Danielle Hepler, Abigail Hing, Sharon Kauffman, Tjia-Ern Lau, Mallory Ziegler, Richard Schaeffer, and Kathryn Witt, Messiah College Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Science
Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius) or tree spinach is a nutritious, fast growing perennial shrub (TN 53). It is one of many food plants that contain cyanogens, chemical compounds that can produce toxic hydrogen cyanide (HCN) when the food is consumed (Table 1). Hydrogen cyanide is produced when the plant cells are damaged, because an enzyme located in one part of the cell is then able to act on the cyanogen, which is kept in a different part of the cell. Microorganisms living in the intestines of animals also contain small amounts of enzymes which release HCN from cyanogens (Teles 2002).
Rarely is an easy-to-grow and attractive ornamental also a tasty, edible leafy green, suitable for salads, sandwiches, soups, and stews. Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum), also called fameflower, grows similarly to purslane. As such, it can reseed itself and grows easily, with little need for attention and without pest problems. Its light green leaves and small pink flowers brighten gardens and also make a good addition to container gardens.
Green leafy vegetables are an important source of vitamins and minerals. In areas where eating leaves is not part of the culture, leaf powder can be an important addition to the diet. We have written in the past about the positive difference that leaf powder can make in terms of nutrition. Here we share again the importance of leafy greens and of leaf powder, especially since many in our network may not have read early issues of EDN.
The arid region directly south of the Sahara Desert (the Sahel), which stretches from Senegal to Ethiopia, has limited sources of fats and oils. Dairy products from cows and sheep are scarce and traditional oilseed crops are few. This is problematic for human health since fats and oils contain lipids essential for vitamin absorption and are a high-calorie energy source.
The shea nut tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) is a widely distributed and traditional source of vegetable fat in the Sahel for the Bambara, Dyula, Fulani, Hausa, and Wolof peoples. Some of its common names suggest its dietary importance: bambouk butter tree, galam butter tree, and arbre à beurre. Other common names in many different languages include karité, cárei, carité, lulu, sirreh, se, berekunan, tamba, taanga, and kareje. Fruity pulp and butter from shea nut trees are important food sources during the ‘hunger months’ of the early rainy season, before annual crops are harvested. However, even though the shea nut tree is widespread and traditionally used, it is underutilized because of the high amounts of labor, fuel, and water that are required to process it. The grueling and resource-intensive butter-making process can be streamlined by modern, low-tech methods that could expand its use as a hedge against food insecurity.