Wild spring greens (ye cai), often considered weeds, are traditionally popular in China as a springtime tonic and they have numerous uses in traditional Chinese medicine.
They are mostly "cold" (yin) energy foods and are usually cooked, though some are enjoyed raw.
They include purslane or pigweed, dandelion, shepherd's purse, pig's thigh, field sow's thistle, ferns, daisy leaves and stems. Many are so common that they grow along roadsides, ignored by most people.
These greens are increasingly popular as a health food that provides protein, vitamins and micronutrients. Some are also said to be naturally insect-repellent and thus need no pesticides in cultivation.
Some are available in Western-style supermarkets, such as dandelion, shepherd's purse, daisy leaves and others. Chinese markets sell the others.
Include them sparingly in your spring diet with other fresh greens - they are potent.
TCM classifies these wild greens as "cold" food, good for dispelling pathogenic heat, soothing inflammation, and acting as a diuretic. Some can aid in treatment of highblood pressure (since they are diuretics and many containomega-3 acids), some are anti-microbial.
Many Chinese people want to eat more wild vegetablesbecause of concerns about pesticides and fertilizers usedin most commercial vegetable growing. Many people believethey are naturally uncontaminated because insects are saidto avoid them. But don't take this for granted.
Many wild vegetables contain very high amounts of vitaminC, beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, folate,iron, zinc, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and othernutrients.
More than 6,000 varieties of wild vegetables grow in Chinaand around 100 of them are common in Chinese cuisine. Theyare usually made into cold dishes with dressing, quicklyfried, made into vegetable soup and used in dumplingstuffing.
Eating too many wild greens may cause diarrhea in thosewith weak digestive systems. Many are high in oxalic acidand eating too much can limit the body's absorption ofcalcium.
Common wild vegetablesDandelionPu gong ying greens, or dandelion, are rich in organicacid, fructose, carotene, lactoflavin, potassium andvitamins. They are also anti-bacterial and have been usedworldwide in healing for centuries. They are considered aseasonal tonic.
Dandelion is a "neutral" food in TCM. It can help dispelpathogenic heat, eliminate toxins, act as a diuretic,relieve internal inflammation, and protect stomach, liverand gallbladder.
Cold boiled dandelion with salt, vinegar and sesame oil isdelicious and nutritious. It can be added to soup andother dishes.
Dandelion with shredded porkIngredients: Dandelion (250g), shredded pork (100g),mashed ginger, soy sauce, sugar, starch.
1. Mix pork with salt, soy sauce, sugar and starch.
2. Quickly dip dandelion in boiling water, remove it, letit cool and chop.
3. Fry shredded meat with ginger. Add dandelion at theend.
Function: Helps dispel pathogenic heat, eliminates toxins,nourishes yin and promotes internal fluids. It isrecommended to relieve coughing and constipation due toyin deficiency.
Shepherd's purseShepherd's purse, or ji cai, is rich in protein, high iniron, carotene, microelements and vitamin C. Glutamic acidcan help promote appetite; it can help treat iron-deficiency, chronic urinary tract inflammation andgallstones.
Shepherd's purse is "cold" in TCM. Thus it helps dispelpathogenic heat, relieves swelling, acts as a diuretic,benefits spleen and protects liver. It is taken by thosewith high blood pressure and liver inflammation.
It can be used in cold dishes, soups or made into dumplingstuffing. Since it is high in oxalic acid, which preventscalcium absorption, it needs to be cooked. If you haveweak digestion, don't eat too much.
Cold shepherd's purse saladIngredients: Shepherd's purse (500g), cooked sesame (50g),sesame oil, dried soybean curd (25g), winter bamboo shoots(25g), carrots (50g).
1. Separately cook shepherd's purse, winter bamboo shootsand carrots. Let cool.
2. Chop ingredients into fine pieces.
3. Mix ingredients, toss with sesame seeds, salt, sugar,and sesame oil.
Function: Helps dispel pathogenic heat, especially in theliver.
PurslanePurslane is a common succulent-type flowering groundcover. It's called ma chi cai or horse tooth vegetablebecause the leaves are said to resemble a horse's tooth.
It's known elsewhere as pigweed and little hog weed (usedas pig fodder), and Verdolaga.
It has a mild, sweet-sour taste and it's chewy. Egg-shapedleaves are green, stems are green or reddish brown.
Purslane is rich in vitamins, protein, carotene, omega-3fatty acid, fiber, iron, phosphorus, etc. Rich innoradrenalin, it can be helpful to diabetics; the omega-3acids protect heart and blood vessels.
As a "cold" food in TCM, it dispels heat, fights heat-related ailments and inflammation, acts as a diuretic, andeliminates toxins. It is prescribed for patients withulcers, high blood pressure, urinary tract infections andother ailments.
It is usually used in soup, congee and cold dishes. Sinceit's very "cold," pregnant women should avoid it as itcould contribute to miscarriage. It can cause diarrhea inthose with "pathogenic cold" in their digestive systems.
Fried purslane with eggIngredients: Purslane (30g), eggs (250g), yellow rice wine(5g), salt and soy sauce for seasoning.
1. Wash and soak purslane in warm water for 10 minutes.
Chop it into small pieces.
2. Beat eggs and mix with purslane. Add yellow rice wine,salt and soy sauce to taste.
Function: Purslane reduces pathogenic heat and helps expeltoxins; egg helps reinforce energy.