I did a little experiment this year. I had several garden squares that were well behind on prep and planting, as they had been basically planted with a couple of lilies in the center of each, and I’d not be able to do a whole lot with them until the flowers died down.
So I decided to scatter some interesting tiny seeds with which I had little experience, but that are relatively cheap, and “see what happens”. The results were interesting.
First, I had a bag of Chia. These seeds are the same thing found on Chia Pets (ceramic do-dads with glued on seeds that make green fuzz once wet). They are small, about the size of a grain of salt for not-too-fine salt. At health food stores, they are sold in a bag of 2 lbs for about $9 and contains an enormous number of individual seeds. (The same behaviour can be seen with Amaranth, and to a lesser degree, quinoa and millet as the seeds are a bit larger. Just hit the Whole Foods bulk grains isle to get an idea). So two squares that were absolutely bare and not going to be ‘worked on’ for a couple of months just had a handful of chia seeds scattered and watered in. Some were also scattered over a slightly grassy area where various grasses had colonized a square. (Squares are 4 ft x 4 ft delineated by concrete pavers that make a walkway between them).
That was it. Scatter, water. I figured if it can sprout glued to a ceramic head, it can handle dirt. Being very small and black, they also disappeared into the soil on watering and birds didn’t seem to know it was there.
It pretty much all sprouted and grew with at most modest water. I now have a ‘carpet’ of chia about 3 to 8 inches tall (depending on degree of soil drying in the sun). Also swaths of it have been “mowed” by my assistant bunny who appreciated the work…
Most folks think of chia as a ‘small pseudo-grain’ if they think of it at all. But like many foods we eat, it has edible greens that the commercial food system basically ignores. In a “survival situation”, that is called ‘dinner’…
Salvia hispanica, commonly known as chia, is a species of flowering plant in the mint family, Lamiaceae, native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala. The 16th-century Codex Mendoza provides evidence that it was cultivated by the Aztec in pre-Columbian times; economic historians have suggested it was as important as maize as a food crop. Ground or whole chia seeds are still used in Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina, Mexico and Guatemala for nutritious drinks and as a food source.
Note first that it is a Salvia. Mint family. So far it isn’t looking invasive like other mints, and it is growing nice single stems with leaves on alternate sides. I tasted a bit of it, and it does not taste “minty”, but has a rather nice delicate flavor. (The bunny agrees ;-)
Some folks like to make them into sprouts (a useful thing to know how to do in a ‘food emergency’, as that increases your vitamin supply when you have excess starch and not enough ‘greens’). It can also turn a small spoon of hard seeds into a plate of greens that are much easier to chew. (Though just mixing a spoon of chia into a carton of yogurt makes for a decent and energizing snack / light meal). Chia also has omega-3 fatty acids that will be deficient in any kind of stored food diet, so worth it just on that count.
These folks have a more in depth look at growing and eating the greens:
Chia is an annual herbaceous plant growing to over a metre in height. Plants can be sown in March or April (now!) under cover and seeds should germinate within a couple of weeks. Chia can also be sown in the ground outside in May but this may reduce the chances of them flowering and setting seed (they may not anyway). Plants produce a prolific amount of leaves and should flower between July and August. They are frost tender and prefer a dry sunny position in the garden with just enough, but not too much, water. In the wild Chia have adapted well to arid conditions and areas of low soil fertility.
The bottom line here being that for about 1/2 ounce (if that) of chia seeds, I’ve got about 32 square feet covered in edible greens after at most 2 months (and I think it is closer to one… but I wasn’t keeping dates on this as I didn’t expect such rapid growth, or that the greens would be edible by anyone but Butterscotch, the bunny.) The above page talks about using the greens to make a tea, but if the sprouts are edible, so are the larger leaves. So I ate a few. I’d happily have more, and will likely try a bit as a salad or cooked (bunny allowing…)
Since I could not find a specific reference to eating a plate of mature chia leaves, that will have to wait until I have enough of them. For now, I can assure you that the small young plants are tasty.
This implies that having a pint jar of chia seed in the freezer not only gives you a decent chunk of food right there, but can also supply a load of emergency greens as sprouts, and perhaps even a larger fast supply of greens as growing plants. In any case, it is growing well right now and with zero issues (other than the occasional area reduction from my Free Range Bunny ;-)
In a similar way, quinoa is a tiny little seed that is also fairly decent food (though ‘has issues’ that chia does not). The tiny little seeds were also scattered on 1/2 of one square and largely ignored, just watered in. I then also planted a row of collards / kale hybrid and forgot about them. Now, also about 1 1/2 months later, I’ve got a forest of quinoa plants shot up all around the collard / kale plants. The bunny has dutifully ‘trimmed the edges’ where they lean out of the cage, so assures me they are non-toxic. So I’ve munched a bit of the greens. Nice. Slightly spinach like, which isn’t a surprise when you remember it is in the same family as spinach (and amaranth).
Quinoa Scientific classification Kingdom: Plantae (unranked): Angiosperms (unranked): Eudicots (unranked): Core eudicots Order: Caryophyllales Family: Amaranthaceae Subfamily: Chenopodioideae Genus: Chenopodium Species: C. quinoa Binomial name Chenopodium quinoa Willd.
The key bits here being that “chenopodium” that puts it in with Goosefoot or Fat Hen (now often thought of as weeds, but are an edible in a famine or even if you just are lazy about gardening…) along with spinach. (For spinach, the entry at wiki is: “Family: Amaranthaceae, formerly Chenopodiaceae, Genus: Spinacia” That Amaranthaceae includes the amaranths and beets).
Quinoa (/ˈkiːnwɑː/, from Quechua kinwa or kinuwa ) is a species of the goosefoot genus (Chenopodium quinoa), a grain crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, as it is not a member of the true grass family. As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beetroots, spinach and tumbleweeds. As a member of the Amaranthaceae family, it is related to and resembles amaranth, which is also a pseudocereal.
It is high in protein, lacks gluten, and is tolerant of dry soil.
Note that I’m partially interested in both chia and quinoa for their tolerance of dry soils too.
Now quinoa has a minor “issue” in that it has a bitter seed coat. The soapy bits (saponins) in the seed coat need to be washed out to make it not be bitter, and large doses of it are likely not good, so wash the seed if it is from the garden and get the seed coat off. But that does keep the birds away. Also, as a spinach relative, you might guess it could have an issue with oxalate levels.
Quinoa is not a commonly allergenic food and is not known to contain measurable amounts of purines. Because quinoa does not belong to the plant family containing wheat, oats, barley, and rye, it is also a gluten-free food. Some studies also show a higher-than-expected digestibility for quinoa, making it a food less likely to produce adverse reactions. However, like all members of the Amaranthaceae-Chenopodiaceae plant family (including spinach, chard, and beets), quinoa does contain oxalates, and sometimes in substantial amounts. The oxalate content of quinoa ranges widely, but even the lower end of the oxalate range puts quinoa on the caution or avoidance list for an oxalate-restricted diet.
So for folks like my spouse, who have had an oxalate kidney stone, this is on the avoid list along with spinach. But in small quantities for folks without oxalate processing problems, it’s a common food. It also can have some anti-inflammatory effects. From that same link:
Most of the quinoa studies that we’ve seen in this area have been animal studies. However, we believe that the preliminary indications for humans are very promising. Research has shown the ability of daily quinoa intake to lower levels of inflammation in fat (adipose) tissue in rats and in the linings of their intestine as well.
We’re not surprised at either of these results because a wide range of anti-inflammatory nutrients is already known to be present in quinoa. This list of anti-inflammatory nutrients includes phenolic acids (including hydroxycinnamic and hydroxybenzoic acids), members of the vitamin E family like gamma-tocopherol, and cell wall polysaccharides like arabinans and rhamnogalacturonans.
Somewhat more controversial in this anti-inflammatory nutrient list are the saponins found in quinoa. Saponins are the bitter tasting, water-soluble phytonutrients found in the outer seed coat layer of quinoa. (More specifically, the saponins found in quinoa are derived from hederagenin, oleanic acid, phytolaccagenic acid, and serjanic acid.) The quinoa saponins have been shown to have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. However, soaking, boiling, and milling can reduce their presence, and, in general, this reduced presence is usually regarded as a good thing since it can make the quinoa much more enjoyable for most people to eat. In research to date, the relationship between and anti-inflammatory benefits of quinoa and saponin levels has yet to be clarified. However, even though more research is needed in this particular phytonutrient area, the list of anti-inflammatory nutrients in quinoa remains impressive.
So I’ll be trying the occasional dish of quinoa instead of rice from time to time to see if anything changes with inflammation (that I can trigger at will with tomato sauce for a real test … and so I have an excuse to make my lasagna again ;-)
Generally quinoa has a lower oxalate level than goosefoot, and that is also edible. I’ve eaten a chunk of the young ones and it was more mild than spinach (but oxalate might be higher in older leaves, again, something that will have to wait). For now it is tastier and milder than the lambsquarters I have growing wild around the edge of the garden.
Also known as goosefoot, lamb’s quarters grows wild in many places, and the leaves and young stems can be boiled and eaten like spinach (it even has a spinach-y taste). Lamb’s quarters is a relative of quinoa, and its seeds are high in protein, making it another important survival food.
So once again we have a micro-sized seed that can be cooked and eaten if desired, or an ounce of it can result in a bunch of greens quickly, both as sprouts, or planted out and the ‘thinnings’ eaten. Just not too much of it nor is it for folks with oxalate issues.
I’m going to only give this a cursory review as it is essentially the same as quinoa but without the bitterness aspect to the seeds. The plants are also larger and much showier often sold as ornamental seeds (“Love Lies Bleeding” is one). For an ornamental planting that you can also eat, it’s a nice solution. The seeds share the very small size, and are available at health food stores by the pound. I’ve eaten the greens, and the young leaves are OK, the older ones a bit high in fiber for daily use, but in a disaster… well… It also has the same “spinach family” oxalate character and warnings for folks on low oxalate diets.
I grow Hopi Red amaranth and have grown some other types. Also a hybrid between them is volunteering in some parts of the garden (pictures in the prior posting here: https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/11-year-old-corn-seed-test-germination/ ).
Again, a pound of these seeds bought commercially at a food store (i.e. not a particular variety in seed packets) would give a large bucket of greens (or reds ;-) rapidly in an emergency food situation. Sprouts for the one week time frame, planted out for the month or so. Then a couple or few months for more grain production.
Millet is an interesting, and old, food crop. It was the dominant grain in China before they swapped over to rice. Millet does have a couple of quirks when it comes to use as a food. It has some factors that muck around with the thyroid, and so you don’t want to have a bowl of millet every day. For me, the major interest is that it is a ‘dry land’ grain. It is often grown where rain is unpredictable. If water isn’t present, it tends to just slow down and wait, unlike corn that dies.
There are many kinds of millet, and if one wishes to actually grow this multiyear, saving seed, you need to pick one you like. I’m not going through that here. But this IS a grain. A grass. Unlike the pseudo-grains above. For this reason the leaves ought not to be looked on as food.
I’m mostly mentioning it here due to a sort of an accident. I had scattered some bird seed piles on the walkway spaces in the garden. (Yes, deliberately feeding birds in my garden… I like the birds more than I care about them nibbling bean leaves or stealing my amaranth seeds…) It was a bit cold and, well, the birds looked hungry. The mated doves that live under the back awning were needing to forage further than comfortable as well. So I got a bag of bird seed and scattered some.
Later, watering the garden washed some seed into squares at the edges. I now have a thriving border of ‘small grains’ growing in those spaces. One has already started to make a Perl Millet like seed stem. That’s FAST. The bunny has also been happy to nibble the leaves, so unlike sorghum, the cyanogens (“prussic acid”) seem low enough.
In addition to being used for seed, millet is also used as a grazing forage crop. Instead of letting the plant reach maturity it can be grazed by stock and is commonly used for sheep and cattle.
Millet is a C4 plant which means it has good water efficiency and utilizes high temperature and is therefore a summer crop. A C4 plant uses a different enzyme in photosynthesis from C3 plants and this is why it improves water efficiency.
Millet grows rapidly and can be grazed 5–7 weeks after sowing, when it is 20–30 cm high. The highest feed value is from the young green leaf and shoots. The plant can quickly come to head, so it must be managed accordingly because as the plant matures the value and palatability of feed reduces.
The Japanese millets (Echinochloa esculenta) are considered the best for grazing and in particular Shirohie, a new variety of Japanese millet, is the best suited variety for grazing. This is due to a number of factors: it gives better regrowth and is later to mature compared to other Japanese millets; it is cheap – cost of seed is $2–$3 per kg and sowing rates are around 10 kg per hectare for dryland production; it is quick to establish; it can be grazed early; and it is suitable for both sheep and cattle.
Compared to forage sorghum, which is grown as an alternative grazing forage, animals gain weight faster on millet and it has better hay or silage potential, although it produces less dry matter. Lambs do better on millet compared to sorghum. Millet does not contain prussic acid which can be in sorghum. Prussic acid poisons animals by inhibiting oxygen utilisation by the cells and is transported in the blood around the body — ultimately the animal will die from asphyxia. There is no need for additional feed supplements such as sulphur or salt blocks with millet.
The rapid growth of millet as a grazing crop allows flexibility in its use. Farmers can wait until sufficient late spring / summer moisture is present and then make use of it. It is ideally suited to irrigation where livestock finishing is required.
So a nice C4 plant that is very water efficient, can be used for forage, feed grains, or eaten yourself. All from a modest sized seed so storing a bunch takes little space. What’s not to like?
That effect on the thyroid. Now, IMHO, as an occasional food it just isn’t an issue. I use millet flour to make a non-corn cornbread like bread that I like. (Try saying that 10 times fast ;-) No issues. Just don’t eat it every day. Some folks get really excited about this, but unless you have thyroid issues, the occasional bowl of cooked millet is not going to be your undoing.
MILLET: A GLUTEN-FREE GRAIN YOU SHOULD AVOID
MILLET CONSUMPTION, IODINE DEFICIENCY AND GOITER
Wherever and whenever millet becomes a staple food worldwide, the incidence of goiter increases and abnormalities of thyroid function and iodine metabolism occur2,7,16-20 Further, animal studies in rats, pet birds, and goats and tissue (in vitro) studies demonstrate unequivocally that this cereal plays a major role in causing goiter, thyroid abnormalities and impairment of iodine metabolism.1, 8, 10-12, 22
Iodine is an essential nutrient for humans, without which we most conspicuously develop goiter (an enlargement of the thyroid gland about the neck). Additionally, lack of iodine in the diet impairs cognitive development in growing infants and children, miscarriage in pregnant women and brain and nervous system dysfunction in adults.24, 25
Originally, it was thought that goiter occurred primarily from a deficiency of iodine in our food supply and water. Accordingly, in the U.S. and elsewhere most dietary salt (NaCl) has been fortified with iodine. An unappreciated aspect of iodine metabolism is that metabolic deficiencies of this nutrient can still occur even when dietary intake of iodine appears to be sufficient.7 Although virtually unknown to most nutritionists, elements found in millet represent powerful antinutrients that impair iodine metabolism and frequently cause goiter and symptoms of iodine deficiency.
GOITROGENS IN MILLET
Goitrogens are dietary substances which impair thyroid and iodine metabolism and may ultimately cause the development of goiter. As I have previously alluded, a few scientists in the nutritional community early on appreciated that high millet diets promoted goiter. However, it was not completely understood how millet produced its goitrogenic effect. Subsequent discoveries and experiments over the past 35 years now show that compounds known as flavonoids in millets are responsible for causing iodine dysfunction and may in turn produce goiter when consumed as staples.6, 7, 21, 23
All millets are concentrated sources of compounds known as polyphenolics, some of which are referred to as flavonoids. Numerous flavonoids have been found in millets including apigenin, luteolin , kaempferol and vitexin; all of which severely impair thyroid function and iodine metabolism6, 10-12, 21, 23 and cause goiter in animal and tissue models.1, 8, 10-12, 22 Although it is not completely understood, flavonoids from millets appear to inhibit iodine uptake by most cells in the body, impair secretion of thyroid hormones, and reduce organification of Iodine by the enzyme thyroperoxidase.6, 7, 10, 23
It goes on from there with even more reasons why they think it evil.
IMHO, much of this is from the same POV as folks who get excited at the word “Toxic” applied to anything, like, oh, table salt. Yes, at very high levels anything can be toxic. But at low levels? Millet is a common staple grain near deserts in places like Africa and China. It was THE staple grain in China prior to rice culture. It is going to take more than the occasional millet bread or millet cous-cous to do in your thyroid.
However, if you are known to have thyroid issues, stay away from it. And for normal folks, just don’t eat it all day ever day. And, I’d add, in an emergency ‘survival’ situation, having something that is drought tolerant, grows like a weed, and makes edible storable seeds is worth it. (Besides, with a BB gun and millet you can likely have bird stew instead ;-)
I’m also going to work on getting some sorghum going. It’s a similar ‘small grain’ that is a little larger, also drought tolerant, doesn’t have the thyroid connection, but does have cyanogens in the leaves (so not for bunny… unless careful about type and growing conditions to assure it’s a low level). Between the two, they make a nice set of ‘dry land’ grains. For those living with buckets of water, look at something else… barley or rice…
So why mention it at all in the context of small grains where “greens are edible”? Because if you have a small livestock operation, it is a quick easy way to get a grazing crop up for them if you have been buying in hay and grains instead. A frozen gallon of seeds would let you overseed a large area and get an instant ‘pasture’ of a sort fairly quickly, even if the water cycle was not the best. Or you can eat the livestock with a side of steamed millet…
The basic point here is that most folks store and expect to garden with large seeds. Squash, corn, beans. That’s generally a good idea, but you can only store modest amounts of very large seeds. The micro-seeds on some of these means a giant number of plants available from fairly little stored mass. Those with edible greens also can be sprouts, or grown to a ‘green carpet’ stage quickly, and I’d bet that a ‘radish and quinoa greens’ salad with a topping of a spoon of chia seeds is balanced ‘enough’ to keep you alive. That’s a 25 days to some food plan. Pretty Darned Fast. At 60 days, you have plenty to eat. The only time it fails is if the “aw shit” happens in the winter, but then a gallon each of these seeds will have a lot of sprouts with your corn bread and beans.
To me, that ability to use them for a ‘quick start’ along with being bunny food and potentially giving me a non-corn grain longer term makes them interesting.