This is a presentation on some lesser-known pea-family food plants that I quite enjoyed. It’s another great one by the person who runs Great Lakes Staple Seeds, she is super knowledgeable and very down-to-earth.
Interesting video! I was interested in what she said about Lathyrus sativus being a cross between lentil and garbanzo (I’m interested in the idea of a chickpea hybrid swarm). Looking into it that doesn’t seem to be the case so I guess she was speaking metaphorically, but I did find this, which sounds rather worse that ‘butt atrophy’ which she said was the effect, so just in case this is useful for anyone… from ‘History of Neurology’, Adesola Ogunniyi, in Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 2009:
The chickling pea, a hardy legume (Lathyrus sativus), provides inexpensive survival food during devastating floods and drought. The legume grows as a weed and is referred to in local Indian dialect as “kesari” or “teori.” Other species consumed include the Spanish vetch (L. clymenum) and flat-podded pea (L. cicera). Its consumption causes a disabling neurological disease referred to as lathyrism. There were early documentations of its consumption from around the 4th century BC (during the Hippocratic era) and from Hindu writings. Lathyrism continues to ravage populations in parts of Asia and East Africa.
An epidemic occurred in parts of India in the 19th century when the destruction of wheat and other grains as a result of severe hailstorm, drought, and blight in three consecutive years (1829 through 1831) resulted in severe food shortage. The exuberantly growing legume became a major food source. By 1833 the consequence became evident, when many young individuals of both sexes presented with weakness of their lower limbs, stiffness, unbearable cramps, and difficulty with walking that could not be explained otherwise. The affected persons also manifested features of protein-calorie malnutrition. Those affected ended with total paralysis. The bewildering neurological disorder was initially considered to be a form of paralytic stroke because of the suddenness of its appearance. However, careful study of the cases identified the weed consumed as the etiologic agent. A neurotoxin present was thought to be responsible. Those affected were permanently disabled.
Recurrent epidemics continued to be reported from parts of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in the 20th century, especially after bad monsoon seasons when the planting fields were flooded. Epidemics occurred in Ethiopia during drought and famine caused by civil wars whenever and wherever the toxic weed was consumed (Roman et al., 1985; Tekle-Haimanot et al., 1990). The last epidemic recorded in Ethiopia was in 1997 when more than 2000 patients were affected (Getahun et al., 1999). The particular neurotoxins responsible for the damage were later identified as beta-N-oxalylamino-L-alanine (BOAA) and β-oxalyly-L-a-β-diaminopropionic acid (β-ODAP) which act on the glutaminergic pathways resulting in excitotoxic nerve damage (Spencer et al., 1986)."
I think the “Into the wild” book/movie was based on a guy who moved to Alaska and developed lathyrism and died.
It’s definitely important to pay attention to long term/high volume as well as short-term effects when looking at new food sources.
I’m pretty sure there are edible and toxic species of lupin, I’m not sure if that’s true of Lathyrus as well. The legumes seem to have some fancy protective alkaloids in many cases.
Oh that was such a lovely movie but so sad! Interesting that that was that same condition.
I can get quite habitual so, I’d tend to prefer to grow food that is safe to eat regularly. Also for the sake of guests in case someone has a lower tolerance to poisons. It makes sense for an area that needs a famine crop and has no other options, but otherwise not appealing for me. By the way I used to eat kala chana (black chickpea, though it’s really just brown) in India. It’s smaller than regular chickpea (and way smaller than the chickpeas I’ve seen here in the UK shops), said to be healthier so I heard, so I enjoyed eating it. Some locals told me usually it’s eaten by animals, animal feed, but they keep it around also in case of famine. Sounds very reasonable! Main difference I noticed was that it takes a bit longer to cook and has a thicker skin on it.
Love kala chana! To the best of my knowledge it is indeed healthier than kabuli chana/garbanzo bean. I also prefer the taste and texture (can’t say the same of brown rice). Growing some indoors right now, plan to grow more next season.