Wild poisonous plants for dinner

by Sarah on February 5, 2009

Arum dioscorides
This is a wild plant that grows during the winter months in shady and damp places. All parts of this plant are poisonous because of high levels of calcium oxalate crystals. If swallowed the calcium oxalate crystals penetrate and irritate cells which leads to the swelling and constriction of the throat, difficulty breathing and even death. This may not sound like an ideal plant to eat but that is exactly what some ethnic groups do, most notably the Bedouins, local Arabs and Kurds of the area. The younger generation do not bother with collecting, washing, chopping, cooking and storing this plant but buy packaged prewashed spinach. The more traditional believe this plant has medicinal values and would never think of replacing it. To make this plant edible it is essential to dissolve these calcium crystals using heat and an acidic substance such as citric acid, lemon juice or vinegar.
To cook the Arum, the leaves and stems are cut into 1 cm segments, placed in a non reactive pot (avoid aluminum), covered with water, acidic agent added and cooked for several hours. The Arum is cooked with the cover off until the water is reduced completely, although some cooks discard the excess water. About one cup of citric acid was added to a pot which looked to be about 20 liters. The citric acid helps to catalyze the breakdown of the calcium oxalate crystals. After about 3 hours of cooking, it is possible to taste a small amount of the plant, wait to see if there is a tingling or burning sensation. If there is a slight tingling the calcium crystals have not completely dissolved, continue cooking for another hour before tasting again.
It is traditionally used to treat diabetes, and research by a Jordanian group found that this plant contains moderate levels of antioxidants. In a survey conducted by An Najah University of Palestine, it was found that the Arabs attribute cancer fighting properties to this plant. My relatives believe that it helps remove stomach worms but I have not found scientific evidence to back this. Other species of Arum such as palaestinum can also be used.
Osnat Moshe of Moshav Agur near Bet Shemesh picks wild Arum every year and cooks large amounts to use during the summer months. She was about four years old when she came to Israel from a small village called Homs in Northern Iraq, near the Turkish border and learned to cook traditional Kurdish food from her mother. In Kurdish Arum is Kardi, but the Jewish Kurds also use the name noo’ah which is in Aramaic. In Arabic it is called loof.
So how is it eaten? Sometimes plain, with just a bit of olive oil. It is often mixed with long grained white rice and cooked together and of course as an addition to the traditional kubba soup. It tastes somewhat like spinach or swiss chard.
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob March 18, 2009 at 3:53 am

Great! I’ve been hesitant to try this plant though it is common in my garden, mostly due to the conflicting information on how to make it edible. (3 hours sounds like a long time – taro leaves are also full of calcium oxalate for example, but are edible after 5-10 minutes of boiling.) Did you get any burning when you tried it for the first time? I wonder if it’s a case of “once-bitten, twice shy?”

I have an interesting recipe for arum (Nivik in Turkish) with dried fruits. It’s a little vague however:

500 gr arum leaves
2 med. onions
1/2 c coarse bulgur
1 T tomato paste
1/2 c dried plums, seeded
1/2 c dried black sour cherries (morello)
1 c dried apples
1/2 c cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) jam
2 c water
1/4 c sugar
1 t salt
1 T butter

Let the dried fruits stand in water overnight.

Boil the arum, strain and chop. Chop onions and sautee in butter for 5 minutes. Add arum and saute for 5 minutes more.

In a separate pan combine the fruits with the jam and bring to a boil. Add to the arum along with the bulgur, water, tomato paste, salt and sugar, and boil for 15 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

There is the following note: “During cooking, do not use a spoon because it will cause the ‘prickles’ of the arum to appear. Nivik is a poisonous plant, but when boiled and strained the poison is removed. For this reason you must absolutely boil and strain the plant before cooking the dish.”

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Sarah March 22, 2009 at 11:48 am

interesting recipe, I wonder how it looks like at the end and have you ever eaten something like this? Perhaps different species of Arum plants have different amounts of calcium crystals and this is why there is a big difference in the length of time it is cooked.

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