Superfoods or Weeds?

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800px-Portulaca_oleracea_stems.jpgBlueberries, Concord grapes, pomegranates... there are several plants being touted as "superfoods" that we should eat for their health benefits. But there are two weeds that grow commonly around our area that are "superfoods" -- and we are throwing them away as quickly as we can "weed" them out!

After all, what is a weed but a plant that no one wants? Or that no one KNOWS they want? You may want to reclassify these as "choice foods" once you read about them.

Purslane: (photo, above right) It grows happily in garden soil and lawns and often makes a mat covering the soil's surface. Because we've had so little rain, it's had a slow start and probably isn't showing any of its little yellow flowers yet.  It can be eaten as a raw vegetable and is great in a salad, or cooked in a saute/stir fry, or stew (where it can also be used as a thickener). It has a salty, sour taste, and its the mucilage in purslane that allows for the thickening action. It is eaten widely in other parts of the world outside of the US, though some sophisticated farmers' markets are offering bunches for substantial amounts of cash.

It turns out that Purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable -- alpha linolenic acid in particular -- 300-400 mg per cup of fresh plant! And if that's not enough, it also contains powerful antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and has antimutegenic properties.


450px-Amaranto-viridis-1.jpg

Amaranth: This plant has escaped captivity and seeds itself around many places. I've particularly noticed splendid, cultivated-type individuals growing "wild" around our community gardens.  It's likely they were planted at some earlier time and reseeded... and reseeded and reseeded and reseeded.  Some are all green, while others are multi-colored, resembling coleus (except these plants LOVE hot sun and coleus does not). They are just coming into bloom now (for example, this green amaranth at right).  The old cottage garden plant "Love Lies Bleeding" is an amaranth, as is the Caribbean favorite Callaloo.  Amaranth was a sacred plant to the Incas and Aztecs. You'll also find it growing along roadsides, dry ditches and quite possibly coming up in your veggie garden -- where you may be calling it "pigweed", one of the truly weedy members of the family (photo, below right).

Both the leaves and seeds are tremendously nutritious eating.  The seed -- and there are many varieties grow specifically for seed -- is particularly excellent for human nutrition, being a complete protein and having the amino acid profile that most suits our needs. It is gluten-free. 

Amaranthus.viridis1web.jpgThe young leaves can be eaten raw, and larger leaves can be served as they are throughout most of the world: stewed and seasoned.  They, too, are highly nutritious, though high in oxalic acid which should be watched in people with certain health issues.  Studies show that consuming the leaves benefits those with hypertension and cardiovascular disease, as well as reducing cholesterol levels and improving antioxidant status and certain immune factors.

Eating both of these rapidly growing plants not only increases your garden's output and increases your nutrition, but it cuts down on your weeding time, too.

Photos: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons 

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This page contains a single entry by ConcordMA.com published on July 15, 2010 10:00 AM.

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