Innovators Look To “Accidental Crops” As A Nutritious, Environmentally Friendly And Free Source Of Food

Edible wild greens could help improve food security, boost public health and make communities more resilient to disaster.


Published:

Yarrow is one of 126 edible species of wild food found and documented by researchers from the Berkeley Open Source Food project, led by Philip Stark, a statistics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Philip Stark was on a long run in the hills above Berkeley, California, when he started thinking differently about the wild green plants around him. “I knew some that were edible,” says Stark, a statistics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. With research interests in nutrition and health, he wanted to learn more about these edible plants and find out which ones could be foraged for food. “Once your brain starts to notice the environment that way — once plants are not just an undifferentiated sea of green — you see the plants everywhere.”

Edible wild greens are consumed globally, particularly during food shortages, and many are used medicinally in teas, poultices and supplements, Stark learned. But he found little about their nutritional qualities. Living in the San Francisco area, he started wondering if plants growing wild in cities — not just on the trails he ran and other less urban environments — were safe to eat. If some of them were, and if they were nutritious and free from pollutants, he wondered if foraging could potentially help combat food insecurity in cities, boost public health, and — because he lived in earthquake country — boost communities’ disaster resilience.

Stark and his research team set out to find answers. In a new paper, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, they described what they found, including: Wild greens grow abundantly in poor industrial regions of San Francisco, even surviving droughts; the six most abundant greens tested had nutrients rivaling that of cultivated kale; and after the wild greens were rinsed in water, levels of pesticides, PCBs and heavy metals were well below doses considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The group has documented 126 edible species of wild food in the area so far.

Wild vs. Cultivated

While wild greens have been ignored and even vilified, domesticated greens have been bred for several traits — such as sweetness, yield, shelf life and visual appeal — that can compromise their nutritional value. Not only did the tested wild species feature generally higher vitamins and minerals than cultivated kale, they were full of phytonutrients, compounds that may help reduce ailments like cancer and heart disease.

Stark’s research complements evidence of nutritionally superior fruits from abandoned orchards and gardens, growing wild in the Boston area. Those findings follow other studies that find high nutrient concentrations in wild edible food — although there isn’t much information to go on.

“Despite the growing recognition that foraged foods are a component of urban food systems and urban ecosystems, surprisingly little is known about their safety, nutritional value, or availability,” Stark and colleagues wrote in their paper.

The evidence that is available for safety is mixed. While the wild greens in San Francisco had heavy metal content well below levels considered safe for consumption, some research shows that a few species have higher levels of contaminants when growing near major roadways or in rural areas. On the whole, research suggests that trace metals accumulate the least in legumes and the most in leafy greens, with root vegetables somewhere between.

“If I had my way,” Stark says, “municipalities would levy a one-time parcel tax — probably less than [US]$50 — to test the soil at every address for heavy metals and relevant industrial and agricultural contaminants. Then they could publish maps of where it’s safe to grow or forage food.”

Ecological Benefits

Beyond potential to be a nutritious and free edible resource, wild food offers several ecological benefits. These accidental crops don’t need to be cultivated or watered. They’re abundant in farms, gardens, sidewalks and median strips on public and private land. Those that are natives are well adapted to local ecosystems and their biodiversity. The hardy plants have thrived despite disruptive human activities and environmental extremes, and because they are close to where people live, there is no concern about associated “food miles” and the emissions that go with them.

The advantages are apparent to Stark, both in urban and rural areas. “They are essentially universally available and free, so equity and access are clear,” he says. And “embracing them as edible cover crops would be expected to reduce erosion on farms, attract pollinators, and improve farm biodiversity and soil health.” But, “convincing farmers that there is a market for what grows between the rows” is a challenge, Stark says.

Obstacles And Opportunities

Another challenge to widespread (re)adoption of these foods is financial constraints to continue the scientific work, Stark says. “It’s hard to get funding for this sort of thing, and tests for nutrition and toxicology are expensive.”

Foraging laws can present one more obstacle — in some places it’s illegal to pick plants from public land. Food law and policy expert Baylen Linnekin is dedicated to improving America’s inconsistent and often conflicting foraging restrictions — many of which he writes are “wrongheaded and draconian.”

There have been reported instances of people getting in trouble with law enforcement for picking dandelions in Chicago and New York, while another forager was penalized for picking berries from a suburban park in Washington, D.C.

Some foraging laws are in place to protect local ecosystems. So would-be urban foragers are cautioned to make sure they understand foraging etiquette and local laws.

And it’s also important to understand local plants, says Australian gardening expert Kate Wall. Although some weeds like dandelion and purslane grow around much of the world, others are specific to local areas.

“So, to really get the best out of what’s available to you locally, source your information locally,” she advises. “There are local courses springing up in capital cities everywhere.”

But there’s the issue of whether people would even want to eat what they consider weeds if they could. Stark says it comes down to familiarity: People eat what they recognize and are comfortable with. For those wanting to broaden their culinary horizons into urban foraged food, he recommends taking a class from a local expert. Then make a list of plants — and parts of plants — that you know are safe. “Start with one plant you know is edible and bring some home for dinner,” he suggests. Then gradually add more species to your diet.

Wall has been eating edible wild greens since she was a child. She now runs regular educational workshops in Queensland, Australia, where participants forage and then have a meal together “based on weeds,” she says. Meanwhile, Stark’s team offers an annual “Wild/Feral Food Week” to showcase the gastronomic opportunities offered by wild foods and entice people and chefs to become more familiar with them.

“There’s a big, diverse, edible world out there,” he says. “Take a bite of it!”

Natalie Parletta is a freelance writer and an adjunct senior research fellow at the University of South Australia. Qualified in nutrition and psychology, she spent ten years researching links between them. Now at large, she writes about topics spanning science, health, people, animals and the environment. twitter.com/NatalieParletta

This article was republished from Ensia

See also:
10 Reasons You Should Start Foraging For Your Own Food
Urban Foraging: Weeds You Can Eat

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

January 24, 2020

The pre-dawn hours feel sluggish under a void of course Capricorn Moon. Once the Moon reaches Aquarius a refocusing occurs but there are complications. The Moon is New during the late afternoon. Both the Moon and Sun are at odds with Uranus. Usually a…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

January 2020

Saturday January 18th, 2020 from 10:30-4pm and Sunday January 19th, 2020 from 10:30-4pm In Reiki Master Level you will learn the master symbols, receive the master level attunement and learn how...

Cost: $295 for new students, $195 for the refresher option

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough Shopping Center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

Join us and connect to the powerful energies of the bird kingdom. Throughout earth history, birds have been thought to be divine messengers. Many spiritual systems believe they are emissaries of...

Cost: $95

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack St
Methuen, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: front desk
Website »

More information

Your soul has already seeded your existence with all that is needed to completely express your destiny. Let the Miracle Mantra awaken you to the awareness of spirit ever present in your...

Cost: Suggested Donation: $20

Where:
Yoga At The Ashram
368 Village Street
Millis, MA  02054
View map »


Sponsor: Yoga at the Ashram
Telephone: 508-376-4525
Website »

More information

Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
Website »

More information

January 19th, February 16th, March 8th by appointment only. Kinetic Chain Release (KCR) to balance body, resolve leg length discrepancies, reduce back, shoulder, knee, hip pain and reduce stress...

Cost: $65 to $145

Where:
Leapin' Lizards
449 Forest Ave
Portland, ME  04101
View map »


Sponsor: Leapin' Lizards
Telephone: 207-221-2363
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Discover Beauty. Discover Goodness. Discover Yourself. Your soul’s gifts are waiting. Breathe. Find stillness. The spark you need to ignite your life is here, within. Max Meditation...

Cost: $15

Where:
Modern Mystery School Boston
132 Charles St
3rd Floor
Auburndale, MA  02466
View map »


Sponsor: Modern Mystery School Boston
Telephone: 617-694-0994
Contact Name: Jordan Bain
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Total Life Group Cleanse begins with Jonathan Glass, Ayurvedic practitioner Includes the following three Tuesdays. A 28-day program designed to initiate and maximize detoxification and...

Where:
Concord, MA


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Are you considering, going through or recovering from divorce? Join us at our free Daytime Divorce Boot Camp, and we’ll help you get into shape! In response to requests from people who...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation
180 Wells Avenue
Suite 300
Newton, MA  02459
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Do you have questions about the legal process of divorce? Join us at our free informative workshop in Hingham, MA! About this event: David Kellem, experienced Family Law Attorney &...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kellem Mahoney Family Law & Mediation Group
100 Recreation Park Drive
Suite 201
Hingham, MA  02043
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Are you ready to permanently up-level your life? Are you ready close the gap between where you are today and your higher purpose? Are you ready to take a definitive step toward healing the...

Cost: $15

Where:
Modern Mystery School Boston
132 Charles St
3rd Floor
Auburndale, MA  02466
View map »


Sponsor: Modern Mystery School Boston
Telephone: 617-694-0994
Contact Name: Jordan Bain
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

Join us at Vesta’s One-Day Divorce Retreat in Newton, MA! In just one day... you will come away with valuable knowledge about the issues associated with separation and divorce,...

Cost: $149

Where:
Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation
180 Wells Avenue
Suite 300
Newton, MA  02459
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

January is the time of the year when we look ahead to the year in front of us and imagine it to be better than the one we are leaving behind. We often make the New Years resolution in January and...

Cost: $108 before Jan 20 ($120 after)

Where:
Unity Farm Sanctuary
17 Unity Lane
Westborough Shopping Center
Sherborn, MA  01770
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

This is a free and mandatory orientation prior to registering for the 8 week group program of mindfulness based stress reduction or MBSR. Please RSVP so we can plan accordingly....

Cost: Free

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough Shopping Center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

This class will teach you how to make your own intricate wire-wrapped gemstone pendant, expanding on the basics from the introductory Level 1 class that has been taught previously. This class if...

Cost: Reg includes supplies $60 per person or $50 more than one

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd, Unit A
Our Yellow Banner is in Window w/Fairy Lights Please remove shoes at the door
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey
Website »

More information

We will be sitting in the New Moon Energy and The Energy and Consciousness of the Chinese New Year.  Stacey and Bob will be doing an energetic transmission with Energies and Stones...

Cost: Class: $30, Online Reg. $25

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd, Unit A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey
Website »

More information

Next Class Starts January 25, 2020 You will learn: How to hypnotize How to use hypnosis to help clients make personal changes How to turn hypnosis into a profitable part-time or...

Where:
, RI


Telephone: 401-374-1890
Website »

More information

January 25–April 26, 2020 Now offered in one day and weekend modules that can be taken individually or consecutively.  Dates and individual class links are listed below. All...

Cost: $1360

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, #1A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags