Tuesday, July 27, 2010

CITY FORAGING - Edible Begonias?

By Ray Gano
Yep the world's most common houseplant is edible. They are also one of the most common bedding plant for three reasons…
1 They look great.
2. They like shade
3. Deer don’t like to eat them
4. The most important thing, most city folk don’t even know that they are edible. 
So if you are walking around your neighborhood and "inventorying" what your city has to offer, you will probably see Begonias in abundance.
That is why I have decided to list it as one of those plants you need to identify and mark down on your local map or GPS waypoint.
Now what is interesting is that in those fancier grocery stores it is becoming "Haute Couture" to have flower pedals in your soup, salad and dressing up the plate. Often times those pedals they are eating are none other than Begonias.
Now something you can do, is plant the wax begonia, which is the most common in your yard. For those of you who live in an apartment, these plants thrive in pots and containers.  People will admire them but very few if any will know that they are part of this week's dinner menu.
There are at least 15 types of begonia that are edible…
B. annulata (aka B. hatacoa),
B. auriculata,
B. barbata,
B. gracilis,
B. grandis var evansiana (sparingly due to its medical uses),
B. hernandioides,
B. malabarica,
B. mannii,
B. picta,
B. palmata,
B. plebeja (stems peeled, sap is used to make a drink),
B. Semperflorens, 
B. rex and B. roxburghii (cooked),
B. fimbristipula is used to make a tea. (1)
Begonias are a common part of meal time in countries from Mexico,  India and Brazil.  Basically wherever they grow they have been a food source to people in the know.
So welcome to the club of being in the know.
Begonias have been found to be a  good source for vitamin C, often consumed by the pirates of the Caribbean to prevent scurvy. Well, I threw in the pirate stuff because they are native to Central and South America. They are also native to Japan, India, Indonesia, Burma in fact most of Asia all the way to  South Africa.  Pretty much where there is a semi humid environment along with warm weather, you will find begonias.
In Japan they are eaten like you would steamed spinach, throw them in a pot, add some salt, pepper and water and you have a side dish.
In Indonesia  they are used to make a sauce for meat and fish because of their "tart" taste. They are also used to make salads from China to Brazil.
Pretty much any time you would make greens cooked or raw, you can substitute those for begonias.
Now I have to say that Begonias contain oxalic acid, which can make them rather tart at times.
In high concentrations, oxalic acid is a dangerous poison, but such immediately toxic levels are not found in foodstuffs but rather in  the industrial arena. It is found in some bleaches, some anti-rust products, and some metal cleaners, among other things. As I have mentioned, it is also a naturally occurring component of plants, like begonias and other dark-green leafy foods. (2)
Also because they are ground cover, you need to make sure that where you forage from is not treated with pesticides and sprays. And as with any edible plant, make sure that you have clearly identified the plant. When in doubt, don’t eat it.
Thing is that Begonias have been harvested and eaten for at least 1,400 years where I understand that China has the earliest records using begonia grandis. (pictured here) There it was used as an herbal medicine, an astringent to clean wounds, reduce swelling and to treat a number of diseases.
A great website to visit and learn more about Begonias is: http://www.begonias.org.


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