Over the past few months, thanks to Maeve O’Meara’s Food Safari Earth, we’ve rekindled our deep love affair with our planet’s edible growths: vegetables. We’ve given you our version of Veganism for Dummies. We’ve let you in on a few of the planet’s more exotic veggies. Now, we’re exploring vegetables that can be used for purposes other than eating. Some handy, some whimsical, but all fascinating.
Referred to as “natures pottery”, gourds have been multipurpose veggies since the days of early humankind. They’ve been dried and used as storage containers and musical instruments, fashioned into tools and crockery, used as the official ancient coinage of Haiti (the current currency is called a Haitian gourde) and, get this, their skins were even used to replace broken skulls as a form of primitive surgery (although it's unclear how successful that was).
Can you hear the ears of every local foodie prick up? Yes, a certain variety of kale known as “walking stick kale” grows around two metres high, and its stem usually grows so sturdy and straight than when the leaves are removed and the stem is sufficiently dried out (which can take months), the result can be quite easily fashioned into a reliable walking stick.
Beyond famine and fries, potatoes offer another use for the average consumer: a source of hair dye. The peel can be boiled in water, and the leftover starchy liquid is cooled, then used alongside your usual shampoo and conditioning process to naturally rid your hair of greying areas. It takes several weeks of incorporating the peel-water into your shampooing routine, but eventually those grey hairs will become a thing of the past. At least, that’s what “they” say.
The Agarikon mushroom, a rare fungus found only in old-growth forests, was once used to treat a variety of ailments, due to it containing the active compound “agaric acid”. The anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties contained within were lifesavers for ancient flus and infections. And due to the gargantuan size to which they grew, they were also used as receptacles to carry firewood.
Any list that highlights the multipurpose uses of Earth’s veggies must include the luffa – the mutated cucumber that, when stripped of its flesh, reveals that staple of the modern bathroom: a loofah. Those synthetic, raspy logs we use to exfoliate our bodies are almost identical to the core of this miracle vegetable.
Speaking of the cucumber family. Did you know your everyday cucumber is nature’s way of warding off ants? If you’re sick of those little buggers carrying away your picnic baskets, then just leave some cucumber peel around suspect areas and you’ll soon have an ant-free house. Apparently they can’t stand being anywhere near a cucumber, and therefore obviously only drink gin and tonic with lime.
Watch Food Safari Earth on Thursdays at 8:05pm on SBS. Missed the previous episode? Watch it at SBS On Demand: