Friday, April 30, 2010

Fig Shoots for Supper

This year's dry season is turning out to be quite long and hot. Under such conditions, we're applying a lot of water to our home vegetable garden. Although a fresh supply of vegetables is great, I hate to think about the water bill.

Having access to water for gardening is really a luxury. During the dry season, many communities in our region barely have enough water for basic household consumption. So vegetable gardening often takes a pause until the rains return in May.

Fortunately, various trees and shrubs, both indigenous and naturalized, offer seasonal or year round access to edible leaves. For instance, moringa trees produce considerable amounts of nutritious shoots during the rainy season.

By the middle of the dry season, the semi-deciduous red shoot fig (Ficus virens) may drop a lot of its mature leaves. But around February, the trees produce a flush of tender, edible leaf shoots. At a time when there are few fresh, homegrown vegetables to enjoy, this indigenous strangler fig offers an abundance of greens (which are actually red). Many people in tropical and sub-tropical Asia stir fry the leaves or add them to curries. The leaves are also blanched and eaten along with chili pepper sauce.

On a late February afternoon, a few years ago, I happened to be in the hilltribe village of Huai Pong where I encountered this young lady who was harvesting a batch of fig leaf shoots for supper. An hour later, at the home where I was staying, I found the same on the menu.

By the way, ECHO promotes the cultivation and use of many types of perennial vegetables around the world. Obviously, certain perennial vegetables can fill a niche for home gardeners with limited access to water.

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