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Friday, May 4, 2012

FIELD PENNY-CRESS, ANCIENT WEED WITH BIOFUEL POTENTIAL: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF FIELD PENNY-CRESS


FIELD PENNY-CRESS, THLASPI ARVENSE  
Field penny-cress likes to live in cultivated fields and farmers heartily dislike it as it depletes the nutrients in the soil. However researchers in Illinois believe that it could be a biodiesel and animal fodder crop as its seeds have a high oil yield. This would help scientists in their search for biofuel which comes from a crop which is not a traditional food one, such as soy beans or maize.
  Field pennycress is a native of Europe and was introduced to North America. They also grow in parts of North Africa and Asia. It grows to heights of between eight and sixteen inches (20-40 cms.) and has “winger” seed pods which are round and flattened. This is how it gets its genus name, Thlapsi which is the ancient Greek for “to crush.” Arvense means “of the fields” meaning fields used for crops. Field penny-cress cannot survive in areas of dense vegetation but adores tilled land.                                                   
  It is a member of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family of plants making it a relation of mustard, savoy cabbage and others, kale, broccoli, cauliflowerwatercress, swede,  turnips, horseradish, kohlrabi, brussel sproutsshepherd’s purse, scurvy-grass and flixweed to name but a few of its relations. Its leaves are high in protein and vitamin C, and they are said to taste like mustard and onions. In fact the ground seeds have been used as a mustard substitute.
  It has been a notorious weed for centuries and one Finnish law dating from 1734 illustrates this. The law says “Let he who throws wild oats, field penny-cress, or any other weed into his neighbour’s field lose his honour and be fined…and pay compensation for damage.”  This seems a steep penalty for such an action! Clearly field penny-cress was and is a particularly unpleasant weed.
   Indeed, it has a rather unpleasant smell, according to some. However its leaves are edible but slightly bitter when young. These can be added to salads or used as a potherb or added to soups. When the plant comes into flower the leaves are very bitter and unpalatable though. They can also cause gastric problems, so beware.                                       
   The sprouted seed can be added to salads and contains an oil which was used in the past for lighting.

  Other English names for this plant are fanweed, stinkweed and Mithradate mustard. It has been used for the treatment of carbuncles and internal ulcers too, as well as acute appendicitis, as a diaphoretic (promoting sweat in fevers), a diuretic, for rheumatism, as an expectorant, and for liver problems, kidney inflammation, as a blood purifier and an expectorant. It has been found to have antibacterial properties against some bacteria. However, large doses can decrease white blood cell count, so if you use it treat it with care and under the supervision of a physician.
  Perhaps field pennywort will prove a good animal feed/biofuel crop and lose its negative reputation in the near future.
  
  

4 comments:

  1. Field pennycress does not deplete nutrients in the soil. Field pennycress is a rising star as a rotational and over winter cover crop for soybeans, corn, etc and the soils are fortified for better growth of food crops. It's potential as a feedstock oil for the production of biodiesel is tremendous. Biodiesel made from pennycress oil is the best biodiesel in the world. It has a very low gel temperature (-28 degrees C) and its lubricity far exceeds that of petroleum diesel. In addition to Illinois, pennycress is being grown in a number of Midwest states including Michigan. Researchers and commercial companies are working to commercialize pennycress and biodiesel producers are committed to use it as soon as it is approved by US EPA as an RFS2 feedstock oil. In addition, the growth of pennycress will substantially help small and midsized farmers. Pennycress first arrived on the North American Continent in 1701 at the shores of Detroit, brought by the French. It absolutely is NOT a food crop and should not be eaten. Animals and birds do not feed on it. When the seeds are crushed for the oil, the meal can be utilized as a natural pesticide or used as biomass for other alternative energy sources. The University of Detroit-Mercy is doing research on the phytoremediation properties of field pennycress. In industrial areas (such as Detroit) there is substantial heavy metal contamination in the soils. Field pennycress may prove to be a cost effective remediator for those areas because pennycress can hyperaccumulate heavy metals. For further information, please view the following web site at www.metroagservices.com

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  2. Is the problem with consumption due to erucic acid content? If so can this be mitigated through sprouting? Thanks!

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  3. Yes, Lance, I'd like more information about why you say pennycress, a plant I eat often that is listed in numerous wild edible plant guides, is not edible. Also I wasn't aware field pennycress accumulates heavy metals. I've read USDA reports on alpine pennycress doing so. Can you point to any research on that? I tried your URL but it doesn't seem to work (?)

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