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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