July 13th, 2020


Too little information (Garden, random, cooking)

The path of research into the safety of milkweed consumption — particularly butterfly weed, A tuberosa — revealed too much generalization. Milkweeds have milky sap, except for those which do not. Milkweeds are poisonous, except the content of toxins varies between species and probably varies within a species and certainly varies with plant part and maturity.

Toxicity of potatoes comes to mind. Solanine is in the flesh of a mature and “unstressed” tuber in non-toxic amounts. There’s relatively more in the skin and in “new” or young potatoes. There’s much more in bruised or green potatoes. There’s more in the eyes of the potatoes and even more when the potato sprouts. [See https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/solanine which includes a very useful extract from Michael Storey, in Potato Biology and Biotechnology, 2007]

If i was living off potatoes daily, peeling and digging out the eyes would be fairly important to reduce the overload of toxin. Eating potatoes less frequently, eating the skin and ignoring the eyes is of less risk.

What brings this all to mind in this moment, is fears of malting (sprouting) rye and “getting ergot poisoning.” I was reading up on sprouting rye and found a number of cautionary warnings about “do it yourself” sprouts. Ergot‘s life cycle, it turns out, relies on an infection when the plant is in bloom. If one has healthy rye grain, sprouting the grain is never going to produce ergot.

On the other hand, growing your own rye may result in ergot. And i think one of the stalks of rye in a vase near me, grown this spring as a cover crop in my stilt grass fight (side note: i think oats stopped stilt grass better, but the rye was quite pretty!) has an ergot spur. I wonder how many folks who fear sprouting rye grains would accept rye from a small farm? Or wheat, or oats? (Sigh, oats get ergot.) I find myself thinking of all the posts I’ve read of people growing a small bunch or wheat in their yard and making their own bread with it. My thoughts in the past were to ponder the expense in time to harvest and thresh and grind the grain: now i need to add, clean the grain of ergot.

I think back to scurvy and skim the history of cures and beliefs, noting how there are confounding practices, such as preparation of some edible in copper pans that led to compounds that prevented absorption of a chemical. It makes me ponder how risky eating can be. A chef with a novel ingredient who knows traditionally it has been cooked in such and such a way with some list of other ingredients. Could one ingredient mitigate another, preventing a toxin from binding with receptors? But how would one know that that’s why those ingredients were always eaten together.

So as i ponder novel meals of violet greens and sweet potato greens and okra greens and milkweed and poke, it’s with caution. I’m not sure if I’ll spring for milkweed — although butterfly weed with its lower toxicity is not as concerning... but it’s concerning enough. Pokeweed? I’m currentl avoiding. It’s possible that one mess of poke salat in the spring would be harmless, but why bother? Admittedly, thrice boiling may be less bother than sun chokes, which appear to need fermentation before consumption, but boiling takes energy.

It’s all makes me feel sympathy with the picky eaters out there. Those genes were probably pretty useful when the adventurous gatherer was celebrating the delicious find of the season.
This is also posted at https://elainegrey.dreamwidth.org/817760.html .