Friday, August 20, 2010

Forest food

That was the time there was only water and rest of the earth had only forest.
The ancient man who has lived on nothing but what the land provides. Uncultivated or volunteer greens are nothing new in our culture. It's always there. The whole notion of 'weed' doesn't really exist. Earth was providing plenty of it in the form of medicinal herbs, greens, shoots, fruits, berries, roots mushrooms. Man developed the knowledge and skill to make do with what the earth has been given.

Knowledge of non-domesticated food resources is part of traditional and tacit ecological knowledge, and is largely transmitted through socialization within cultural and household contexts.

I was surprised when I met series of friends who had never actually eaten uncultivated or volunteer greens.

So this is a small initiative to upgrading the way we relate to our planet.

Who are the resource people?
When I realised there are plenty of greens which we can eat. The next question was
Whom do I ask? Is there a book/guide to recognize these plants? How to learn about these plants?
The local villagers who have lived on nothing but what the land provides, and they are still here. They have developed the knowledge and skill to make do with what they have been given. I realized there is a block to find potential sources of knowledge and i should examine it.

We have virtually disconnected ourselves from the land  around us and all of the valuable gifts it contains
Unfortunately the knowledge hasn’t been passed on to the next generation and soon this knowledge will be nowhere.

The need:

The knowledge on wild plant foods is in danger of getting lost as habits, value systems and the natural environment change. To preserve this knowledge, which potentially is highly valuable for future generations, it needs to be documented systematically and made to be part of our diet.

Changing human lifestyle and taste, negligence of potential sources of knowledge, availability of foods in the market and development of transport systems are factors which lead people, specially the younger generation, to use more ready made fast foods.

Thus, the use of uncultivated foods is likely to decrease in the future, and important factors contributing to livelihood, culture and tradition are threatened to be lost

The Fact:

• The diversity of uncultivated plant species, their occurrence and relationship with cultivated species, and their use by humans have rarely been studied systematically

• The value and potential of uncultivated foods in the food security and nutrition of rural people is also neglected in agricultural and environmental programs

The value

• Millions of years of evolution have endowed these wild plants with the high concentrations of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that they (and we) need to survive, plus way more flavor than their water-bloated commercial counterparts, which we usually breed for size alone.

• Wild foods are safer and more natural than supermarket food. Our ancestors survived by foraging for tens of thousands of years, whereas junk food has been killing us for less than a century, and genetically altered food is an even newer experiment.

• It’s fun and easy to learn to recognize and use wild plants. And it’s exciting and empowering to add wild plants to your meals while saving money, getting better acquainted with your bio me, and improving your health.

• It adds diversity and excitement to our diet


Uncultivated plant species used for consumption at times of food shortage, have the potential to become valuable staple foods and important alternatives to the usual food crops cultivated by farmers.

The option to improve food production through exploiting the potential of uncultivated food plants might be a sustainable, cheap and local alternative for decreasing the food shortage problem. At the same time, development of use of uncultivated food plants might contribute to biodiversity.. Without the understanding of the complimentary between staple crop foods and uncultivated food intake, agricultural planning will continue to be dominated by few major crops to the exclusion of such diverse and important resources. However, additional investigations on the use and availability of uncultivated plants in different regions are needed.

The initiative:
You will meet women like Puttamma around you who have lived on nothing but what the land provides. They have developed the knowledge and skill to make do with what they have been given.

My dream is to document 100 kinds of edible greens.(Puttamma says there are noorodu jaati soppu )I am optimistic about it. In one place (that too in Bangalore)( near Kaggalipura (Kanakpura road,Bangalore) where puttaamma (a soppu seller) usually collects her greens).

Puttamma learnt about soppu from Munitayamma 30 years back. She is in this job since then .Puttamma is 60 years old now. Her daughter is working in a Garment factory and son is a driver. Sadly next generation knows nothing about this knowledge.

GoLi soppu:
Thick leaves ,,small yellow flowers ..mild sour taste.. grows well near water bodies..spreads close to the ground.Puttamma says there are two kinds of goni /goLi soppu small and big.It can be seen malnaad region and wet lands in all the seasons. I saw them growing in my lay out and  in the corners of footpaths in busy streets like koramangala in Bangalore.
You can gow them in your kitchen garden through cuttings .

Goli soppina saaru
  • ingredients:1bunch of goli soppu,1/2 cup grated coconut,6 red chillies,1/2 tea spoon coriander seeds, 1/4 tea spoon cumin seeds, 1no. clove, 4 garlic,1/4 cup tur dal, tamarind,salt
  • method:cook the greens with dal.stair fry all the ingredients grind with coconut, mix the masala with cooked daal and soppu. add salt tamarind juice and jaggary(optional) season with garlic.
Goli soppina sharakali:
  • Ingredients:1bunch of goli soppu,5-6 green chillies, 6 cloves garlic, 2-3 i lemon salt
  • Method: boil the soppu with green chillies and salt. grind into smooth paste. seson with garlic and jeera.  goes well with hot rice or chapathi
Goli soppina raita/mosaru bajji

Ingredients:1bunch of goli soppu,1/4 cup grated coconut,1/4 cup curd
For seasoning:2-3 red chillies, 1/4 tea spoon udad dal, mustard seed,
Method:  Chop the greens, boil with  salt and little water.. grind  the coconut into smooth paste.Mix with greens.Add curd. seson with red chillies, udad dal, mustard seed



  1. this is amazing..i'd love to come and meet you...i am also on the path to trying healthy traditional recipes and your knowledge of the greens will help so much....its good work..and i liked that u have also given the recipe..otherwise people do not know how to cook them and hencs cannot include it in their lifestyle..looking forward to meeting u in oct for the quilt making workshop..
    nikita ram

  2. Hi Nikita
    Thanks for visiting my blog!! There are native people you meet in your daily life have this tremendous knowledge and skill to recognise these plants .Once you start recognizing the plants which are edible you could see them everywhere !!and you feel like shouting _ "Hey there is food growing every where !!" ;)
    I have documented nearly 25 edible greens in Bangalore itself .This write up on forest food is just the beginning .I have to complete it. There are again regional varieties .My mother wrote books on forest food ,life saving trees, life saving weeds , folk drinks etcin kannada.. We are documenting folk knowledge . We take students for study tours and experience folk life in Honnavar We are reviving many folk food which are forgotten aswell. You can read about our organisation in my blog.
    You are welcome to quilt workshop .Iam looking forward to meeting you.
    Savita Uday

  3. Hi Savita,
    This is an amazingly informative post. I live in Chennai, and am on a similar quest to identify wild greens. I used to take the help of my vegetable seller, and she pointed out quite a few wild greens that grew in my backyard, which I used to mistakenly assume were weeds!

    I plan to grow goli soppu and have purchased some seeds from Vanastree. Any suggestions on how to grow them. I am also eagerly looking forward to your pieces on the wild greens you have documented. Have you thought of creating it like an ebook?

  4. It reminded me what. I was eating 70years back cooked by my gm.

  5. Goli soppu is a great green for kidney related issues. Just taking the juice of leaves or chewing and or having a tea of infused leaves and sticks will rid of dialysis,it is said.

  6. Interesting facts, there is a saying for every disease we have a plant that cures it. We need people like you to document the variety of our greens, else the knowledge will be gone with people like puttamma. You are inspiration for others to join in this documentation journey.


Traditional Baskets and other weaving crafts with natural fibers in Uttara Kannada-western Ghat region

  While  weaving craft with natural fibers  is one of the widest spread crafts in the history of any human civilization, it is hard to say j...