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May 11, 2011

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Home » Feature » Health and Environment

Go wild for picking healthy herbs

THEY can be seen in the city's suburbs, along the roadside, in the fields, on hills and on farmers' land. They don't require special care, growing prosperously in spring, free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. They are the gift of the nature, irrigated by rainwater and gusts of wind.

Edible wild herbs were frugal food for most Chinese during the 1950s and 1960s when the whole country suffered a severe lack of goods and food.

However, today they have returned to Chinese dining tables as a trendy food ingredient, with healthy and eco-friendly benefits offering an alternative to greasy, high-cholesterol dishes.

With slight bitter tastes and refreshing earthy smells, wild herbs can be served as a main dish or accompany soup, rice or fish. They can be cooked in various ways - pickled, salted, sweetened and sauteed.

Common wild herbs include jicai (shepherd's purse), malantou (kalimeris), yejiucai (wild Chinese leek) and caotou (toothed burclover).

Many wild herbs have medicinal value according to traditional Chinese medicine. Jicai, rich in vitamin C and carotene, can improve the immune system, reduce blood sugar levels and protect the stomach. According to TCM, the vegetable can be used to treat gastric spasms, gastric ulcers and dry eyes.

It can be minced and served as a cold dish in summer, chopped and mixed with pork to be the filling in dumplings, used in wonton or just quick fried. The TCM bible "Compendium of Materia Medica" says jicai is good for eyesight and the stomach.

Malantou, according to TCM, can dispel the body's inner heat, remove toxins, reduce blood sugar levels and protect the cardiovascular functions. It's a common cold dish in summer.

The most popular cooking method is to chop the herb into slices, served with sesame oil and soybean sauce. It tastes better if the dish is chilled in the fridge for a while.

Yejiucai is said to give people a refreshing lift, warm up the stomach, dispel inner pathogenic dampness and improve digestion. It is often served with crucian soup and adds to the fish's flavor.

Other wild vegetables are widely used in food therapy. Dandelion can protect the liver; fiddlehead soothes the nerves; water cress can reduce blood pressure; and xiaogensuan (small garlic root) can prevent hardening of the arteries.

It is both a delightful experience and good exercise to pick wild herbs on a sunny day with a gentle breeze blowing, fresh air and lush green trees.

Wild vegetables often grow in groups. If you find one, it is possible there may be a lot more nearby. They sometimes grow with weeds so can be difficult to spot.

A small scoop, available from flower markets, is the best tool to use for picking wild herbs. A knife or screwdriver can also work.

Most wild herbs grow on hills or woods. Some are grown in private orchards and farmland so be sure to get the permission of the owner before you dig them. Remember also not to damage other plants and flowers.

It is suggested beginners initially work with experienced diggers because some wild herbs are poisonous and harmful to health, including langducao (stellera chamaejasme), cang'erzi (Siberian cocklour fruit) and tiannanxing (rhizoma arisaematis).

An anonymous herb looks exactly like jicai, but will cause nausea if eaten.

Wild herbs along the roadside are not recommended for picking because they have probably absorbed too much dust and pollutants from passing cars.

Some wild herbs should be cooked immediately after being picked in order to maintain freshness, while others such as shansuan (hill garlic) have to be soaked in water for at least two hours before cooking to completely remove the vegetable's slight poison. Yuqian (atriplex) found growing on trees tastes better if it is steamed instead of sauteed.

Here are some places around the city to pick wild herbs

? Pujiang Town in Minhang District

The town has many orchards, gardens and fields open to urban tourists.

Transport: Metro Line 8's Pujiang Town Station, or Minhang No. 10, 12 and 20 bus lines.

? Hanxiang Water Park in Maqiao Town, Minhang District

The park, abundant in rivers, streams and canals, is home to many wild vegetables. Visitors can pick herbs while enjoying the tranquil countryside scenery.

Address: 3998 Jiangchuan Rd W.

Transport: Take Metro Line 5 to Minhang Development Park Station and then take Maqiao No.1 bus line to the ecological park.

? Zhuanghang Town, Fengxian District

The town is famed for its large areas of golden rape flowers, but it is also a place full of wild vegetables.

Transport: Take the Expressway A4 and change to the Expressway A30. Exit the highway at Zhuanghang Road. Turn onto Nanting Road, then Zhuangliang Road and park on Zhuangting Road.

Public transport such as the Lianzhuang bus line can also get you there.

? Dongping National Forest Park, Chongming County

The park features malantou, jicai and caotou. Visitors can either take them home or cook them in the barbecue area after picking them. They can also get a map of the park's wild vegetables and rent digging tools from the park.

Address: Beiyan Road

Tel: 5933-8028, 5933-8280

Transport: Take Changjiang Tunnel-Bridge, get off at Chenjia Town exit.


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