What is truly necessary? What is really useful? In nature, these questions do not exist. Everything is in the right place. ‘Weed’ is not a technical term in natural science, whereas people tend to apply that label to any plant that is not in the place they want to be.
An example is Amaranthus viridis or ‘vlita’ in Greek. Other names are pigweed or skinny amaranth. Farmers characterize it as a weed, but in some areas, where water and vegetation are scarce, vlita make the perfect boiled salad for hot summer days. Ancient Greeks called it ‘the plant of immortality’ due to its nutritional and healing power.
Even though the plant can be considered ‘unwanted’, vlita are highly nutritious and have some healing properties. This small herb grows almost everywhere in the world without any difficulties.
According to the USDA, 100 g of raw vlita have 91.7 g of water, 2.46 g of protein, 4.02 g carbohydrate, and just 0.33 g fat.
Basically, the plant is just water and has few calories.
But its superb power is hidden in micronutrients like calcium (215 mg), potassium (611 mg), folic acid, and vitamins C, A, and K! Also, it has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power due to its great amount and diversity of antioxidants. Vitamins and other micronutrients in combination with antioxidants enhance the immune system on hot summer days. The calcium helps with osteoporosis. Vlita are also good for high blood pressure, strokes, and cardiovascular diseases due to their phytosteroles. Tocotrienole reduces ‘bad cholesterol’. Boiled vlita also help lower sugar levels in cases of Type 2 Diabetes.
Last but not least, you can find them everywhere. On hot summer days, in dry, remote Greek islands, vlita are a true treasure. They provides the locals and tourists with vitamins and other nutrients. A fresh salad perfectly combined with good fresh fish is a healthy combination for the body after a long day in the sea.
But there are some grandma’s secrets for cooking this precious ingredient. First, when you boil them, you eat them. Do not re-heat them or keep them in the refrigerator. Do not overcook them! A slight boil or ‘stigariasma’, a fast cooking in a pan with olive oil, is the best way to consume them. And a pinch of a lemon gives the perfect taste! That is the best way to keep the ‘good stuff’ in this food. The plant should be gathered by experts, however, since vlita look like many toxic herbs in Greece.
Evropi-Sofia Dalampira holds a PhD in Agricultural Economics and an MSc in Botany-Biology.
* The above is not medical advice but mere suggestions for improving your diet. Before reach herbal use you should consult your doctor, especially those who have health issues, are pregnant or are under the age of 6.