Are There Enough Greens in Our Stores?
Millions of years of co-existence on the same planet has resulted in plants, people, and animals developing a strong symbiotic connection. Plants do not mind if people and animals eat their fruits because such a practice benefits the plant by spreading its seeds and thus promoting future generations. In fact plants are “interested” in someone eating their fruit, but only when it is ripe.
The ultimate goal of all plants is the continuation of their species and providing adequate living conditions for them. That is why most of the fruit in the world has a round shape, so that it could roll away and start a new life. For the very same reason plants have learned to make their fruit colorful, palatable, fragrant, and nutritious to ensure that its consumers not only eat one fruit but continue to return for more. This strategy works very well and all fruit gets eaten.
Have you ever noticed how thoroughly birds clean cherry trees or how squirrels keep working on an oak tree until there are no more acorns left? What happens next? The “eaters” digest their food and have bowel movements far away from the mother plant and the seeds are covered with nice “organic fertilizer.” In other words, the seeds get a perfect start! Inside the fruit, the seeds are wisely protected from being digested with hardy shells and inhibitors. Note that the plant keeps its fruit extremely un-tasteful, colorless, and without attractive fragrance all the way until the seeds are ripe, so that nobody wastes them before the seeds have matured.
The following example illustrates how much the continuation of their species means to plants. In a recent study in Russia, biologists discovered that “When a tree is foreseeing its death, the tree gathers its entire energy and deposits this energy into producing seeds for the very last time. For example, an oak tree broken by the storm or a cedar tree with its bark removed from its trunk, in a farewell effort before they die forever, give their record crops of acorns or nuts.”1
In contrast with the previous example, when a plant is genetically altered, it does not produce seeds on purpose. Such a plant makes itself infertile to prevent future unhealthy generations. Seedless watermelons are usually odorless and tasteless, because an upset plant has no motivation to make its fruits sweet, fragrant, or attractive in any other way. I am sure that it is not healthy to eat seedless plants, because their entire chemistry, electromagnetic charge, and who knows what else has been altered. In my own life, I prefer to pay double for an organic seeded watermelon or tomato.
Do plants “want” us to eat their trunk and roots? Nope. Without roots, plants would instantly die. That is why the roots are hidden in the ground. The sweetness in roots is meant for specific beneficial microorganisms in the soil that are fed off of tiny rootlets.
The trunk is also vital for the life of the plant and is purposely covered with hard and bitter bark. And what about the greens? Here, plants demonstrate their perfect ability to develop symbiosis with different creatures. Plants “allow” humans and animals to eat ALL of their fruits, but only PART of their leaves, because plants need to have leaves for their own use – which is manufacturing chlorophyll. However, plants depend on moving creatures for many different reasons, like pollination, fertilizing the soil, and hanging around to help eat the ripe fruit. For this reason, plants accumulate a lot of highly nutritious elements in their leaves, but mix these nourishing ingredients with either bitterness or very small amounts of alkaloids (poisons). That is how animals are forced to rotate their greens. They eat a small amount of one plant and then move on to many other plants during the course of the day.
The body is capable of easily detoxifying small amounts of a great many things, but it is much more difficult for the human system to get rid of a large amount of one type of poison. This is why it is crucial for us to learn to rotate the greens in our diet. Chimpanzees also rotate the green plants they eat. They go through approximately 117 different plants in one year. We humans need to learn to alternate our variety of greens as much as possible instead of eating only iceberg lettuce, spinach and romaine. Unfortunately, I was able to locate only about 40 types of various greens, including wild edible weeds that are available in my grocery store, farmers market, and back yard here in Oregon, USA. I hope that our farmers will learn to grow a larger variety of green leafy vegetables to increase our green sources.
The greens available in grocery stores were mostly bred from the dandelion and mustard families. Despite their names and appearances, cultivated greens have similar nutritional content. To meet our nutritional needs, it is essential that we learn to include greens from a number of totally different plant families into our daily diets.
After several months of drinking green smoothies I got very tired of using kale and spinach. It was at that time that I first embraced weeds. I appreciate that wild edible weeds presented me with a practically unlimited variety of greens. This summer I discovered heavenly scrumptious and nutritious “new” foods such as: pumpkin leaves, grape leaves, chicory greens, young and tender borage leaves and flowers, clover leaves and flowers, plantain, sorrel, and even stinging nettles! Next year I plan to fill my garden a large variety of weeds. The following is a list of all the greens that my family has been rotating in our diet:
Beet greens (tops)
Kale (3 types)
Romaine lettuce green and red leaf
Borage leaves and flowers
Chicory greens and flowers
Dandelion (greens and flowers)
Wild edibles often contain more vitamins and minerals than commercially marketed plants. Weeds have not been “spoiled” with farmers’ care in contrast to the “good” plants of the garden. In order to survive in spite of constant weeding, pulling, and spraying, weeds had to develop strong survival properties. For example, in order to stay alive without being watered, most weeds have developed unbelievably long roots. Alfalfa’s roots grow up to 20 feet long reaching for the most fertile layers of the soil. As a result, all wild plants possess more nutrients than commercially grown plants. I feel so silly now when I remember how I used to always pull out the “nasty” lambs quarters plants from my garden to let my “precious” iceberg lettuce grow.
The best way to learn which weeds are edible is to sign up for an herb walk with an experienced guide in your local area. This way you can learn to recognize particular edible plants by actually touching, smelling, and tasting them so that you can gather your “wild produce” on your own. Also, there are lots of articles and photos of edible weeds on the Internet. You may also find many books that help identify edible plants in your area. Please maintain caution when picking wild plants to avoid poisoning. There are usually only a couple of poisonous plants in one region so make sure you can identify them well.
For the sake of variety, I have even included several kinds of sprouts in my diet, but never more than a handful and only one or two times a week. Approximately from the third to the sixth day of their life, sprouts contain higher levels of alkaloids, as a means of protection from animals nipping them off and killing them. That doesn’t mean that sprouts are poisonous or dangerous, but only that we cannot live on sprouts alone. Most sprouts are rich in B-vitamins and have a hundred times more nutrients than a fully developed plant because sprouts need more nutrition for their fast growing period. Once in a while I read in the news or receive an email about kale or spinach or parsley or any other green having a toxic ingredient and therefore being dangerous for human consumption. This is all true but not to such a degree as to exclude any particular green from our diet. Let us learn to increase the variety of greens in our diet and to constantly rotate them for better nutritional results.
There are several other ways in which plants protect themselves from being destroyed. Some plants have thorns instead of alkaloids and one type of acacia tree in Africa is inhabited by colonies of very aggressive ants with a painful sting. Thorny plants, like cactuses and stinging nettles, contain very little alkaloids, which makes them a valuable addition to our diet. Of course, we need to first figure out how to eat them. I have often successfully added stinging nettles to my green smoothies by harvesting them while wearing gloves.
It is September now, and there is an abundance of incredible wild greens everywhere. I encourage you to take full advantage of them now keeping in mind that we have another long kale-spinach winter ahead of us. If you would like to learn more about rotating greens, you may read a more in-depth chapter about rotating greens in my book Green For Life.
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