Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Wild plant foraging, phytonutrients, weeds, and other thoughts

I started my botanical career early on. 

I was fascinated about the plants that grew in the city: in sidewalk cracks, in vacant lots, and along roadsides. A summer spent outside NYC when I was 12 found me peering at these survivors.  How did they grow in these inhospitable places?

I was equally fascinated by the wild, native plants that I saw in the national parks that my family visited (we were tent campers, visiting most of the western national parks, as I grew up).  And, I spent a summer on Mt. Hood as a high-school student interested in science, too, many years ago. Amazing. I visited there again after 40 years, a couple of years ago.
 
So, when I went off to graduate school, it wasn't surprising that I gravitated towards plants, and weedy ones, at that.  I spent a decade and half studying weedy species and their population biology -- they're incredibly interesting in terms of their germination strategies, vegetative spread, etc. 

At the same time, growing up, I was also interested in nutrition, health, and the welfare of the planet.  My mom was an Adelle Davis fan, and my interests tended towards that, as well.  

"Which carrot, grown where?" Davis wrote.   I'm reminded of this as I'm coming across, increasingly, suggestions that foraging wild foods is incredibly healthful (these wild plants are supposedly extra-rich in phytonutrients -- a very broad category, to be sure). 

But what's really got me musing about this is when my familiar weed favorites pop up as "superfoods" or appear in lists as the top 12 of "the wisdom of weeds" in a upcoming book.

This has been happening over the last decade or so with increasing frequency as "wild foraging" in urban neighborhoods has become more popular.

I've eaten many "wild" foods and some are better than others.  I've scratched henbit, chickweed and dandelion off my list already.  Nettles are probably good -- I haven't tried them yet.  Blueberries, wineberries, serviceberries, etc. -- sign me up.

More thoughts to come.  
kale, mustards, and other leafy greens

I already grow so many leafy greens and nutrient-rich vegetables that we eat all year round, along with additional veggies from the local markets, I find it hard to think that eating curly dock after several changes of leaching water before cooking can truly be more nutritious than my leafy dark kales, mustards, and other greens, grown in good soil! 




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