This lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has changed our lives, at least for the time being. While most of the Urban population struggles to order veggies from Ecom portals, we, the village dwellers are going back to our roots and eating some wild grown veggies. In this blog post, I write about some veggies that we are eating now – fresh and free straight from Nature’s Basket.
What will be on your plate if you can’t go to the market one morning? Well, you can cook some veggies stored in your refrigerator for next few days. What’s next? This situation isn’t hypothetical any more. Any of us can be in a situation like this in any time. While you try to find the answer of my questions, let me tell you how we, the village dwellers, are managing this lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Even if the markets are closed, we have a lot of veggies to choose from. And all these veggies grow wild, without any human intervention. To be exact, these veggies are not cultivated by anyone. Most importantly, the ownership of these veggies isn’t held by the owner of the land where they grow. The entire community is free to collect the veggies as per their need. But, nobody is allowed to make money out of it.
To start the list, I would start with Fig. The urban people should also be familiar with this fruit. Sometimes Fig is sold at Urban markets too. Fig, called Dumur in Bengali is one of the many species of Ficus sp. that occur in India. The fruits are rich in nutrients. The green and young fruits are usually cooked and eaten in our area. When ripe, the Fig tastes slightly sweet. In other parts of the country people preserve ripe fruits by drying it. Later it is consumed as dry fruit.
Next on the list is another common item in our veggie markets – Taro, called Kochu in Bengali. The tuber of Taro is cooked into curry or just boiled with rice and then mashed with mustard oil, chilli, and salt and then eaten with rice. The Taro tuber is rich in carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. The leaves and stems are also edible and cooked with gram pea and coconut. The leaves and stems are full of fibre. Once upon a time, the affluent Bengalis used to call it poor man’s food because of its abundance resulting in huge consumption by the poor.
Water spinach, called Kolmi Shak in Bengali, is another wild plant that is widely consumed by the rural people. This leafy vegetable grows very well without any human care. This plant is eaten in several forms – ranging from stir fry with onion to boiled leaves mashed with boiled potato to soupy curry cooked with other vegetables. This plant is said to have medicinal properties. The juice of Water Spinach leaves is supposed to be anti-jaundice and blood glucose lowering properties.
Next on the list is, Swamp Weed, commonly known as Kulekhara in Bengali. This plant grows best near the water or in shallow water. I think there isn’t any mother who didn’t take the boiled leaves of this plant during her pregnancy. A rich source of iron, Swamp Weed, helps in maintaining haemoglobin balance. Swamp Weed leaves are boiled and consumed with little bit of salt. In daily cuisine, the boiled leaves are mashed with boiled potato, mustard oil and taken with rice.
The next plant has both edible value and aesthetic value. This plant is called Stink Vine, commonly known as Gadal Pata Bengali. If you have ever rubbed a leaf of the plant on your palms, you would understand the significance of the name – Stink Vine. This plant is taken in different forms. The leaves, having stinking smell when raw, add a good aroma when cooked. The leaves are fried into fritters with besan, Onion and spices. Besides, the leaves are also cooked as curry with fish or crabs. This plant is said to have cooling effect on stomach.
The next plant, Indian Pennywart, gets its name for having penny shaped leaves. Called Thankuni in Bengali, the leaves of this plant are taken raw in empty stomach as appetite booster. This plant does not have a wide variety of use but it is taken a lot in one form. The leaves are ground into paste and taken with mustard oil and salt with rice.
Nature gives us more than we can even imagine. This is list can be made even longer. The most important point right now is we need to protect nature. Only then we can benefit from nature. Imagine we had killed all these wild plants for better production of monocrop agriculture, we would have lost the last resource to sustain during lockdown. We kept the weeds alive; they are helping us going back to the basics.
I am sincerely thankful to my friend, philosopher, and guide Bikramadittya Guha Roy for entertaining my plant and fern ID requests tirelessly. Without his generous help, I wouldn’t have been able to identify these plants.