All month at our house we’ve been on a rampage for lambsquarters, our preferred cooked vegetable of the moment. Cooking transforms the flavor to mild and nutty and the texture to soft but with substance. In scrambled eggs with potatos… with meat, in pasta etc etc. I just read that wild lambsquarters, chenopodium album, has been eaten by hunter-gatherers from North America to Africa. And “recent studies show that the greens are rich in phytonutrients, fight viruses and bacteria, and block the growth of human breast cancer cells.”
I read this in a new book Eating on the Wild Side (Little Brown 2013) recently profiled by the NYtimes and pointing out that dandelion greens have 7 times more phytonutrients than spinach. The book is dedicated to “all the reserachers, food activitsts, and plant breeders who are working to preserve the genetic diversity of our fruits and vegetables and to enhance their nutritional content. Through their efforts, we can begin to reclaim a wealth of nutrients that we unwittingly removed from our diet over a period of ten thousand years.”
The central conclusion is that wild foods are the MOST nutritious because they have developed strong properties, including phytonutrients, to permit them to survive in the wild wthout being coddled by man to take care of the threats of harsh sun or weather conditions, disease, and insects. Aside from the richness in micro and phyto nutrients they are generally “higher in protein and fiber and much lower in sugar than the ones [fruits and vegetables] we’ve devised”. “If we were still eating wild plants, there would be no need for these supplements” like lycopene, anthocyanins. No domesticated fruit or vegetable will have as many phytonutrients as the wild counterpart from which they were originally derived.
This is because humans have developed fruits and vegetables for the most part to make them ever sweeter and softer, whereas a little more bitterness and fiber is good for our bodies. The goal has been to produce varieties that are “attractive , pleasing to eat, productive and disease resistant. ” as well as able to withstand rough handling and sit in warehouses for weeks or months but still retain “the illusion of freshness.” “Meanwhile our bodies hunger for the nutrients that we have left by the wayside.”
But the author then proceeds to give up on the wild foods because “clearly we cant go back to foraging for wild plants…imagine , for a moment, the 1.6 million inhabitants of Manhattan trekking up to the Adirondacks to gather wild roots and berries. Its not going to happen. Just as important, few of us would choose to eat wild plants, even if they are growing in our own backyards….most of us would choose the sweeter juicier fruit all the same.”
The book then gives tips about how we can “eat on the wild side” but not really wild. It gives very useful and informative information about the differences in selecting certain varieties of cultivated fruits and vegetables and also how to store them to retain as much of the nutrition as possible. Although not as optimum as “eating wild”…..
Anyone who has a vegetable garden, belongs to a CSA, goes to a farmers market, has room for a container planter….can start to incorporate even a small portion of these ultimate superfoods in their diet. I never trek to the Adirondacks either to gather roots and berries. And once you start to eat the best wild plants in tasty ways (I dont disagree that I avoid the ones that taste like cardboard) you can get hooked on their better flavor. Difficult to go back.