The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 30, 2000

Food for life
By Shiv Darshanlal Sharma

A LARGE number of lives can be saved during natural calamities once people are trained to adapt feeding habits on native, non-toxic wild plants. Before the practices of cultivation man was totally dependent on naturally growing plants. Consumption of bathoo, sangarha, bhein and wild bitter gourd proves this. A survey of the literature reveals that the use of a whole plant or a portion of that by the natives as famine and supplementary foods has never been recorded comprehensively in the text. The present text exclusively deals with wild plants.

Agaricus campestris, an edible fungus is cosmopolitan in its distribution and grows wild. It is called dhingri in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Podaxis indigenously known as khumb is found growing wildly in Indian sub-continent is also delicious one. Ferns such as athyrium, ceratopteris, pith of tree fern cyathen, diplazium, axis of Isoetes, sporocarps of Marsilea, Sadleria are used as green or dried vegetables in Europe listed as famine foods. Athyrium esculentum known as ‘fiddle green heads’, Osmunda japonica and O-cinnamenea owing to the peculiar taste described as "soul of spring" are appreciated by the Westerns. In India the leaves of Ophioglossum reticulatum are used as substitute for spinach in villages and towns of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Diplazium esculentum is the common vegetable of tribals, particularly Gaddis in Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. It is known as lungru in vernacular and needs lime treatment before use. The tender tips of marattia, asplenium polypodioides, Polystichum aculeeatum and nophrodium are known as lingura or kothira and are used as rainy season vegetable in certain hill-stations of Uttar Pradesh.

  The central core known as gynostegium in caletropis procera flower (Sanskrit-alarka, Hindi-akarha and mador, Punjabi-akk is eaten raw by the natives of remote areas of Mahendragarh in Haryana. Peeled and lime treated Euphorbia royleana (Punjabi-danda thor, Hindi-thor forms a delicious vegetable in the foot-hills of the Himalayas. The fresh juice of Cynodon dactylon (Hindi and Punjabi-dhub ghas) quenches thirst. The tender tips of amaranthus viridis, Punjabi-chulai, Sanskrit-tanduliya) and Rumex acetosa (English-dock sorrel, Punjabi-jangli palak) both growing in waste places in India, forms pot herb for the natives. The leaves of ranunculus muricatus (Punjabi-jal jarhi); Sisymbrium irio (Hindi-Khubkalan, Punjabi-tratej); Trigonella foenum-graecum (Bangla, Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi and Sanskrit-methi, Malva sylvestris Hindi-gul khai Punjabi-sonchal, Urdu-khubaji) are fried and used as vegetables separately by the natives. All these herbs are rich in minerals and vitamins, without any side effects.

The raw fruits of Ficus carica (Bangla and Hindi-anjir); flowering buds of Bauhinia variegata (Hindi and Punjabi-kachnar, Sanskrit-kovidara boiled and mixed with curd to prepare raita separately by natives of Gurdaspur district in Punjab.

The tasty fruits of naturally growing zizyphus nummularia (Hindi-jhber, Punjabi-mallah, and Sanskrit-bhubadari?

The pickles prepared from pods of Acacia arabica (Hindi-Babul Punjabi-kikar and Sanskrit-babbula) constitute a supplementary food. Alee abyssinica indigenously known as ghee kanwar is growing wildly along the coasts of Gujarat and Diu, where people make a tasty dish out of the gelatinous material.

It is high time that human beings should adapt themselves to non-lethal, highly nutritious but wild varieties of pulses such as cicer arietinum var. Lens culinaris var, orientalis Hindi, Sanskrit-masur, and Punjabi masar.

Over a hundred species of algae appear on the diet list. Spirogyra and ocedogonium are valuable genera in India and ulva in Europe. The former two are dried ones, put up in small packets and sold in the markets in India to be made into soup. The colonies of Nostoc are boiled and used as food in Brazil. In the Pacific islands raw algae (species of red and brown algae) are chopped and added to other dishes. Laminaria food from stripes is called kombu and from Alaria as sarumen in Japan. The algae are considered rich in proteins, fats and vitamins A, B, C and E. The diatoms nitschia is rich in vitamin A, ulva, porphyra and Alaria valida in vitamin C.A red alga Rhodymenia palmata is used as food.

The prolific users of sea weeds as food are the coastal people of China and Japan. A large quantities of Durvilea antartica and Ulya are consumed in Chile. The commonest species used are perphyra tenera, Laminaria and a green alga Monostroma. Undaria and Sargassum are also used for this purpose. It is estimated that nearly 25 per cent of daily diet of Japan consists of sea weeds. The total food production by marine algae is eight times than that of the land plants.