|"lacto-fermented hogweed soup (+eggs): the original borscht"|
Wild plant species, even for agrarian peoples or pastoralists who mainly used animal products, would have assumed a special importance during times of crop failure and famine. Some of these are the species that we know of today as “weeds”: species well adapted to disturbed conditions and often associatedwith human habitation. In turn, some of these weeds became the candidates for domestication: for example, mustards, wild carrot, chicory and lettuce. Altogether, widely used domesticated species comprise only a fraction of the 20,000 or so plant species known to have been used as food by humans. Canadian Indigenous peoples alone have used over 500 species of plants for food. In recent times, however, especially in urban areas of the world, most people have come to depend on fewer and fewer species to provide them with their daily nutrition. Today, only around 20 domesticated species supply up to 85% of the world’s food base.What follows then is a ten page overview of selected edible wild plants from around the world as documented in scientific literature. That's an approximate 250 plants, way more than an average forage guidebooks will give you. The paper continues with various strategies for wild plant use and management before giving a very good definition of weeds, their downsides and upsides. It then continues by giving various examples of weeds used in local cuisines. I am quoting from the paragraph on Borsch:
Nowadays the Russian name borsh and Polish barszcz designate a kind of vegetable soup, specifically one made with beetroots (Beta vulgaris). However in the past this name applied mainly to a soup made from the young shoots of hogweed, or cow-parsnip (Heracleum sphondylium) which in Polish bears the name barszcz and in Russian barshchevnikh. How did it happen that this shift in the meaning of the name arose? This issue fascinated professor Jozef Rostafinski, a Polish botanist from Cracow, who in 1916 published a treatise on the history of the shift from eating Heracleum to eating beetroots. Hogweed is reported as an important food plant in Poland in the sixteenth century. In the herbal of Marcin z Urze¸dowa (1595) we can read: “Whoever eats hogweed, moistens his living.. . . When they make it sour in the Polish way, it is good to drink in fevers, thirst, as it alleviates thirst and cholera and it induces greed for food with its spice.. . . Garnished with egg and butter, it is good to eat on the days when they do not eat meat soup, as it works in the same way.”Isn't that lovely? The paper ends with the observation that the traditional knowledge of gathering wild plants is mostly down to old women whose skills are not being handed down to a new generation. And this is a shame because with it we lose a local, practical, hands-on knowledge that appreciates diversity and gives independence and understanding of the environment to its practitioners.