Wild and alternative forages are the food of the future! Or at least, that is what many great folks I have encountered this summer have recommended. It is fascinating what actually grows around your very own lawn could be of use as an edible or medicinal herb and not just seen as a pretty flower or a weed to mow down. Listed below are three such alternative food/medicinal sources that I have encountered on the farm.
I had mistaken wood sorrel for clover the first time I had saw it. It’s distinctive heart-shaped leaves separate it from clover—even more distinguishing is its brilliant, lemony-sour taste that explodes like a firework with delayed retort. Its intense flavor is due to oxalic acid. In large quantities, unless otherwise boiled down, the effects of oxalic acid are toxic, sometimes fatal. Oxalic acid encourages the potential for kidney failure due to the formation of calcium oxalate (found in kidney stones). In other words, as a topping for sandwiches, sorrel is not too bad; but to had a bountiful salad of this wild forage may be a little unnerving.
Amaranth is similar in appearance to pigweed. In fact, they are of the same genus; therefore, not all amaranth is used as a source of edible food. The three species, Amaranthus caudatus, Amaranthus cruentus, and Amaranthus hypochondriacu, are used for its seed as a grain source. Its grain has been a staple for the Aztecs and has been continued to be grown in South and Latin America even still today. Amaranth’s seed contains amino acids that are otherwise missing in other grains. When prepared with other grains the amino acids (lysine) are complemented to create a perfect protein. The leaves are edible when cooked and are a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, foliate, and other trace minerals.
[[[Speaking of pigweed and amaranth, pigweed is actually a beneficial weed in companion planting. Although its high seed rate cause it to be a tremendous nuisance, it acts as a trap plant for leaf miners, harbors ground beetles (whom eat other pest insects), and its strong tap root breaks of the soil. I found this remarkably interesting as most pigweed on our farm looks like it has been riddle with bullet holes; when in fact its sacrifice prevents our crops from looking the same.]]]
All parts of the plant, Nasturtium, more specifically, Tropaolum majus, are edible. Normally, this plant is grown for its flowers, but its leaves are exceptionally spicy and peppery. Personally, I have been recommended to make a pesto out of the leaves of Nasturtium. The flowers of Nasturtium are a good source for vitamin C. Medicinally, it has been used for its ability to alleviate cold and sinus symptoms as well as being an antiseptic.