edible leaf

Pachira aquatica - Guinea Chestnut, Apompo

Pachira aquatica is a medium size tree native to tropical wetlands of Central and South America. Its native habitat tends to be seasonally flooded lowlands or swamps, however it is adaptable to a wide range of tropical environments. The large, oblong fruit is full of large seeds which taste reminiscent of peanuts, and can be eaten raw, cooked, or ground into flour to make bread. The leaves and flowers are also edible.

Interestingly Pachira aquatica and close relative Pachira glabra are both used and sold with braided trunks as the "money tree", an indoor plant that is supposed to bring monetary wealth. Personally I prefer to plant them in the ground outside. 

Lathrus ochrus - Psara, Cyprus Vetch

Lathrus ochrus is one of my favorite regional edible nitrogen-fixing covercrop species in Greece. I've not yet encountered it cultivated in North America. 

Lathyrus ochrus leaf and flower

Lathyrus ochrus leaf and flower

Also known as Cyprus Vetch, or Psara locally, the plant establishes throughout mild winters, as winter temps warm up before spring the tender edible tips start fattening up and plants put on massive amounts of vegetative growth.

Locally the leaves are eaten raw in salads with a bit of lemon, olive oil and a pinch of salt. 

It is also reported on PFAF that the seeds are edible cooked noting that caution is advised. Where I have lived in Greece there is no report of the seed being edible, although the leaves are widely consumed during early spring. 

 

Cichorium intybus

Greek: Radiki

Spain: Chicorias, achicorias

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

Wild chicory leaves usually have a bitter taste. Their bitterness is appreciated in certain cuisines, such as in the Ligurian and Apulian regions of Italy and also in southern part of India along with coffee, in SpainGreeceTurkeySyriaLebanon and Palestine. In Ligurian cuisine, wild chicory leaves are an ingredient of preboggion and in Greek cuisine of horta; in the Apulian region, wild chicory leaves are combined with favabean puree in the traditional local dish fave e cicorie selvatiche. in Albania, the leaves are used as a spinach substitute, mainly served simmered and marinated in olive oil, or as ingredient for fillings of byrek.

By cooking and discarding the water, the bitterness is reduced, after which the chicory leaves may be sautéed with garlic, anchovies, and other ingredients. In this form, the resulting greens might be combined with pasta or accompany meat dishes.

 

Chondrilla juncea - ampelosyrida (αμπελοσυρίδα) or glykosyrida (γλυκοσυρίδα)

ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

The plant is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, but it is known throughout most temperate regions of the world as an introduced species which is usually considered a noxious weed.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

In the Greek island of Crete the leaves and the tender shoots of a local variety called ampelosyrida (αμπελοσυρίδα) or glykosyrida (γλυκοσυρίδα) are eaten raw or boiled in salads by the locals. The plant is also traditionally consumed by ethnic Albanians (Arbëreshë) in the Vulture area (southern Italy). Chondrilla juncea may have an anti-oxidant activity and some potential for medicinal use. XO-inhibiting activity shown by extracts of the aerial parts of the plant with potential benefits for hyperuricaemia and gout.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

In the wild the plant reproduces by seed but also by cloning itself at the root; tilling of soil and chopping up plants actually help this species disperse by sectioning and distributing root parts.

Reseda alba - white mignonette

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Reseda alba flower in early spring, Kefalonia, Greece.

Reseda alba flower in early spring, Kefalonia, Greece.

Native to EuropeAsia, and North Africa, Rseda alba can be found in parts of the Americas and Australia as an introduced species. It is also cultivated as an ornamental plant for its spikelike racemes of fragrant white flowers. This is an annual or perennial herb growing up to a meter tall.

In Kefalonia, Greece the plant grows wild from fall through winter, then flowering in early spring.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

White mignonette is a sought after species of horta (wild edible greens) in parts of Greece. The leaves are pinched off and simmered in water for 10 min often mixed with other horta, then strained. Lemon juice and olive oil and a pinch of salt are added. The dish is eaten hot or at room temperature. The young inflorescence shoot is also edible. 

Reseda alba L. are considered to be healthy by being “good for the liver” and having blood-cleansing properties (Nebel et al. n.d.).

Reseda alba, edible leaf. 

Reseda alba, edible leaf. 

In the article Wild Gathered Food Plants in the European Mediterranean it is recorded that "The tops of the shoots are eaten raw seasoned with olive oil or after being cooked and then stir- fried with garlic and olive oil. In the literature, only two references to the use of R. alba as food were found. First, young leaves of R. alba were used as vegetable in Greece (Heldreich 1862) and, second, as salad by Greek farmers of the surroundings of Larnaca in Cyprus (Arnold Apostolides 1985)."

The article goes on... "both records are from regions of the Eastern Mediterranean, which were, in historic times, part of the Greek and Byzantine empires, as the Graecanic area in Southern Italy. For some plants from Greece (GR) and Gallicianò (I), cognates were detected, which suggests that they have been used as vegetables since pre- Roman times: “tsochos” (GR) and “zuccho” (I) for Sonchus asper L. & S. oleraceus L., or “andrakla” (GR) and “andrácla” (I) for Portulaca oleracea L. (see Table 2 and Nebel and Hein-rich n.d.)."

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

I have only used this species when collected from the wild. It is used by some as a annual or perennial ornamental species, and seed can likely be obtained easily. On my land in Greece it tends to seed most aggressively in marginally fertile disrupted soils. 

References: Wild Gathered Food Plants in the European Mediterranean: A Comparative Analysis.... Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226642826_Wild_Gathered_Food_Plants_in_the_European_Mediterranean_A_Comparative_Analysis [accessed Mar 29 2018].

Portulaca oleraceae - Purslane, verdolaga

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN, AND DISTRIBUTION

The plant is a prostrate fleshy herb with spreading branches. Leaves are fleshy, shiny and widest at the tips, shaped like a water droplet. Flowers are born terminally in clusters, with small round seed pods dispersing numerous small black seeds.

This is a common, spontaneously appearing plant found growing throughout the tropics and warmer temperate regions. The wide range is due to high genetic flexibility which permits rapid adaptation to new environments. There are many forms, with different size leaves.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

Cultivation of this plant is easy, and it is most familiar to most people as a spontaneous "weed". In favorable tropical climates it can be readily observed growing out of cracks in sidewalks, even out of rubble and deteriorating walls. Increasingly, due to its reputable health benefits and nutritious properties, improved purslane cultivars/varieties can be found, faster growing with larger leaves.

The plant is cultivated in France, Denmark and the Netherlands. 

As a companion plant, purslane provides ground cover to create a humid microclimate for nearby plants, stabilising ground moisture. Its deep roots bring up moisture and nutrients that those plants can use, and some, including corn, will follow purslane roots down through harder soil that they cannot penetrate on their own (ecological facilitation). It is known as a beneficial weed in places that do not already grow it as a crop in its own right.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

The leaves and shoots can be eaten raw and have a mild but pleasant taste. The leaves also make a good forage for poultry. The plant is versatile when it comes to how it can be eaten, and can be mixed into most any dish, raw or cooked.

In East Africa the seeds are ground into a flour that is used to make porridge.

Purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid in particular) than any other leafy vegetable plant. Studies have found that purslane has 0.01 mg/g of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). It also contains vitamins (mainly vitamin Avitamin Cvitamin E (alpha-tocopherol),[15] vitamin Bcarotenoids), and dietary minerals such as magnesiumcalciumpotassium, and iron.

 

 

 

 

Pachira glabra - Saba nut, Guinea peanut, French peanut

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Bombacopsis glabra leaf.jpg

Originating in Mexico, Guiana, and  northern Brazil, Pachira glabra is similar looking and closely related to Pachira aquatica, the Malabar chestnut. In Brazil the Saba nut is a fruit tree, cultivated as an ornamental in south-eastern areas of the country.  It is not very frequent in its natural habitat, the pluvial Atlantic forests from Pernambuco to Rio de Janeiro and the flood plain forests of Para and Maranhao. Today this species is distributed throughout the tropical world, used both as an ornamental tree and a food crop. 

It is a small evergreen tree 4-6 m tall. The fruits are semi-woody capsules which stay green even when ripe. Like many of the Bombacaceae species P. Glabra has a very fat trunk to store water. Just after germination the girth of the trunk becomes noticeable, almost disproportional to the rest of the tree.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

The tree produces a fruit/pod which contains many edible seeds which can be consumed raw or toasted/roasted/boiled. The seeds contain 16% protein and 40-50% fat. P. glabra along with P. aquitaca are both considered to be among the more notable under appreciated tropical food crops.

The young leaves and flowers of P. glabra (and P. aquatica) are also edible. 

Bombocopsis glabra fruit.jpg

Mature trees will produce between 50 - 80 fruits per year.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

The tree can be propagated from seed, cuttings, and air layers. Trees are resilient to both droughts and flooding. 

USES IN REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE

P. glabra makes a fantastic full sun / deep shade tolerant, medium size, understory seed/nut crop. Trees are resilient to pests, they drop a thick leaf biomass year round and produce abundant fruit. The trees are relatively maintenance free aside from irrigation upon initial establishment. 

Alternanthera sissoo - Sissoo spinach, samba lettuce

DESCRIPTION, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Alternathera sissoo.jpg

The plant is reportedly native to the region of Brazil in South America. Although it is referred to scientifically as Alternanthera sissoo hort., there are no known scientific descriptions of its taxonomy.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

The leaves are edible. Preferable the tender young tips are pinched off and eaten either raw or steamed. The leaves are pleasantly crunchy, more so then the temperate climate spinach. When consumed in large quantities it is suggested that they be steamed or boiled, due to the presence of oxalates in the leaf.

Sissoo spinach can be added to quiches, pies, curries, dals, pasta sauces, lasagna or added to dishes and stir-fries late in the cooking process as a spinach substitute and to add a nutty flavour.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

Stem tip cuttings with one or two nodes root easily planted directly in the field.

Sissoo seems to do best in the partial shade, ideally grown in patches guilding larger trees. Having experimented cultivating sissoo in full sun I found that they are remarkably resistant to drought. Although the hue and overall quality of the leaf is diminished in exposed, dry conditions, the plant still seems to grow quickly.

Sissoo is best harvested by picking off new tips, thus the plant can be maintained as a low thick groundcover.

When left unharvested, and in prolonged dry periods, sissoo will flower. To my knowledge I have not yet seen sissoo seed, since the plant can be grown so easily from cuttings I haven’t examined the flowers much.

 

Brassica rapa - Rapini

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Actually more closely related to the turnip (Brassica rapa var. rapa) then broccoli, Rapini is likely the semi-domesticated descent of a wild herb originating either in China or the Mediterranean region.

Rapini (commonly marketed in the United States as broccoli raab or broccoli rabe

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

The edible stems and buds buds somewhat resemble broccoli, and are closely related, but do not form a large head. Rapini is known for its slightly bitter taste and is particularly associated with Italian, Galician, and Portuguese cuisines.

All tender parts of the plant are traditionally sautéed with olive oil or butter, garlic and chilis, then eaten as a side dish or used in sandwiches, etc. It is a traditional side dish for porchetta. 

Rapini is a good source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium, calcium, and iron. The leaves, stems, buds, and flowers are edible. Photos of the flowers and buds below.

Brassica rapa.jpg