We talk about food a lot here at LFLC! And we love a more vegetarian approach to eating because of the abundance of nutrition found in plants. Antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals abound in Mother Nature’s gifts. But there are many edible plants that we’re almost certain you’ve never even heard of. There are even species of more common fruits and vegetables that you probably didn’t even know existed. That’s right, a lot of our food consumption is controlled by the large supermarket chains.
Did you know there are 7,500 varieties of apples grown throughout the world? Yes! Commercial growers only grow about 100 different varieties. And, I don’t know about you, but my local superstore only carries about 10 different types of apples. Which means there is so much to explore!
If you’d like to get ahead of the game in exotic foods, here are three unique and elusive plant foods that no one talks about.
Lamb’s Quarters is a purifying plant, or edible weed, that helps to restore nutrients to the depleted soil. It is a unique plant that can spread quickly no matter the soil conditions. One plant can produce up to 75,000 seeds! It is an annual plant that looks dusty from a distance due to a white coating on the leaves. It produces tiny green flowers that form in clusters on top of spikes and is sometimes referred to as “white goose foot” because of the shape of its leaves.
Roots, leaves, and seeds can be eaten. The whitish dust present on each leaf is made up of mineral salts from the soil and is an indication of its mineral-rich value. Just one cup of the chopped leaves provides 464 mg of calcium and 66 mg of vitamin C. It is also a fantastic source of B vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin.
By late spring and early summer, dandelion and many other wild edible greens have become too bitter to eat but not lamb’s quarters. It keeps its delicious mild flavor and silky texture straight through to the end of summer. Lamb’s quarter can be eaten in salads or added to smoothies and juices. Steaming this edible weed is recommended and it can easily be added to soups, sautées and much more. It is good in any recipe that uses spinach. Some recommend drying it’s leaves to add to seasoning and to boost nutrition in meals throughout the winter months.
This weed is so abundant in nature that there’s no need to look for it in stores. If you did find them in stores, the price per ounce would deter you from trying this nutritious leaf. There are no contraindications to eating this delicious weed.
You’ve tasted it in mouthwash, toothpaste, soap, and tea. It’s cooling sensation and refreshing taste is easily recognized. But do you know it’s health benefits?
Nutritionally, peppermint offers high levels of vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, and fiber. Peppermint can be found all across the world and has a long history of therapeutic uses for a variety of ailments. It is often referred to as “the world’s oldest medicine.” It has been shown to:
- Defend against lice, fungus, and worms
- Support digestive health
- Promote respiratory health
- Promote oral health
- Relieve headaches
- Reduce stress
- Support the liver
- Soothe muscle tissue
The peppermint plant is actually a natural hybrid cross between water mint and spearmint. True peppermint is not grown from seeds. True peppermint is grown only via cuttings. You should be able to find some at your local garden shop or get a cutting from a friend who already possesses a peppermint plant. The plants will grow about 1-2 feet in height and completely cover the ground. Like most mint species, peppermint is invasive and, if you aren’t careful, it will take over your whole garden. For this reason, many gardeners prefer to grow peppermint in a container or in an enclosed area on the ground to prevent the roots from spreading.
Peppermint leaves can be harvested as soon as they begin growing. The new leaves will have the best flavor. When harvesting, leave at least 1/3 of the plant intact. Peppermint leaf is used in many ways. Add the leaves to salads or make peppermint tea. Even adding peppermint leaves to purified water is cooling and refreshing. Chewing peppermint leaves is an easy way to naturally freshen breath.
Peppermint essential oil has also become more popular in the recent years. Used in a more concentrated form of the peppermint leaf, it carries the same benefits.
However, there are many contraindications for peppermint. The main chemical component in peppermint is menthol. It’s properties help relax smooth muscle, making it beneficial for digestion and respiratory ailments. It is important to limit use if you have a hernia, digestive ulcers, gallstones, liver disease or ulcerative colitis. Mint is not recommended for people with Parkinson’s disease or if you are nursing or pregnant.
Chicory root and inulin have become a pretty recognized product over the last several years for their uses as a coffee substitute, soluble fiber food additive, and natural sweetener. What you might not know, is that you can eat the whole chicory plant, even the flower.
Often called a “blue dandelion,” the chicory plant has a lot in common with its dandelion cousin. Like the dandelion, you can eat every part of the chicory plant; the flowers, leaves, and root. They are both quite bitter, which adds to their detoxification benefits, and can be lightly cooked to lessen the bitter taste. The dandelion flower is less intense than the chicory blossom.
Like many weeds, this perennial blooms from summer into early fall. It is hardy and often found growing places where you wouldn’t expect flowers to thrive. Chicory is commonly seen near roadsides, at the overgrown edges of fields and even in gravel-filled areas where nothing else seems to grow. Like dandelions, chicory leaves are fairly rounded and widest near the base. The younger the leaf, the less bitter it will taste.
Chicory has been utilized for its therapeutic qualities as far back as the Ancient Egyptians. Over the years, it has been used as a liver tonic, to relieve upset stomachs, detoxify, calm the nerves, regulate the heartbeat, and treat osteoarthritis, gout, and diabetes. Crushed chicory leaves have also been used as a poultice to treat skin inflammations and promote wound healing.
Although chicory contains no huge amounts of any one nutrient, it can claim small amounts of the whole spectrum of vitamins and minerals, the most prominent being vitamins A and C, selenium, manganese, fiber, potassium, and phosphorus. Chicory root contains oligosaccharide-enriched inulin, a prebiotic vital to the immune system that improves digestive health. The highest nutritional value is in its roots.
As with any herb, it is important to be careful of ways it can interact with your system to either heal or harm your current conditions. Although chicory is very beneficial to the digestive and immune system, it can also cause allergic reactions similar to poison ivy when eaten with cashews. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is recommended to avoid chicory as this herb can stimulate your menstrual cycle to begin early. Please talk to your primary health provider prior to adding any herb to your diet if you are on medications.
We encourage you to explore “off the beaten” path and try some new edible plants and weeds. Go to your local growers and see the wide variety of mint plants available to you. Find some new dandelions in your backyard and add them to your next salad. Have a look around you when you’re hiking new trails. Nature provides you with what you need; if you know how to look for it.
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