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Our diet depends on a very limited amount of plant varieties.
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    Little Known Root Crops

     

     

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    Oca - Oxalis tuberosa
    Oca is traditionally the second most widely grown root crop in the Andes after potato, it has been cultivated here since ancient times and by the Incas and there are many very diverse varieties. While the potato has spread and become the world’s fourth biggest food crop, oca despite being good tasting, nutritious and high yielding is still little grown outside the region. Although oca has been cultivated for 200 years in Mexico where large good looking red tubers called “papa roja” have been developed.

    Oca tubers are more fragile than potatoes and so would probably not suit mechanised operations. They are shiny, red and white and wrinkly, contain 9% protein and can range from 11% to 22% carbohydrate depending on variety. The protein is of high quality and there is a good balance of essential amino acids. They are eaten boiled or baked like potatoes, are used in sweet and savory food. In the high Andes they are often left in the sun to sweeten, the tubers can be eaten raw, this suggests they are more digestible than potatoes.

    Yields of oca can be twice as high as potatoes in harsh climatic conditions and they are grown in the Andes at altitudes of 3000 to 4000 metres. Oca is very suitable crop for temperate regions and is less susceptible to disease and pests than potatoes. Most types are responsive to day length but there are varieties that grow successfully as far north as Britain, although in some years early frosts can kill the plant before full sized tubers are formed.

    Chinese yam aka Cinnamon vine and Naga-Imo
    - Dioscorea batatas/ D. polystachya
    Yams are very widely grown staple food in Asia and Africa, the reason they are included here is that few people are aware that many yams are hardy enough to be grown in cool temperate regions. Chinese yams are not related to sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), which are often wrongly called yams.

    The yam plant is a perennial climber up to 3 metres tall. Plants take about 4 years to produce large swollen roots that can be up to a metre long, and are found deep in the ground. They can be left in the ground and harvested as required in winter. Yams have a thick woody skin, the inside edible part can be light tan or pale yellow to red or purple and the shape also varies greatly depending on the variety. Yams can be boiled, baked, fried, mashed and added to soups and stews, they store well for a long time.

    Protein of levels of 1.3 to 3.3% are similar to potatoes (average 2.1%), yams have a higher level of carbohydrates (22.4%) and a higher calorific value than the same weight of potatoes. As in most root crops there is a reasonable amount of lysine, but some amino acids are lacking, yams being low in cystine, methionine and tryptophan. Yams with a yellow colour have high levels of carotenoids, mainly beta-carotene.

    Disadvantages: Roots difficult to harvest, requires a lot of digging.

    Chufa
    aka Tiger nut, yellow nutgrass, ground almond and rush nut
    - Cyperus esculentus sativus
    The origin of this cultivated plant is obscure, it is known to have been an important food crop in ancient Egypt and is today cultivated in West Africa, Spain and China. It is a very fast growing perennial grass-like plant that is very easily grown in warm climates in moist or wet soil. The small round tubers found along the roots have a slightly almond flavour and are eaten raw or cooked. In Spain they are traditionally made into the drink horchata. Tubers are 12% protein, high in carbohydrates and rich in oleic acid. The edible oil derived from the tuber is of a superior quality similar to olive oil.

    Disadvantages: This plant and its wild relatives are regarded as serious problem weeds of irrigated summer crops throughout the tropical and semitropical regions. (Of course this could be an advantage if using the chufa for food!)

    Maca - Lepidium meyeni
    Maca is a little known root crop that is grown in poor rocky soil and extreme weather conditions in the Andes. It is probably cultivated at higher altitudes than any other food crop. There are many named distinct forms. The roots resemble small pears in size and shape and are pleasantly sweet flavoured, they are slowly baked, dried as an energy food and used to make a sweet aromatic porridge known as mazamorra. Maca root contains 59% carbohydrate, 10.2% protein and large amounts of minerals and essential fatty acids including linolenic and amino acids as well higher levels of iron and calcium than potatoes.

    Mashua, aka Anu - Tropaeolum tuberosum
    Another ancient traditional Andean root crop, Mashua is rapidly disappearing as a cultivated crop yet it is easy to grow, high yielding and very resistant to diseases. Mashua is a climbing plant closely related to the common nasturtium, that surely has potential as an intercrop. The tubers range in shape from conical to carrot like, have a hot radish like flavour and can be eaten raw or cooked. They are nutritious, with 11-16% protein depending on variety.

    Other Little Known Plant Crops

    Bamboos, Phyllostachys etc..
    Bamboos are members of the grass family, they are extremely widespread and diverse. Botanists disagree widely with each other on how many different species there are and give figures ranging from 200 to 1200. Species range from dwarf to up to 60 feet, most are subtropical or tropical plants, some have adapted to cooler climates, and dry and humid conditions. The tender young shoots of Chinese and Japanese bamboos are practically all edible.

    Bamboos are extremely high yielding, they are some of the fastest growing plants on the planet, some can grow one metre in a day, they are an excellent multi purpose resource for biomass, erosion control, building material, paper making, fuel and food. The protein content of bamboo shoots varies between 15 to 20%; this is higher than any other vegetable. Studies in China showed that protein and amino acid content in shoots were highest when they were still underground.

    The food quality of the shoots varies with the species, some kinds taste bitter, sometimes this is removed by boiling twice in water. The bamboo most cultivated for shoots in the temperate U.S. is Phyllostachys, a genus that consists of about 60 species, all of which are edible.

    Hardy kiwi fruit aka Arguta, Chinese gooseberry, Tara Vine
    - Actinidia arguta

    Kiwi fruit are one the best sources of Vitamin C, they have twice as much as oranges and up to 5 times that of blackcurrants. These climbing vines are native to the mountainous forests of East Asia, commercial plantings were made in New Zealand about 1930 and the fruit was given the name “kiwi” to market it. The hairy thick-skinned Actinidia deliciosa are best known and the type most often grown commercially probably because they store better. The Arguta type is smaller, sweeter and has a smooth thin skin that is easily eaten with the fruit, making it ideal for chemical free home production.

    The vines are at home given something to climb on, in a sheltered sunny spot, with well-drained soil. In these conditions they will survive temperatures well below –10 degrees. Growth is very vigorous, fruits are formed on 2 year old wood and good plants can produce 5 to 10 gallons of fruit per year. Actindia species are dioecious, meaning plants are either male or female. Several plants need to be grown together to guarantee both sexes are present for fruiting.





    Further Reading:

    'The Massacre of Apple Lincoln'
    by Pat Mooney
    A tyranny of sameness is sweeping the earth. Why, because the chemical companies have discovered gold in genes.
    'Colonising the Seed'
    by Gyorgy Scrinis
    Genetic engineering now makes possible the invasion into and control of the seed at the level of the gene.
    'Hybrid rice in Asia: The unfolding threat.'
    by GRAIN
    Until recently, rice was never commercially hybridised, there was no seed industry activity in rice. All of this is changing now and it will revolutionise rice farming in Asia.
    'Wal-Mart’s arrival in UK is likely to spell disaster for local communities.'
    by Andy Rowell
    Wal-Mart is the world’s biggest and fastest expanding retailer. In order to become number one, Wal-Mart does its best to destroy the competition, and that’s not all it will destroy.
    'Terminator technology: The threat to world food security'
    by R. Steinbrecher and Pat Mooney.
    The terminator rides to the rescue of long suffering multinationals who have been unable to hold farmers back from saving seeds.
    'Apomixis: The Plant breeders dream.'
    by GRAIN
    The agrochemical-biotech-seed corporations are investing heavily to develop this method of mass producing cloned hybrid seed much more cheaply. If they succeed there are frightening consequences on both biodiversity and the independence of farmers.

     

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