Monthly Archives: September 2014

Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album)

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Chenopodium album is a fast-growing weedy annual plant in the genus Chenopodium.

Though cultivated in some regions, the plant is elsewhere considered a weed.

Chenopodium album is extensively cultivated and consumed in Northern India as a food crop,and in English texts it may be called by its Hindi name bathua or bathuwa.

Known as wild spinach to many, Lamb’s quarters is even more nutritious than its tame counterpart. It is rich in beta carotene, vitamin B2, niacin, calcium, iron, and phosphorus. Lamb’s quarter greens are also an excellent source of vitamin A and more than 4% protein.

The leaves and young shoots may be eaten as a leaf vegetable, either steamed in its entirety, or cooked like spinach, but should be eaten in moderation due to high levels of oxalic acid. Each plant produces tens of thousands of black seeds. These are high in protein, vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Lamb’s quarters can be used internally to relieve an upset stomach and to prevent scurvy. A tea can be made to treat diarrhea.
It can also be used externally as a poultice to treat burns or swelling. It’s also known for relieving itching.

lambs quarters

Archaeologists analysing carbonized plant remains found in storage pits and ovens at Iron Age, Viking Age, and Roman sites in Europe have found its seeds mixed with conventional grains and even inside the stomachs of Danish bog bodies.

In India, the plant is popularly called bathua and found abundantly in the winter season. The leaves and young shoots of this plant are used in dishes such as soups, curries, and paratha-stuffed breads, especially popular in Punjab. The seeds or grains are used in phambra or laafi, gruel-type dishes in Himachal Pradesh, and in mildly alcoholic fermented beverages such as soora and ghanti.

As some of the common names suggest, it is also used as feed (both the leaves and the seeds) for chickens and other poultry.

lambs quarters drawing

Amaranth

Amaranthus_viridis
Amaranthus viridis

The name Amaranth is Greek for unfading, referring to the flowers that last a long time. The latin names viridis and lividus refers to the stem colour either green or purple (plant to the left). There is another species called Amaranthus powellii which grows much taller up to 1 m high with red stems and longer flower heads. All three Amaranth species I’ve mentioned are also known as Redroot because they all have roots distinctly red roots. Although considered weeds peoples around the world value and use amaranth as leafy vegetables, cereals, ornamentals.

They have densely clustered small green flowers that grow at the terminal or tip of the stem or in the axils of the leaves as seen in the plant to the left which has gone to flower. You can put the whole flower head in your smoothie and get the nutritional benefit of flowers, leaves and seeds.

Nutritional properties :

Compared to other grains amaranth seeds have a much higher content of the minerals calcium, magnesium, iron and the amino acid lysine. Amaranth seeds are also high in potassium, zinc, Vitamin B and E and protein.amaranth seed Amaranth leaves are loaded with nutrition. For example amaranth leaves contain three times more calcium and three times more niacin (Vitamin B3) than spinach leaves. (Or twenty times more calcium and seven times more iron than lettuce). Amaranth leaves are an excellent source of Vitamin A in the form of antioxidant carotenoids, iron, calcium, protein, Vitamin C Vitamin K, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc,copper and manganese.

Amaranthus-powellii
Amaranthus powellii

Purslane – Portulaca oleracea

purslane

Purslane has to be the one of the least appreciated edible weeds with huge hidden benefits. The greatest benefit being high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids
(known to help prevent heart disease and improve the immune system), a whopping 4mg per gram, compared to .89mg in spinach.
Purslane has been used as a food and medicine for at least 2000 years and is still a food staple all over the Mediterranean.
It is a wonderful healing plant used for high blood pressure, anaemia, rickets, diabetes, blood disorders (its red stem is a clue that purslane is good
for the blood) and fevers. It is a good source of thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B6 and folate, and a very good source of Vitamin A in the form of carotenes,
Vitamin C, riboflavin, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese. Nutritious indeed!

Purslane tastes slightly sour, is crunchy and also mucilaginous or slippery to eat. This slipperiness is very soothing to our whole digestive system.

When you look at a purslane plant you’ll notice it is a bit like a succulent with fleshy, hairless, rounded, paddle shaped leaves growing on reddish,
branched stems. It has tiny bright yellow flowers only 1 cm in diameter without stalks, hiding singly or in groups at the tip of the branches.
The flowers only open when the sun is shining. The plant is an annual (lasting one year or one season) that spreads over the ground, only in the heat of
summer and autumn and is killed by frost. It grows in dry waste places, gardens, farm gateways and yards and bare ground.
I met a woman who said she hates this ‘weed’ because she pulls it out and it still doesn’t die. This is because of it’s water retaining fleshy leaves and
stems. She gladly gave me some of her throw away plants. The saying “one person’s trash is another person’s gold” was so true in this instance.
The plant will easily self seed once you have it, meaning the small shiny black 1mm long seeds drop and will come up next year without you having to do
anything.

Waterblommetjies

waterblommetjies

Waterblommetjies are one of the Cape’s favourite old-time ingredients, and if you’re lucky enough to find them, here are the best ways to use them.

If you happen to travel on a country road in the Western Cape during winter, you will see waterblommetjies floating like little white boats on farm dams.

waterblommetjies

According to Dr Bettie Marais of the Stellenbosch Botanical Gardens the waterblommetjie (Aponogeton distachyos – what a tongue-twister!) is not only an indigenous plant, but is also peculiar to the Cape region.

We should relish this little gem and also serve it with pride to those who are not in the know, as it is farmed commercially now and therefore readily available in season.

Edible Weeds

edible weeds

Weeds are often thought of as undesirable, but some of them happen to be superfoods, packed with nutrients we all need. It is VERY IMPORTANT however, that you identify weeds carefully before eating them.

The golden rules for enjoying wild edibles responsibly are:

If you donʼt know what it is donʼt eat it. Learn to identify plants that are edible and get to know those that are poisonous. The best way is learning from a local expert. Second best is from books and the internet.

Make sure the plants you harvest are not sprayed with harmful chemicals, or from contaminated soil.

Sample new edibles in small amounts to start with; if you have no adverse affect after some time a little more can be eaten.

Get permission if harvesting from someone else’s property.