as far as we can tell, are eaten by some people. They all have seeds that stick in clothes. Some have yellow petals, some have ferny leaves. We won’t go into it here, but if you want to be sure what you have is cobbler’s pegs you can send some photos to us.
Coat buttons (scientific name: Tridax procumbens) you’ll only find in the warmer parts of Australia: in Brisbane and further north. You shouldn’t need to worry about it if you live in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia or Western Australia south of Carnarvon.
This is what it looks like:
It grows closer to the ground than gallant soldier – except for the flowers, which grow on long stems.
The flowers themselves are pretty similar to gallant soldier’s. And it has fluffy seeds, just like gallant soldier.
(Photo by brendanoww)
While the flowers are pretty similar, their stem is much longer and the leaves are also thicker, usually darker, and the edge of the leaves is more toothed.
It doesn’t seem to be toxic, but it doesn’t have much history of being eaten either, so we wouldn’t recommend it.
St Paul’s wort
(scientific name: Sigesbeckia orientalis)
Another plant that can look a bit like gallant soldier is St Paul’s wort.
Of all the plants on this page, it’s leaves probably look most like gallant soldier, because they are a bit pointy and arranged in pairs opposite each other. The edge of the leaves is usually more wavy though.
(Photo by 蕭明昇.)
It also has similar pea-sized yellow flowers with about five tiny petals.
So how do we tell it apart?
It’s actually very easy! The petals are yellow (not white), and each flower has five funny sticky green fingers behind it.
(Photo by Vinayaraj.)
You can find St Paul’s wort all over the country, and we’ve heard that some people eat it. But it’s a bit toxic raw – it needs to be cooked and leached (the water changed while cooking) to remove the toxin. That sounds more trouble than it’s worth to us.
So that’s the main ones we think gallant soldier could be mistaken for.
Of course, if you’re trying to identify it without flowers it’s going to be much harder, and there might be other things you could confuse it with! So if you’re not sure if what you’re looking at is gallant soldier and it has no flowers, come back later when it’s flowering to check.
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