In Goa, the monsoons bring in lots of changes. First of all, it changes the climate as we get much relief from the heat of the summer, the environs turn green, and most importantly, there is a massive shift in our cuisine. It is the time to enjoy and relish the seasonal, or monsoon greens or vegetables. Interestingly, most of these vegetables are not actually cultivated, but are found in the wild and sometimes even on roadsides, and mostly in our backyards.
Thanks to social media, we now hear terms like ‘edible wild greens’ or ‘foraging food’, but these so-called ‘trendy’ lifestyle norms were always a part of our lives. Our forefathers always relied on this food, which is local and seasonal.
As we are already aware, when the monsoon arrives, the season of growing vegetables just gets started. Also, during this time, fishing is banned and it is dangerous to venture out into the choppy sea and rivers due to the strong winds, and so, Goans are deprived of their beloved fresh seafood.
The next best option is to consume fresh wild edibles which are available at this time of the year. These literally crop up in nooks and crannies in our vicinity. Also, there’s a common saying among Goans that you have to at least taste these vegetables during this season. These vegetables are healthy and help us deal with change in climate.
The common monsoon vegetables are leaves of taikilo (Cassia tora), kuddukechi bhaji (Celosia argentea), colocasia (alu) (Colocasia esculenta), edible fern or akur, (Acrostichum aureum) wild fruits like fagla or spiny gourd (Momordica dioica).
The other vegetables which are eaten during this time are tender or budding leaves of luti or the wild variety of elephant foot yam or suran. The tuber of luti, unlike suran, is not edible, but its tender leaves which sprout during the monsoons, are eaten as a vegetable.
There are other varieties of colocasia, found in rural parts of Goa, which are considered edible. They are – tirpatche alu, vatalu (it grows on branches of tall trees), tero, and others are eaten at this time of the year. Also, the tender leaves of drumstick (which now considered as a superfood) known as kisra are widely eaten.
The other vegetables are chanyecho detho, tikichi bhaji, kille (tender bamboo shoots). It also includes some rare edibles like the tender leaves of shirmundli. It is a wild creeper found in forested areas of Goa.
GOOD FOR YOU
Dr Maryanne Lobo, an Ayurvedic doctor who also conducts plant walks, says, “The reason why we have these vegetables is because our gut health is a little sluggish during the monsoons. So, having these vegetables helps. They also help in balancing out the nutritional supplement as fish is not available. And, since the Hindu holy month Shravan begins now, people abstain from eating fish and meat. So, these vegetables help in giving those micronutrients.”
She further points out that these vegetables help in boosting our immunity as during this time of year, many suffer from cough and cold. “These vegetables help in building gut microbes. Also, these act like natural anti-oxidants as well as antibiotics,” says Dr Lobo.
However, having a knowledge of how, when and where to harvest these wild greens is of utmost importance. It is advisable to ask locals, or experts, before harvesting these wild greens in your locality.
Dr Lobo also points out that most of these vegetables are seasonal and should not be eaten after a particular season. “There is a norm that the leaves of colocasia should not be consumed after Ganesh Chaturthi (which is usually held in the last week of August or early September).”
Another point to keep in mind is that most of the time, the tender leaves of these vegetables are to be eaten. For example, while harvesting taikilo, only the tender or young two shoots of the leaves should be harvested.
In some villages, like in Canacona, the tender stem of wild banana plant is also consumed during the monsoons. Locally called ghabo, it is the central tender stem of the wild banana tree, found in forest areas. It is harvested at a specific time — budding of the banana flower. It is at this stage that the tree is cut and the central tender stem is extracted. It all depends on the timing; if harvested a bit early or late it is not considered edible. It is added to the local vegetarian delicacy, Khatkhate. It also includes kille (wild bamboo shoots) as this is also a seasonal delicacy.
Along with leaves and stems, wildflowers are also eaten. The wildflowers known as churchurechi fula (Indian Pavetta) are eaten by shallow frying and adding it to chutney.
Most of these vegetables are eaten as soon as the monsoon starts and the season concludes by August or so. It is believed that as the months pass, these leaves are not tender, and thus, are considered inedible. It also helps in containing over-harvesting as most of these are wild species.
NEED TO KNOW
These vegetables are usually cooked with onion, dal and coconut. However, for some vegetables like leaves of colacasia, one needs to add hog plums or kokum or any other souring agent. These vegetables have alkaline properties in them which can create irritation while eating them. So, souring agents help neutralise that irritation.
It is important to consume these vegetables during the monsoons and more than that, understanding the role these plants play in our lives and the ecosystem. They help to nourish us, but are also part of our biodiversity. Thus, it is necessary to know that we don’t over harvest them and most importantly nurture the wild or open spaces of our villages and towns. These backyard forests, open green spaces, wetlands are brimming with wild plants and trees that help us in so many ways, and thus, conserving such ecosystems for our health and the health of our planet is a necessity.