A Heart-Friendly Plant We Consider As Weed

Wherever paddy is cultivated it comes uninvited and stays until uprooted. Only to return. Though considered a weed it is a preferred leafy vegetable among the peasant community and farm folks. In States like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and others. In fact, peasants believe that consumption of its gives one instant energy.

We, Indians, have loved this succulent plant otherwise how does on rationalises the many names it has. Noni Sag in Bangla, Nonila Ghol and Motiloni in Gujarati. But it’s surprising to know that Assamese have seven names for it, Malayalam has eight names to describe it, and Kannada two, namely Doodagooni Soopu and Dudagorai.

As we urbanized ourselves and our food diversity got limited and we no more considered food as medicine we forgot Purslane (portulaca oleracea).  From “noxious weed” to “superfood” the journey of this succulent has been very interesting. Purslane is widely distributed around the globe and is popular as a potherb in many areas of Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean region.

If you’re a plant lover you’re likely to compare Purslane with a miniature jade plant. Yes, it looks like that.

The moisture-rich leaves are cucumber-crisp and have a tart, almost lemony tang with a peppery kick. But the taste is not the only reason to eat. Purslane has recently been identified as the richest vegetable source of alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid.

Scientific analysis of its chemical components has shown that this common weed has uncommon nutritional value, making it one of the potentially important foods for the future.

Health authorities highly recommend that we consume fish regularly to meet our bodies’ requirements of omega-3 fatty acids, as other sources are limited and do not supply nearly as much omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike fish oils with their high cholesterol and calorie content, purslane also provides an excellent source of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids without the cholesterol of fish oils, since it contains no cholesterol.

It is a rich source of potassium (494 mg/100 g) followed by magnesium (68 mg/100 g) and calcium (65 mg/100 g) and possesses the potential to be used as a vegetable source of omega-3 fatty acid. Consider this:  while 100g of banana offers 358mg of potassium, coconut water 250mg in the case of Purslane it’s an astounding 494mg.

Purslane flourishes in numerous biogeographical locations worldwide and is highly adaptable to many adverse conditions such as drought, saline, and nutrient-deficient conditions.

It grows well in orchards, vineyards, crop fields, landscaped areas, gardens, roadsides, and other disturbed sites. In fact, once it has taken it’s very difficult to kill it. Remember why it’s called a weed.

According to Dr Artemis Simopoulos, president of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, who discovered Purslane while working at the National Institutes of Health that the plant has the highest level of Omega-3 fatty acids of any other green plant considers it as a “miracle’ plant.

Her research was first reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in the late 1980s, but it has taken time for nutrition awareness and food culture to catch up.

Purslane is very easy to grow, either from a cutting or seeds. While there are very many recipes to cook it, I take two branches of it along with the leaves, wash it, and chew it.  

As you bite into it, it bursts into your mouth and has a crisp, juicy texture and a bit sour.

While Moringa has got its due—also called a miracle plant— it’s time we recognize the importance of Purslane.


Ramphal, Sitaphal’s Better Half

As the summer begins I have seen them umpteen times on the fruit carts of the neighbourhood hawkers but dared not to buy them. Moreso as I was never introduced in my childhood.

I was in for surprise this weekend as Mangal picking them up from a tree which had shed its leaves he presented them to me—a fruit shaped like a human heart.

RamphalYears back Mangal had mentioned that he had planted one at the edge of the farm plot. Standing ignored and hardly cared for, this April it yielded its surprise: Ramphal.  Not one but four of them.

Adam had made its appearance now I’m waiting for Eve to do my bidding! My three Sitaphal (Anona Squamosa) trees though over six years old have still to bear fruits.

Named after the deity Ramphal (Annona Reticulata) is sweeter than Sitaphal. Compared to Sitaphal, its texture is creamy yet slightly granular, especially nearest to the skin. It’s smoother, butterier and the best part is that it has fewer seeds. Also known as bullock’s heart Ramphal tends to have a smoother surface in varying colours. Some fruits are pale yellow while others are a rusty shade of pink. The fruit’s insides are very much similar to the female namesake, Sitaphal.

Ramphal grows wild and there has been no attempt to make hybrids of it, like in the case of sitaphal. Ramphal’s main fruiting season occurs from March through May. As it grows wild and not grown as a commercial crop you’re unlikely to see it in shops and malls.

A rich source of potassium and ample vitamin C, a nutrient that boosts the immune system, keeps skin healthy and assists with repairing wounds and cuts. The fruit also contains a good dose of potassium, which helps the body regulate its electrolyte balance, enhance muscle growth, and improves the body’s ability to process waste.


Red Ants Chutney, Very Nutritious

The moment I saw it I wondered what it was.  I asked Mangal what we need to do. He suggested we spray some pesticide but I was not willing and planned to seek an expert’s advice.

It was a like a cocoon created a swarming group of red ants with the help of newly arrived tender leaves of mango. An art installation created by scores of red ants.

RedAntsThese are the same red ants much popular among tribals of Bastar in Indian state Chhattisgarh who make Chapda chutney from it and British cook Gordon Ramsey during his visit in 2010 to make documentary loved them. He termed chapda chutney the world’s best chutney.

He clicked a couple of pics and messaged them to experts in my group.

I approached Ramesh Khaladkar, a postgraduate in agri science and an agripreneur and he told me that they were commonplace in the red soil of the Konkan region.

“Do you see any damage due to the Ants?”, he asked and went on to suggest: “If not, please do not disturb them. Actually speaking, the Ants are very helpful in controlling some pests.”

According to him, the ants make their passage from one tree to the other not disturbing human beings or cattle passing beneath.

Botanist and water conservationist Dr Ajit Gokhale explained it was a nest of red biting ants called as ombil (ओंबिल) in Marathi. “Their sting has formic acid and they keep the tree sanitized for some pests.  Not vicious though their sting can be a bit painful. They are also thought to pollinate the flowers accidentally. The chutney made out of them is bit sour and high in folic acid and other B group vitamins. Good to have them unless they are too many and too close to comfort,” he added.

Mulberry Days

For a fruitarian, summer is the time s/he anxiously waits for. With the last days of February it begins with mulberry, then comes green jackfruit, followed by grapes, watermelon, love apple and ultimately ending with the king of fruits: Mangoes.
Most orchard owners do not care much for mulberry for various reasons as it invites scores of birds and then there is the problem of picking the tiny fruits. But my purpose has been to build an ecosystem where I am happy to have the bird, the snakes, the butterflies, lizards and all sorts of benign and harmful insects. Well, the birds do chomp away a lot of mulberries. I let them have it for I have benefitted from their transgressions. They have brought and deposited seeds in my garden, of which some have grown into trees, namely the Laburnum, Singapore Cherry and several others.

mulberry (2)In my childhood, I knew mulberry as shehtoot. In Marathi, it’s known as tooti. Having spent my childhood days in Cantonments in places like Kanpur, Ludhiana and Ambala we were exposed to the cream-coloured variety which we devoured returning home from school after having written our exams. I have the magenta-coloured one. It makes its appearance as green, turn’s red with time and ultimately assumes the dark shade of magenta making one feel that it’s black! And that’s when the birds come to have their share. Not a stray one or two but scores of them raising a ruckus.
Plucking them individually is a chore and time-consuming though Mangal likes them that way even climbing the tree. I try the easy way out spreading old sari all around and violently shaking the tiny branches. The ripe ones get dislodged and drop down.

My mulberries—I have three of them—yields fruits twice. In October-November and once again in March. The trick is to prune the tree every year which results in the appearance of new branches along with leaves.

InShot_20180307_204205Though packed with nutrition, mainly anti-oxidants mulberry have a very short shelf-life and thus not available in the market. They also contain large amounts of vitamin C as well as Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, really high levels of Iron, and Dietary Fiber which all help to give the body and mind incredible energy.

According to www.ReturntoNature.us.They are also high in minerals like potassium, manganese, and magnesium and contain the B vitamins, B6, Niacin, Riboflavin, and Folic Acid. Mulberries contain flavonoids and phytonutrients and are extremely high in anthocyanins which help to fight against cancer as well as reduce ageing and neurological diseases, inflammation, diabetes, and bacterial infections. The berries also contain resveratrol, a powerful blood flow increasing antioxidant which you have probably heard promoted through the wine industry as their new claim to fame. Resveratrol is a powerful healer for many conditions such as ageing diseases, inflammation, and a number one go to as part of a herbal protocol for the treatment of Lymes disease.

Growing them is very easy as a mere cutting planted during the monsoon can yield a tree. I try to populate my orchard with one mulberry every year.

This year I had a bountiful harvest. It made wifey very happy and she made several glasses of smoothie which we have been downing your throats every morning. She has promised to make jam and pancakes too.

Tribal Fare

I found that an early morning visit to the local subzi mandi during the beginning days of the monsoon can be revelatory.  For I came across an unknown leafy vegetable which I had never chanced upon in my life today.

The women, an adivasi, with a meagre fare of vegetables in a basket at Thane’s subzi mandi told me: It’s fodshi, we pick it from the Yeeor hills. Very tasty. You can prepare it like methi.

Wifey asked: How much?

We ended a bunch of three for Rs 20.Fodshi

Having never heard of it, I sent an image to my botanist friend, Dr. Ajit Gokhale and was told that the tribals call it kuli. Its botanical name is chlorophytum tuberosum but is generally confused with chlorophytum borivlianum, commonly known as safed musli.

According to flowersofindia.com edible chlorophytum is a herb found throughout the warmer regions of the world. The plant is about 20 cm tall, seen in gregarious clumps. Leaves are strap-shaped, 6-12, all arising from the base, 15-30 cm long. The plant blooms in June-July with the first showers of monsoon. Flowers are white, 2.5 cm across, with 6 elliptic petals. The centre of the flower has 6 erect stamens with yellow anthers. Edible Chlorophytum is also a famine food, its bulbs and leaves are eaten. Bulbs and leaves dried and pounded into flour for bread.

Writing in science20.com Ashwani Kumar, Prof Emeritus, former Head of the Department of Botany, and Director, Life Sciences, University of Rajasthan elaborates: “This is a genus of two hundred species and twelve are native to India. Organic-rich well drained sandy loamy soil and warm humid climate is suitable for its cultivation. Plants are propagated by seeds and by the division of rhizomes. Seeds remain dormant for nearly ten months. Germination of seeds takes two weeks and only about 20% of them germinate. Flowers are star-like white up to 2 cm across, sepals are acute, anthers are longer than filaments are green or yellow in colour, bracts are long. Seeds are black in colour with angular edges. The dry roots possess less than 5% moisture. It contains carbohydrates, proteins, root fibres, saponins and minerals. Dry roots of the plant constitute the drug and are used in powdered form. It is a well-known tonic and aphrodisiac and also used to treat general debility. Leaves of this plant are also eaten as a vegetable. The tubers of about 20 g are boiled with milk and taken twice a day for a month for  impotency and general weakness.”

Til Aa Gaya!

It’s that time of the year or will be in couple of days when we will welcome a seed to our homes: sesame seeds (til) . During Makar Sankranti we will share sweets made of sesame seeds among friends and relatives. For Makar Sankranti marks the arrival of Spring and auspicious harvest time. It is the day the Sun, embodying knowledge, wisdom and divinity, rotates the wheel of time entering into the northern hemisphere and moves into the zodiac Capricorn.
Sesame-ladoosA recent ad by Cadbury splashed all over Mumbai plays on “god god bola”. Originally in Marathi it’s “Til Gud Kha. God God Bola” (Meaning eat sweets made of sesame seeds and jaggery and exchange sweet notes).
I have always wondered why we are biased towards white sesame seeds knowing well that black sesame seeds have more healthy properties than its white cousin. May be because black sesame seeds are unhulled and have a bolder flavour and aroma. May be black sesame seeds are crispier with a more nutty and smoky flavour, while white sesame seeds are soft with a duller but sweet flavour. Black sesame seeds and white sesame seeds are similar in nutrition, although because black sesame seeds retain their hulls they are higher in calcium. Both seeds are a good source of zinc, riboflavin, niacin and thiamine, along with iron.
Dr.Savitha Suri, an ayurvedic Consultant Physician quoted in ayurhelp.com says sesame seeds have hot potency (ushna).
As a high-protein food source, sesame seeds are rich in several amino acids. They contain at least 10 percent DV of 10 important amino acids. Of these, the seeds are highest in cysteine, an amino acid responsible for breaking down environmental toxins in your body, which helps your system fight off colds and bronchial illness—associated with winter months. .
“Sesame normalizes vata and vitiates pitta and kapha. It has properties of “Yogavahi” . Yogavahi is a substance which has a quality of penetrating the deepest tissues. When sesame is processed with other herbs it normalizes all the three doshas. Hence this is used in diseases arising due to vitiation of vata. And it can also be used in diseases caused due to vitiation of tridoshas,” says Dr Suri.
Sesame seeds are bone builder (2 tablespoons meets 40 percent of the daily value for calcium, or 400 mg), blood builder ( 2 tbsp contains 3.6 mg of iron) and good for your heart ( 2tbsp contains 3 gm of fibre, meeting 18 percent of the daily value for fibre for a 2000-calorie diet).
Til aa gaya! Now you know why we celebrate with sesame seeds.

A Paen to Panicle

It has been nearly four months since I sowed my maiden paddy crop. And as it happens with newborns it has been taking my attention. Once I enter my farm I just rush to the paddy patch before inquiring with Mangal as how they are faring? The same was the story when I first planted the turmeric tubers which my farmer friend from Malegaon, Jitendra Kutmutia, had sent introducing me to the world of Curcuma longa.
pinacleLet me tell you the latest: my paddy has issued flowers. Yes, rice plants have flowers. They are not big or colourful but they are flowers nonetheless. Agreed they are more typically referred to by their scientific name – panicles – and they occur at the end of each tiller. Rice is mostly self-pollinating, which means that each rice plant can fertilise itself with its own pollen. Pollination of rice occurs by wind alone – no insects are involved.
Once the rice has been pollinated, the process of grain production begins and the panicles grow heavy with maturing rice grains (seeds). Another month I hope to see the mature rice grains.

Banana Puris Wow!

It was really a burden. Finishing a 10-dozen banana bunch within a week! How much could you eat? It would have been a royal treat if you were a gorilla! I ended up eating two to three ripe bananas every day post lunch. And still there were more. Gave it to my office peons, our housing society watchman…
Had Banana Shake and all that, and still there was a dozen sitting in our kitchen table and blackening slowly. Unable to see them get wasted and deposited in the dustbin next day, I suggested to wifey : why not make banana puris?
In the morning I was in for a surprise–banana puris (banana pancakes) served with coconut chutney for breakfast. I gorged on six of them. Wow they were really great. Reminds me last time I had them when I was a kid and Ma used to make them for evening snacks.
Do you have any idea what one could do with ripe bananas? Do send me some recipes.

Truth About Flavonoid

Akshay Kumar’s TVC on Brook Bond’s Red Label tea has thrown up a new word on public conscious: flavonoids. It tells that the tea (the Red Label variety) is a healthy drink because it contains flavonids.

That’s true. But not the whole truth.

Virtually all fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices contain flavonoids. Most fruits and berries contain these compounds, though blueberries, cranberries, bananas, oranges, and apples are known for being particularly flavonoid-rich. Vegetables, especially broccoli, onions, spinach, eggplant, and tomatoes, are excellent sources as well. Beer, red wine, various nuts and beans, and dark chocolate also contain flavonoids, as do a wide range of teas. They are also found in other types of food, including dry beans (where they give red beans, black beans, and speckled beans their color) and grains (where the colour provided by flavonoids is usually in the yellow family).

What are flavonoids?

Flavonoids, an amazing array of over 6,000 different substances found in virtually all plants, are responsible for many of the plant colours that dazzle us with their brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red. A number of factors may affect the flavonoid content of foods, including agricultural practices, environmental factors, ripening, processing, storing, and cooking. It’s best to consume this nutrient directly from foods as part of a varied diet, rather than via a dietary supplement, as the effectiveness of isolated flavonoids is unclear. Cooking, processing, and high acidity environments all reduce the amount of flavonoids in foods.

Higher intakes of flavonoid-rich foods have been associated with reduced risk of chronic disease in some studies, but it is not known whether isolated flavonoid supplements or extracts will confer the same benefits as flavonoid-rich foods.

Over the past decade, scientists have become increasingly interested in the potential for various dietary flavonoids to explain some of the health benefits associated with fruit- and vegetable-rich diets.

Although higher intakes of flavonoid-rich foods are associated with reductions in cardiovascular disease risk, it is not yet known whether flavonoids themselves are cardioprotective. Despite promising results in animal studies, it is not clear whether high flavonoid intakes can help prevent cancer in humans.

So don’t be fooled by actor Akshay Kumar antics of taking tea while dancing,  pumping iron and bashing villains. You can get your dose of flavonoids from the humble spinach and the unloved baingan.

Sources:  Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University and others.