Short Note on Quinoa, Amaranth, Millet, and Chia

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:

Growing Chia

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).


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

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.

Individual Concerns

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:

Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

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.

Lamb’s Quarters
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: ).

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.

Grazing millet

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.



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 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…

In Conclusion

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.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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16 Responses to Short Note on Quinoa, Amaranth, Millet, and Chia

  1. p.g.sharrow says:

    Of all the grains that I have raised, Rye is the toughest of the Emmer grains, able to “make” with only 12 inches of precipitation, with only a 60 day frost free growing season. After germinating in the fall rains, it can survive 40F below zero winters with little or no snow cover or plant as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Actually, I have never seen a total crop failure with Rye. Not something I can say about any other grain. The stuff often grows wild along the roads of the high mountain desert of the Great Basin. If I had to grow a grain crop in poor or uncertain conditions Rye grain would be my choice or a mix of Rye and a Red Wheat which would produce a better flour mix if conditions turned out better. pg

  2. adolfogiurfa says:

    Try the highest protein grain: Kiwicha (Kee-wee-shah), also developed by the Incas of my country Peru.

  3. adolfogiurfa says:

    BTW It has been found that Amaranthus acts as a weed plague for GMO´s Corn, among others, while being immune to Monsanto´s Roundup. Time to wear all the time a bag full of these seeds anytime we go around!!

  4. Power Grab says:

    Soy is goitrogenic, also. Some cultures get away with consuming it rather often as long as they also consume iodine-rich foods, such as seaweed.

  5. Power Grab says:

    @ p.g. sharrow: I had thought that rye would be a good option if wheat country ends up with a colder, shorter growing season. Good to know!

  6. Graeme No.3 says:

    Your reference to Tower gardens reminded me of the UK where there was a thought that the waste heat in the water from the cooling towers at power stations could be used to grow plants.
    First hydroponics was selected, but the waste cooling water turned out to be unsuitable for the plants so fresh water was used. That meant an enclosure to keep the growing space warm. Then they worked out that the growing area had to be near the warm water or the temperature would drop too much if it was pumped to a remote spot. With limited space available they decided on a tower type growing area. To maximise the output they used a vertical ‘bucket’ elevator, hoping that the sunlight would be sufficient (it wasn’t so electric lights).
    The buckets were filled with inert media and planted. To reduce the complexity of supplying nutrient they had a single application spray point. The buckets were moved up the tower by the chains at each end, passing the light zones and through the nutrient spray zone, and back round again. The waste warm water supplied heat and humidity from a pond at the bottom of the tower.

    After the first crop (of tomatoes) they did their sums. The return from the tomatoes didn’t pay for the running costs, let alone repay any capital expenditure. There was one extra cost, that of dismantling the tower.

  7. E.M.Smith says:


    I think that is the same as the Amaranth in the posting. I grow “Hopi Red Amaranth” mostly.

    It is a relative of the beet and spinach, so ought to be killed by roundup, but who knows…

    @Graeme No.3 & LG:

    Once you have power driven conveyors and two water systems and electric lights and more, it isn’t going to work out well. “Minimal” design would make a profit. Their first mistake was the one where they had to “make do” with a tower on limited space. In college, our dorm was heated with water from a central boiler about a mile or two away… Yes, it took about a day to get the whole pipe complex up to speed, so often the first cold day was cold all day. But the pipes were very well insulated, and once up to temp, stayed there with little loss. Similarly, IIRC, NYC has hot water heating distributed over districts. This is a known technology. It was walking away from that which lead to the cascade of decisions resulting in ultimate failure.

    Instead, had they used highly insulated pipes, they would have had a modest up front cost for a bunch of cheap foam, then 30 years of production to amortize it. No electric lights costs. No merry go round electricity costs nor capital costs. Tomatoes in a static grow bed with simple static heat radiators to extract the warmth. You would get the heat for the cost of a low pressure pumping to the remote location through large well insulated pipes, and not much more added cost. (And, frankly, I’m pretty sure I could come up with a cleaning method to make the water usable for irrigation of the tomatoes too, if told what the “issue” was.)

    But I digress…

    There’s nothing wrong with tower grow systems and similar; but that doesn’t prevent folks from trying bad implementations


    Interesting stuff…


    Look at two things: Germination temperature. Growing degree days. That pretty much sums up what works and what doesn’t in cold places. Oats and Barley are about 34 F to 37 F germination. Rye is 33 F. Barley is a fast grow, but rye will overwinter and pick up in the spring. There is also an honorable mention for size of root system when in places with high winds, loose soil, or little moisture. Rye has lots of root to it.

    Winter Rye: A Reliable Cover Crop

    by Vern Grubinger
    Vegetable and Berry Specialist
    University of Vermont Extension

    Why Rye? Cereal rye is an excellent winter cover crop because it rapidly produces a ground cover that holds soil in place against the forces of wind and water. Rye’s deep roots help prevent compaction in annually tilled fields, and because its roots are quite extensive, rye also has a positive effect on soil tilth.

    Compared to other cereal grains, rye grows faster in the fall and produces more dry matter the following spring–up to 10,000 pounds per acre, although 2 tons is more typical in the Northeast. Rye is the most winter-hardy of all cereal grains, tolerating temperatures as low as -30°F once it is well established. It can germinate and grow at temperatures as low as 33°F, but it sure won’t grow very much when it’s that cold.

    Which is why Germans and Swedes are known for Rye Bread and barley based beer ;-)

    per Soy:

    “The poison is in the dose” is very important. Having edemame beans once a month isn’t going to be an issue. Having Soy all day every day in everything will get you sick “right quick”. Somewhere in between is the crossover.

    FWIW, the traditional way of making tofu has several steps in the process that eliminate many of the anti-nutrient factors in soy. It is boiled (destroying enzymes), then the “milk” is extracted from the pulp (taking some stuff with it), that is then coagulated (leaving more stuff in the ‘whey’) and that, then is put in a box and pressed. During this process, the pH has shifted too, reacting some bits with the added salt / magnesium. Finally, the stuff is cut and washed (removing more bits). What is left in the tofu is far different from what started as soy grits. Folks in the west forget that…

    Lumping together the eating of a 1 oz square of tofu in a bowl of yosenabe with eating “soy burgers” every day as a vegetarian is just wrong. I’ve got no problem with the first of those, the second one would send me screaming… Yet I know vegetarians who do it.

    It’s that whole “traditional food process bundle”, that makes a food culture, that we in the west lost while adopting the soybean, and that is where the toxic bits bite us. Just like we knew to cook kidney beans fully to destroy the toxic level of lectins. That was then forgotten and now every year a few folks get taken down by “slow cooker chili” where they never boiled the kidney beans. Because we adopted the slow cooker while forgetting the “boil the beans” mantra.

    Sidebar on “digestible”: For years I’d read cook books and they would say that changing the water three times ( or 2 times or…) would make the beans more “digestible”. BS, I thought. It won’t change the proteins or starches… I was taking “digestible” literally. So tried it with just one change of water and the beans cooked just fine. Only after a decade or so of “excess gas” from beans did I discover that “digestible” was “code words” for “less farts”. Now if they had only said “changing the water three times removes the indigestible sugars that make farts and you will pass less gas”, it would have saved a lot of folks distress… ;-) I appreciate the need for “decorum”, but value clarity a bit more ;-)

    BTW, native Americans would collect and eat the valley acorns in California. They are loaded with enough tannins to choke a horse, and eating them without the rest of the food culture is a Very Bad Idea. In 4th grade I learned (as part of the California History and culture class all California kids get) how to process them. There were two major ways. Shell and leave in a basket in a running creek for a couple of days to slowly leach; or shell, chop, and boil in several changes of water to leach. With that cultural knowledge, one can live well on the tons of acorns dropped by local oak trees and ignored by everyone else around. Without it, they are just bitter toxic things only fit for squirrels.

    Most plants don’t want to be eaten, so have something or other that makes them an “issue”. Food culture is the descendant wisdom of the ages telling us how to bypass those issues. Forgetting that past is the crime.

  8. Larry Ledwick says:

    One of the sad things about our current culture and rapid progress is that there is no patience to allow a useful idea to get sorted out. It is a wham bam thank you ma’am approach to all problems.
    Need Solar energy — just throw money at it. Ooops problems, toss it all out and go look at some other solution. Same with wind, and nuclear and just about every other avenue of “progress”.

    Older energy tech like coal mining and oil drilling took decades or centuries to figure out how to do it efficiently (and safely).

    One of the advantages of old culture is in slower times, things (ideas, methods, processes) matured incrementally as one problem at a time was over come. If you look at some of those methods you mentioned for food preparation, how many decades did it take for conventional wisdom to learn the incremental changes needed to make some of those foods which have very complex steps in process? If you got dropped on an island and had to figure out how to prepare soy from scratch, how long would it take even a large community to discover all those steps in preparation necessary to have a useful food product from a given plant resource?

    Whether it is American Indians tossing a fish in the hill with each corn seed or learning how to leach the tannin out of acorns those lessons took generations to sort out. Granted part of that was the lack of modern instant communication and information storage but another aspect of it is a willingness to find a way to make something work through good old patience and multiple experiments which each teach lessons about both what does work and what does not.

    For example solar energy has some potential, but everyone wants to run toward the cutting edge of PV systems instead of using good old conversion of heat to work. Smart home design that uses thermal mass and properly located windows can have a big impact on home energy use, as can tempering water prior to a final heating in an on demand water heater. PV works too if you understand its limits. Due to its low energy density and intermittent nature it is simply not suitable for some uses. If you combine PV with modest storage and high efficiency lighting for example you can get useful environmental lighting out of it if you are willing to use low level high efficiency lights. About 20 years ago I went entirely off the grid for about 6 months using a very small solar panel and a car battery. For essential electronic needs it works just fine, but you are not going to ever be able to run a dish washer off of it. Room lighting for reading, some media access via TV or computer etc. can be managed with careful rationing of current loads. But the low energy density of solar energy and its unreliable availability due to weather make its most suitable use more passive technologies which are not time sensitive. On the same token, modern coal fired and gas fired electrical generation is so efficient and cheap it is criminal not to use it, since energy is really the most fundamental currency of progress. In time Nuclear will become as safe as common electrical generation systems today. Folks forget that back in the 1800’s we had boiler explosions on a pretty regular basis as we learned how to safely use steam. All systems have inherent risks and niches where they are the most appropriate use. The trick is to have the patience and long term view to learn how to mitigate risks and to find those niches and fit them into the matrix of our needs.

  9. E.M.Smith says:


    Good points all…

    This one caused a muse:

    ” energy is really the most fundamental currency of progress. ”

    Now what if that “currency of progress” is also a real economic kind of “currency”? It contains value. It is widely traded and largely fungible. So what happens to an economy when you have a financial currency, like US Dollars, and the volume changes? It swings boom and bust. So if you make “currency of progress” more dear, could that not also cycle boom / bust? Now put it together…

    The EU and the USA are BOTH driving up the cost of the “currency of progress” and suffering economic downturn from it. Both are flooding their economies with paper money in an attempt to “stimulate” them, while all the time giving them knock-out-drops of expensive and increasingly unreliable “currency of progress”. The net result? We do sideways drugged up on “funny money” while our real economy slowly decays…

    Hmmmm….. I think this has ‘legs’ and needs a bit of a think…

  10. Larry Ledwick says:

    Yes, I recall the impacts of the 1973 oil embargo. If you read a lot of articles on it now, many people blow it off as a ho hum manufactured panic that was not real, but from my first person experience it had huge personal impacts on lots and lots of people, because of secondary impacts. Suddenly everything that had high energy content or direct petroleum (non-substitutable) content suddenly started climbing in price. On a personal level it broke my brother and forced him into bankruptcy. I had loaned him money to buy a moving truck and become a contract mover, and he was just getting on his feet financially when the fuel prices jumped and it pulled the rug out from under him, and he lost his truck (and lost all the money I loaned him). He never recovered from that loss. Others saw similar things. Due to high heating costs, there was a huge surge in price for insulation. Folks got caught in a catch 22 bind, they could not afford to spend $500 a month to buy propane (farmers in rural areas) but the also could not afford to buy the high demand insulation to fix the problem. All sorts of commodities went up in price suddenly which broke thousands of construction estimates. Asphalt shingles, double pane windows to save energy etc. etc. etc.

    I almost got caught in a situation where I could not afford gasoline to get to work (85 mile commute at the time one way) plus even if I could afford it, often times the local gas stations sold out before my normal travel time to and from work.

    If you look at charts and numbers the percentage change in oil imports was not that large but hundreds of thousands of folks depending on fixed costs for key products got caught in a vice of choice of evils about where they would cut corners. Do I buy day old bread at 1/2 price so I can afford to get to work, and skip my car insurance payment so not to run out money before you ran out of month.

    I think the powers that be grossly underestimate the impact of such sudden changes on the little guys. They make enough money that a jump in fuel costs is hardly noticeable (or they live in an environment where they do not directly pay fuel costs) and they have no comprehension of how many people have finely tuned finances that just barely cover costs, and such a change can cause a cascade of other expenses like bounced check fees etc. which never show up in their cost accounting but can totally break a home budget.

  11. agimarc says:

    If you adopt rye be careful of storage, as there is a fungus called ergot that has psychedelic effects. Cool and wet storage seems to encourage its growth. Has been tied to community outbreaks of madness in Europe during the Middle Ages. Some also believe that ergot poisoning was the proximate cause of the hysteria leading to the Salem Witch Trials. For more info –

    Cheers –

  12. p.g.sharrow says:

    @agimarc; Never had Ergot growth on stored Rye grain. However growing Rye in cool damp weather during grain fill of heads often results in Ergot . Ergot is a fungus that infests the filling grain and causes them to expand and turn a purple color. I have seen Ergot infestation of other grains, even corn. General the seed grain is treated before planting to reduce the possibility of carry over of infection. pg

  13. E.M.Smith says:

    Some folks might think Ergot a ‘feature’… just sayin’… a guy needs an income source and, well, some folks like being a bit addled… ;-)

  14. p.g.sharrow says:

    @EMSmith; Yes! I told one guy that I removed several, hundred pound sacks of Ergot infested seed from one Rye crop with my seed cleaner system and he wanted to go into Rye growing immediately just to get the Ergot for processing to make the key ingredient for a recreation drug. Told him sorry, I no longer grew grain or had any of the equipment needed to grow, harvest or clean seed. Poor man could see huge Dollars that had just evaporated. ;-) pg

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