Free edible plants
Published on: Sunday, August 25, 2019



vegetable growing very well in a pot of Zamioculcas spp.
‘EDIBLE’ is the catchword when you are dealing with people who are always hungry. It could be that their stomach activities are always in overdrive, spurred on by the unending overflow of digestive acids and the crunching effects of the powerful stomach walls.  

It is excusable when they are slogging it out in the gym, or slugging it out against one another in a free-for-all, but energy is still required even when sitting down and doing nothing including serious thinking.

And if you add the prefix “free” to the word “edible” in the food department of any supermarket or for that matter, any open house or public function, I can assure you it’s gonna be truly a free-for-all.  

In the ensuing chaos, even demure and gentle girls may also not be averse to scrambling for the windfall, fangs and claws all bared.  Fortunately, with the passage of time, such scenarios have now become a rarity indeed.

Fortunately, when it comes to free edible weeds, there is no such scenario, as it is something that is definitely going to turn off many people no matter how hungry they may be.  This is because of the age-old concept that weeds are inedible, dirty, repelling or even outright poisonous.  Perceptions like this is absolutely incorrect in the context of modern day nutrition and professionalised counselling on living and health.

The reason is that many of our edible plants today are the progenies of plants found in the gardens of nature ages ago, which humans disrespectfully classify as weeds. Unfortunately, to this day, this reasoning is still true in the case of many plants that are not well-known or researched, and thus named as weeds.  

The good news is that with the great advances in horticultural and nutritional sciences and their applications, many so-called weeds were found to be able to provide for human nutrition in very healthy and constructive ways.

The great irony is that weeds have always been described as non-beneficial plants growing in locations where they are not wanted, and thus they are subject to either massive destruction or total eradication, even though many weed species actually make really good food for not only humans but also domesticated animals.  

Of course, such a weedy definition is created by humans to suit its own needs while simply forgetting that whatever plants there are on earth are already serving useful purposes. This means that wherever possible, it is unnecessary to follow a scorched-earth policy without seriously considering its consequences.

Weeds or otherwise, many plants can be a food item as well as a weed depending on which angle you are looking at it.  If you have a grumbling stomach and are looking at the kuali, that such weeds can be turned into a delicious food. But if you are looking at your drains or the irrigation channels, then that’s a different story.  

For instance, the edible plant Ipomoea aquatic or Water Convolvulus (or more commonly known as Kangkung) is a tasty vegetable when cooked with belacan, prawns and scoops of fiery chilli padi. Such a dish is normally very affordable and is usually wolfed down in large mouthfuls with great gusto despite the reddened ears, burning tongue and rising temperature.  

But the delicious plant suddenly becomes a weed if it is found to be clogging up drainage channels or intruding into fishponds or padi fields. This is a widespread occurrence as this variety of kangkung thrives well as an aquatic plant by growing rapidly and overwhelming its surroundings, including padi and lotus ponds.  

For some of the smaller-sized plants especially those that are not as prominent as the kangkung, removal or eradication is the normal trend.  

As an example, the smallish herbaceous plant known as Peperomia pellucida, or Pepper Vegetable, is actually a weed as well as a salad vegetable, all rolled into one.  It thrives very well in moist, damp and cool locations.  

The plant multiplies very fast by vegetative means as well as from the hundreds of seeds delivered per plant.  It is therefore not surprising to find lots of them in corners, behind pots and even growing within them, between and within planter boxes, under shady shrubs and other ornamentals etc.  

But sadly, in most cases, the plant is ripped off whenever it appears in the garden, even when it is growing in the least visible corner. As few people are aware that the pepper vegetable can be a good dish, such removal of the beautiful plant from the garden is indeed a waste.  

They are even less aware that the variety can be used as a very attractive indoor plant as part of an Interior Naturescaping plan if it is neatly potted and skilfully trimmed.

 

A small plateful of freshly harvested pepper vegetable with the roots still attached.
 



 

Uses Of Pepperomia Pellucida

Peperomia pellucida belongs to the family Piperaceae which is therefore the same family as the common pepper used for spicing up a dish or soup.

There are many species of plants belonging to the genus of Peperomia, of which about 20-30 varieties are commonly used as house plants for decorative purposes.  

Of course the number that is edible and actually often used as a food item is not exactly known, especially since the rural areas and inaccessible mountains and valleys may have hidden treasures in great chefs who are able to cook up fantastic dishes from greens from nature.

Pepper vegetable has its origin in the tropical part of South America where the plant has been known to be variously used as a food item as well as for medicinal purposes.  In time it too became useful as an ornamental plant due to its unique glassy foliage and peculiar leaf shape.

As a food item, the pepper vegetable is normally eaten fresh after careful washing as a salad vegetable where it tastes much like pepper. Each bite into a bunch of freshly harvested pepper vegetable yields a crispy and slightly crunchy sound, and as your teeth continue to sink deeper into the succulent stems, your mouth quickly overflows with saliva at the exquisitely fine taste of an exotic vegetable, with images running fleetingly through your mind of Incas, Aztecs, Mayans and Olmecs decked out in all their fineries in formal gatherings with their king!

Fresh pepper vegetables can often be bought for RM1 per bundle of about 10-15 stalks, but the bundle size is definitely bigger in faraway kampungs such as Pegalungan, Kanibungan, Karagasan, or even in Nabawan or Keningau.

 

Even then the product is not always available on a daily basis and as such, anyone wanting to buy such a healthy vegetable should be on the lookout especially on those days when the local tamu is on.

Pepper vegetables are also often boiled as in soup, or blanched, steamed or fried with a variety of ingredients and spices, and garnished with an assortment of appetising edibles. Your super “chef” at home should be able to dwell deep into the topic of cooking and provide you with eye-opening enlightenment.  

That the pepper vegetable is highly nutritious and easily digestible is not known to most people. This is sad because the plant which is normally found plentifully in the damp and humid corners of most gardens, is a healthy food and real money-saver, which could easily convert to savings in the bank.

As a medicinal plant, the pepper vegetable is valued for its ability to soothe ailing stomachs and splitting headaches.  Even abscesses, blue-blacks especially of the eyes, singed skins and dark eye bags, can be improved with the little plant called Peperomia pellucida.  

Some people use it by grinding up the entire plant into a thick paste and then plastering it over the affected parts, the cooling effects of which, it is claimed, is much cooler that the waters at Niagara Falls, or the Kiansam or Mahua waterfalls. Others may apply the paste over a length of bandage and then tie it over the affected parts to be held in place without removal for a number of hours.  

There are also claims that when the paste of the plant is plastered all over the face, it is likely to keep the skin moist, tender and youthful. This brings to mind the use of aloe vera gels and ladies’ fingers’ mucilage as well as snail mucus and slime that can be applied on certain areas of the skin but not slurped in.  However, it is uncertain if these are efficacious and safe when applied in such a way.

As an ornamental, the plant is unique in that the appearance of its leaves and stems are seldom seen in other plants.  It is therefore a perfect plant to be planted in small pots or planter boxes in the interior to improve the aesthetics in indoor beautification and naturescaping. Standing on its own, the plant is not capable of very great heights.   

At most, it is only able to achieve a height of up to 0.3 metre, but by growing in a crowd of plants, it is able to attain even greater heights mainly by mutual support. Lengthwise, it can reach more than 0.3 metre by growing in a prostrate manner on the ground or over some other plants.

The stems of Peperomia pellucida are roundish, soft but rigid, and translucent, while the leaves which are cordate in shape and of length 1-3cm, appear to be crystalline and glassy especially on the surface.  

On a bright fine day, when sufficient sunlight penetrates into the dim corner in which it flourishes, a dainty trinket of glass crystals appears to be dangling and dancing in between the leaves as a result of light being reflected off the peculiar formation of the cells on the surface of the leaves.  These delightful little sparkles and the translucent nature of the stems are what made the plant so unique.

When grown in a thick cluster, it is perfect for hanging baskets or suspended gardens that are most suitable in an indoor environment such as apartments or condominiums.  Just imagine the loads of sparkling leaves and translucent jade-like stems topped with a multitude of vertically-growing inflorescences.  

These contraptions should serve the decorative aspects of the plant for some time, after which the overgrown or straggly portion may be trimmed and then sent to the kitchen to be concocted into something appetising and nutritious for the family.  This includes the few succulent roots which can be cleaned and gorged in too.  The majority of the fibrous roots are discarded to be converted into compost if there is a compost bin or heap somewhere.

There may be some other benefits to be tapped from the simple pepper vegetable.  For example, the entire plant may be put into a blender and then whipped into a green coloured creamy goo which may then be blended with honey or fruit juice and then gulped down in jugs.  This would definitely be cheaper than the green drinks concocted from avocado, asparagus or cekur manis shoots that are served in comfortable, air-conditioned cafes or drinking holes where the bill could shoot through the roof.

However or in whichever way people may look at the oh-so-ordinary pepper vegetable, the plant should still be treated with respect because it is a handy and practical plant that is easily converted into useful garden compost, or even hard cash.  

As the components of the plant decay much faster than other woody garden wastes that are often used in composting, therefore the use of pepper vegetable as a composting input obviously has its advantages.

It is therefore quite clear that nothing is actually wasted when you are handling the pepper vegetable.

 

A small plateful of pepper vegetable already cleaned and washed with the roots removed, and ready to be served.



 

Growing Pepper Vegetable In The Garden

Since pepper vegetable is hardly heard of within the gardening fraternity, it is safe to conclude that the cultivation of the plant in pots or on the ground is even more unheard of.  But this should not deter plant lovers especially the health conscious to seriously look at planting some of the juicy and healthy vegetable.  

At least it can be used for home consumption, or even be used as fodder for blowing trumpets to tout the remarkable qualities of the vegetable to gossipy and nosy neighbours just across the fence.

Under natural conditions, pepper vegetables thrive best in the hot and humid lowlands of tropical and subtropical regions up to an altitude of 1,000 metres or more.  Higher than that, the lower temperatures greatly affect the growth of the plant so that they tend to be wiped out as altitude increases.

Normally, the spread of pepper vegetable is aided by the existence of plenty of seed material or parts of plants from soils that are transported from somewhere.  

Often, entire plants which may be very tiny when small, are moved along as the planting containers are passed on from one owner to another, or from grower to buyer.  It is a bonus for buyers of plants from nurseries when the container, be it polybags of pots, also come with several tiny pepper vegetable plant stuck to the sides or base of the pot.  These little plantlets can be easily removed and planted separately.

Within a large cluster of pepper vegetable can usually be found hundreds of erect inflorescences which may carry thousands of tiny little seeds.  These are the planting materials arising from the normal process of sexual propagation, while the asexual propagative materials are composed of plant parts such as stumps, sections of stems etc.

Under normal garden conditions, these propagative materials can be translated into hundreds or even thousands of successfully growing plants which grow best when they are in secluded, cool and damp spots such as between pots, under heavy shade, or cracks in the wall or floor. Untended gardens may also find lots of such plants sitting right on top of the flower pots which are supposed to hold other plants.  

In the more open spaces, pepper vegetable is able to spread rapidly if the environmental conditions are favourable where the vegetable can quickly occupy a large area with countless numbers of individual plants growing in an erect manner and providing mutual shading and support.  

These plants should have no problem attaining heights of 0.3 metres or even up to 0.5 metres, which should allow for easier and more voluminous harvests.

Generally, there are very few people who have stepped forth to cultivate pepper vegetables, and lesser still if it is for commercial purposes.  Left on its own, the plant will grow in just about any place if conditions are right.

However, a few gardening enthusiasts may want to cultivate them by working on a couple of planting beds on the ground, or a number of plastic or clay pots.  

There are already great numbers of expert gardening enthusiasts out there who can easily breeze through establishing a couple of beds of pepper vegetable and harvesting them in due course to serve family and friends.  With containers, it is easy to cultivate the plant in pots and then placed on the ground. It is also not difficult to move them upstairs or into condominiums where they can be used in naturescaping the interior in combination with interior decoration.  

Interior naturescaping helps to maximise on the use of the pepper vegetable in indoor situations as a decorative plant in various formats, such as in hanging gardens, water features, table-top plants, green walls and vertical gardens, etc.  

It is a skill where nature is engaged to interface seamlessly with a built-up environment such as that found inside condominiums, apartments, office complexes, etc.  It also helps greatly in the enrichment of indoor aesthetics for a pleasing and comfortable ambience and accentuates the feel-good factor that creates a positive impact on human life values.  

This is where a devoted and dedicated gardening enthusiast takes great pride in being recognised as having grown something simple but really special and rare.

Breeze on, folks!





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