Chenopodium or Bathua- The Cheapest Nutritious Food
In this article you can find the following information.
1. Chenopodium or Bathua (Importance of the Plant).
2. Origin and History (Availability in India).
3. Interesting Facts.
4. The Plant
5. Impact on Crops( Ecological pest control, Nutritional Contents in 100 Gram of Bathua).
6. Dishes in Himachal Pradesh (How to buy and Store Bathua).
7. Eleven Bathua Recipes (Taste).
8. Medicinal Uses and Health Benefits.
1. Chenopodium or Bathua
Chenopodium album is known as lamb's quarters, melde, white goose-foot, fat-hen, redroot, pigweed etc. The name pigweed owes its origin to the belief that it is best suited for the pigs.
The plant is also used as an animal feed in Asia and Africa. It grows in potato fields or wastelands and is considered a weed in Europe and North America.
It is known as bathua in North India, but has different names in South India. It is called Pappu Kura, Paruppu Keerai, Kadoma, Vastuccira and Chakvit in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Konkani languages respectively.
Importance of the Plant
The plant has not been given due recognition despite its wonderful nutritional profile. It considered as a weed or an unwanted plant as it grows anywhere in gardens, narrow gorges, farms, fissures of sidewalks, fields etc.
Despite several efforts to eradicate it with pesticides and herbicides, it continues to be more resilient and adaptable than man.
It could become the best and the most inexpensive food. The plant could be grown in the kitchen pots as the demands for nutritious foods are growing in the world.
Availability in India
It is readily available in India during winters and is available in irrigated areas in summer. It is found at an elevation up to 4,700 meters above sea level. It is found in the North from Sikkim and Kashmir to the Southern peninsula of India.
It is sparsely cultivated as a grain or as a vegetable crop and is not grown commercially in India. But the people of Himachal Pradesh and and Rajasthan cultivate it for the domestic needs.
It is sold in vegetable shops at the times when other green alternatives like spinach, green fenugreek or methi and amaranth are not available.
2. Origin and History
The nativity of the plant is obscure due to its prevalence, as it is widely found in North America, Europe, Africa, Australia, Oceania and Asia. It was from these regions that the species of the plant were introduced other parts of the world. Even the hunters ate it throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages and it continued to be a food source for several old civilizations.
Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern ecology found that the plant was first cultivated in Europe in 1753 AD. The name chenopodium album is common for all species, but the European and Asian varieties are quite different. The native tribal Zuni people of America living on the banks of Zuni, a tributary of Little Colorado in New Mexico eat the young green plants of chenopodium.
On analyzing the carbon dating of the remains, the archaeologists found the seeds and plants of chenopodium and the conventional grains in the caves of Iron Age, storage pits or earthen pots of the Neolithic Vikings in Britain and in the ovens of Roman sites.
The seeds were found inside the stomachs of naturally mummified human cadavers or Danish bog bodies known as bog people. These geographically and chronologically widespread dead bodies are from 8000 BC to World War II. The bog or mire bodies are found in the deposit of dead plant caled peat. These bodies are partially preserved as the actual preservation levels vary from perfectly preserved to skeletons. The mummified corpse of 4th century BC of the Tollund Man of Scandinavia had the seeds of lambs-quarters in his stomach at his execution site in a Danish bog. It was an important food source of the early Vikings. Several accounts including the writings of Peter Kalms in 1749 AD describe the ways in which the Scandinavians boiled the chenopodium greens in meat-infused water.
3. Interesting Facts
It was cultivated in Neolithic Europe in 7,000 to 1700 BC.
It was also found in China in 5th century AD.
During lean times, the Great Napoleon Bonaparte fed his troupes on bathua seeds.
The archeological evidences prove that the North American Blackfoot Indian tribes had been using the plant as a food in early 1600s AD.
The spread of bathua from the old to the new world between different continents is mot known.
4. The Plant
The plant found in nitrogen rich wastelands is similar to beetroot, spinach, and quinoa.
Its height generally reaches upright up to 10 to 150 cm and rarely up to 3 meters. Thereafter it needs support as it bends due to its own weight.
The dark green broad toothed and alternate leaves near the base are 3 to 7 cm long and 3 to 6 cm broad, while those on the upper part are 1 to 5 cm long and 0.5 to 2 cm broad. These unwettable leaves of diamond shape and mealy appearance have a white wax like coating on underside.
The long, small and radially symmetrical flowers of 10 to 40 cm length grow in small cymes on dense branches.
It has several micro-species and subspecies which readily hybridize and could not be easily differentiated.
Nutritional Contents in 100 Gram of Bathua
5. Vitamin C
5. Impact on Crops
It is one of the more powerful and competitive weeds, capable of producing the crop loss of 13, 25 and 48 percent in corn, soybeans and beetrooots respectively.
It could be easily controlled by pre-emergence herbicides. The growth of the young plants may be checked by dark tillage, rotary hoeing and flaming. The crop rotation of small grains also suppresses the infestation of this weed.
Ecological pest control
The plant is vulnerable to leaf miners and traps the crop peats as a companion plant in the fields. When planted near other plants in the boundary of the fields, it attracts leaf miners away from the crops. It is a host plant for the beet leafhopper, an insect which transmits the curly top virus to beet plants.
How to buy and Store Bathua
The chenopodium or bathua is widely available in winter. It should be purchased in the form of firm, dark, green and fresh looking leaves, free from molds, insects or insect infestation.
This green leafy vegetable of high moisture contents has a low shelf life and its freshness lasts just for one or two days. The leaves should be used as soon as possible as it gradually wilts when the moisture decreases.
Therefore store them in the refrigerator by wrapping in a foil or a perforated net bag or a paper bag. The boiled and and minced leaves could also be kept in the freezer.
6. Dishes in Himachal Pradesh
The people of Himachal Pradesh in India use the seeds and other parts of bathua in fermented beverages which are mildly alcoholic. These beverages are locally known as sura or ghanti or chang.
The seeds or grains of bathua are used in local phambra or laafi dishes. The gruel type dish of bathua is thin water boiled food consisting of some type of cereal like oat, wheat, rye, flour, or rice.
The people in Shimla district use several parts of the plant, like adding the seeds or the leaves to the rice, oatmeal and dal or pulses or lintels. The seeds are used as stuffings inside the Sidoo or steamed doughnuts.
The use of gruel as a food for the weak children also finds mention in Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, though in negative or derogatory sense.
The gruel was also a staple food of the people of ancient Greece and Rome.
It has an earthy, mineral-rich, astringent salty taste like spinach or kale, but the lemon juice reduces its potent flavor. Instead of crisp and juicy, it is more dense and fibrous. The young, tender leaves are used in salads, while the older and the bitter ones are used in cooking.
Like spinach, the leaves, stems and young shoots may be eaten either steamed or in its entire form as a leafy vegetable. The excessive intake of it should be avoided as it contains high levels of oxalic acid. The black seeds of the plant contain proteins, vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese etc. Like its related species quinoa, it is also grown for seeds.
Both the leaves and the seeds are used as animal feed for poultry and chicken. That is why it is known as ‘fat hen’ and is generally considered a weed.
7. The Bathua Recipes
The cuisines in Asia, Africa and Europe use the delicious leaves and young shoots of in soups, curries, salads, raithas, dry vegetables, curd etc. Its recipes are similar to that of spinach.
The green leaves are boiled before adding them to any recipe or are chopped to make the dry vegetable dishes. The leaves have a distinctive taste and the texture of the paste is very creamy.
The delicious dishes of low fat and high fiber made in bathua are rich in calcium and iron which make it the most nutritious and the wild mineral food.
The following recipes provide several options and the leftovers can makeover for the next day.
1. Bathua Loaves or Bread and Stuffed Parantha
The green leaves are kneaded into the wheat flour and the stuffed and fried loaves called paranthas are made out of it. The leaves could also be stuffed into the loaves and fried with oil to make delicious stuffed paranthas or loaves. When added to dough it gives a distinctive taste in loaves or chapatis, Nan and puris.
2. Bathue Curd or Raita
The boiled green leaves are blended and added to curd, green coriander leaves, chopped onions and tomatoes. This delicious bathua raita could also be made by using the green leaves and butter milk.
3. Bathua Karhi
The green leaves are boiled with little gram flour and then the curd or butter milk is added to it. The ingredients are heated, but not boiled to prepare the relishing karhi to be eaten with rice.
4. The Bathua Pickle and Sauce
The pickle is made made by boiling or putting the leaves in a microwave to avoid the wastage of juices. The leaves are then ground with garlic pods, green chilies and salt. The mustard oil is added for a piquant taste. It could be eaten with hot rice, salad, radish slices or smeared on loaves or chapatis or bread with onion or radish. With boiled chickpeas or fresh cheese it becomes a low fat food for dieting.
5. The Green Dip or Chilli Saag
Cut the stubs of 500 gm green leaves and wash them in running water. Chop the drained leaves and prepare the green dip in two ways.
a.) Heat 2-3 tablespoons of cooking oil in the pan, add asafetida and cumin seeds and when they become brown, add 2-3 finely chopped green chillies and turmeric powder. Then add the chopped leaves and red chillies into the pan and fry for few minutes on medium heat. Add salt, spices and half a cup of water to cook on same heat and if needed add more water.
b.) Boil the chopped leaves first and then follow the above method.
The leaves of mustard or spinach could be added for flavor and nutritious value.
6. The Sour Green Dip
Wash and drain the leaves, gently roll them as a bunch and cut them straight in downward direction. Then place the cut leaves in horizontally and again cut them straight in downward direction. Cook it as green dip and add tamarind or lemon juice for sour taste.
7. The Salad
The fresh and young leaves and small stems can be used in raw salads or as food toppings like the green leaves of coriander.
8. The Cutlets and Pakoras
These snacks could also be made by adding the chopped leaves in the recipes of cutlets and pakoras.
9. The Leaf Curry
Like spinach the leaf curry could be made with onions and potatoes to be eaten with rice.
10. Lentils and Pulses
The leaves with other greens could be added into pulses or lentils to make delicious and nutritious recipes.
The leaves can be cooked with potato and other vegetables in semi dry mix vegetable recipes.
8. Medicinal Uses and Health Benefits
1. It acts as a contraceptive.
2. The green dip helps in digestion.
3. It is a very nutritious and a healthy diet.
4. A green dye is obtained from the young shoots.
5. It is a good food for chicken and other poultry animals.
6. The juice of the stems is applied on freckles and sunburn.
7. It alleviates the gastic problem and the pain in the stomach.
8. The oil made from the leaves is used to treat the hook worms.
9. The juice of leaves helps in malaria, fever and other infections.
10. The crushed fresh roots of the plant act as a mild soap substitute.
11. It is not used in herbal medicines, though it has some medicinal properties.
12. The juice of the root is used in the treatment of dysentery accompanied with blood.
13. The dry stalk of the mature plant can be used as a strong and flexible walking stick.
14. The chewing of seeds is useful for relieving the discharge of semen through the urine.
15. The foods containing one fourth of the powdered herb may suppress the oestrus cycle.
16. The paste of the leaves is applied as a wash or applied on bug bites, sunstroke, rheumatic joints and swollen feet.
17. The regular intake of the juice helps in constipation, loss of appetite, slow gut movement, sour belches, stomach swelling etc.
18. The chewing of fresh leaves helps in mouth ulcers, bad smell in breath, pyorrhea and several problems related with teeth.
19. The leaf infusion is useful in the treatment of rheumatism. Boil the leaves of bathua and wash the swollen or sore knees with warm leaf infusion.
20. Boil the leaves and add lemon juice, salt and cumin seeds to alleviate the urine inflammation.
21. The paste is useful in the treatment of skin conditions. The application of the juice of boiled leaves helps in eczema, white spots, inflammation, itching and other skin problems.
The leaves and seeds of all species are edible, but some varieties contain small harmless quantities of saponins.
The plants contain oxalic acid, the large amount of which can lock up some food nutrients, but its moderate intake is very nutritious and the cooking reduces the level of oxalic acid.
The plants grown in nitrate rich soils assimilate saponins and oxalic acid in the leaves.
Be careful about the blunt, arrow-shaped, ridged leaves while picking the leaves of the plants.
The pollen may contribute to several allergies like hey-fever etc.
© 2015 Sanjay Sharma
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