Foraging the Garden – Unlikely Edibles, Part 2

You’re stuck at home with nothing fresh and healthy in your fridge or cupboards. First, resolve to modify your grocery list (jk!), and then, look out to your yard for inspiration. When I go to my garden, I see quite a few things that I can use to add nutritional value to our meals. It’s not quite the “grocery garden” that I intend for it to be, but it’s getting there.

I enjoy gardening. I like to cultivate plants from seeds and cuttings. I get such a thrill from seeing green sprouts burgeoning out of the soil or green buds developing on stem nodes. Flowers have me doing a happy little wiggle, not only because they’re lovely, but they usually also mean that fruiting is at hand.

As much as I love plants that I grew myself, the excitement that a volunteer brings is something else. I will ruthlessly yank crabgrass from the soil, but with any other weed, I manifest a strange fascination. I’m always willing to let a volunteer grow more sturdy and then replant it in a separate pot, waiting to see what kind of plant it would turn out to be. More often than not, these weeds are medicinal, usually offering what could count as leafy greens as well. There have also been instances when volunteers turned out to be plants I would have grown willingly myself. For example, a papaya seedling suddenly showed up in a pot beside my dragon fruit plant. In another instance, a purple periwinkle (vinca) grew in a crack on the garden wall.

There is a popular volunteer, however, that tends to get overlooked since it’s common to see it as ground cover. I’m referring to the pansit-pansitan (pepper elder/ shining bush/ man to man). It’s characterized by shiny heart-shaped leaves and spikes with dotted tips, which are supposed to be their flowers. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), it also bears tiny round or oblong fruits, ridged, first green and later black. I’ve never seen a pansit-pansitan with fruit, or maybe I just haven’t been paying attention. Its presence is so ubiquitous that I tend to ignore it.

Pansit-pansitan is incredibly medicinal. It helps with various ailments from skin problems to diarrhea to gout, et cetera. And, as I’ve learned from various gardening groups I belong to, it makes for good eating too. So, I decided to try it out. I went to the garden and snipped the bigger leaves, washed them, and then included them in a salad. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a chopped up onion, tomato slices, and lettuce, plus the pansit-pansitan. I then drizzled it with a dressing concoction of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon essential oil, ground black pepper, and sea salt.

Now, as mentioned, I harvested the pansit-pansitan from my own garden. I know it’s clean since I garden organically. My main fungicides are baking soda and ground cinnamon, and my pesticide is a garlic-chili spray I made myself. I nourish the soil with natural fertilizers like vermicast, epsom salt, fermented fruit juice, et cetera. Don’t get your pansit-pansitan from the side of the road and other questionable spots.

Another word of caution involves use of essential oils. Not all of them may be ingested orally. Make sure you’re familiar with the list of edible oils before putting any in your food.

I’m interested to learn more about wild edibles. I would really love to suddenly find pako (fiddlehead fern) in my garden, but that’s probably not going to happen since I don’t live in a rainforest (I used to!).

Anyway, I’d love to hear about your own foraging stories. Please share if you have any. Hasta luego.

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