Edible plants, such as simple leaves and foliage from the fields, contain the nutrients necessary for the human body. A diet based on wild plants has its origins in the earliest days of our species.
The ecologist Bernd Gerken, aged 66, was born in Germany and came to live in Portugal in 2006. Over the years, he has always researched the edibility of wild foliage from different types of field.
According to Bernd Gerken, “there is an excellent variety of plants and plots in Portugal, which are Mediterranean in character, and there is a range of aromatic and green herbs of medicinal value. But there is a gap during the dry months, more or less between May and September or October, when a lot of irrigation is needed.”
The fact of eating vegetables has lots of advantages. The diversity and abundance of plants is a free source of food and, as a matter of survival, eating plants can be crucial. However, people are still prejudiced about eating wild plants.
This is a very special and innovative area of knowledge in Portugal. The edibility of plants, and their medicinal and nutritional value, is just one example of the knowledge emerging from this science.
During photosynthesis, plants produce organic substances that they use as a source of food. Plants can store mineral and organic substances that are essential for the human organism. “One of the most important aspects of our diet is the green component, we need green in our diet,” the ecologist says. Many leaves have great nutritional and even medicinal potential, but not all of them can be eaten. This is because factors such as the presence of pesticides or animal excrement have to be considered. That is to say, Bernd Gerken recommends taking into consideration certain aspects when eating wild plants. One piece of advice is only to eat plants that are of a certain height.
The plants’ appearance indicates their potential to be edible. The ecologist suggests “gathering plants that appear healthy, without damage caused by insects or fungus, and avoid broken plants. The younger the appearance of the leaves, the better the flavour.”
The flavour of the foliage is very variable – from intensely sweet to semi-bitter. Just like their textures, where some are smooth and others are very wrinkled.
The plant with the scientific name Crataegus is very abundant in wild fields, and has nutritional and medicinal uses. Plain grass is considered an appetiser, being fine and easy to eat.
The petals of wild roses and the leaves of certain products from the vegetable plot, such as cabbage and even cactus, are some examples of edible vegetables.
A smoothie is a good plant-based meal to start to get one’s organism used to the bitter taste of raw vegetables, because one’s body does need to get used to them. You can also get into the habit of keeping a hard leaf in your mouth until this becomes yellowish in appearance. In this way, the leaf releases the enzymes necessary for the organism to get used to the bitterness of the foliage.
People are not recommended to start eating plants on outings to the country without previous knowledge of the field. They need to do some introductory reading on the subject and to put it into practice with people well versed in the subject so that they can pass on basic knowledge about the edibility of plants.
“The conclusion is that we must be as wild as possible,” says Bernd Gerken.
Contact: Professor Bernd Gerken