Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What the heck is that? Wasong

It looked like something you'd fine growing in the jungle or possibly at the bottom of a fish tank. It was the strangest item of produce I had ever seen at the Union Square Greenmarket.




Was it even edible?

I couldn't help notice the resemblance the scary item had with a neighboring vendor's collection of succulents and cacti.




Fortunately, the strange stuff had a sign. It said, "Wasong (fimbriate orostachys) anticancer herbal." 

What the heck was that?

Their sign claimed the following: 


You will love this mild medicinal plant from the cactus family. Finely chop it and add it to any dish for added texture and health benefits. Great in omelets, hearty soups, quesadillas, etc.
Strong anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, immune-enhancing activities and effective in the prevention of skin aging.
Remarkably effective to cancer patients! 






I found out that Orostachys is a class of succulents that are indigenous to China, Korea and several other Asian countries. The vendor, Lani's Farm, is owned by Koreans, and members of the oroistchys family have a long history in Korean folk medicine

Is orostachys remarkably effective? (If you didn't know how easy it is to make claims about health benefits, even in more formal settings - for example, the label on pills, here's John Oliver to inform you.) Some internet sleuthing yielded articles such as Anti-Ulcerogenic Effects of the Flavonoid-Rich Fraction from the Extract of Orostachys japonicus in Mice, an article written by four Korean university professors published in a publication called Medicinal Food, that concluded that their research provides "evidenced-based support" for the traditional use of orostachys japonicus, another member of the family, for gastric cancer, ulcers and lesions.

Wasong also makes an appearance in the School of Chinese Medicine's Medicinal Plants Images Database , where it is associated with "arresting bleeding, detoxifying and curing sore." Wasong is also one of the components of this "Shaolin Training Formula," designed to "quicken the blood," "rectify qi," and "strengthen the sinews and bones."




And what of the food side of "medicinal food"?

The wasong sign's instructions to "Finely chop it and add it to any dish for added texture and health benefits" made me wary - especially when a suggested food to which the wasong should be added was "hearty soups" - i.e., a strongly- flavored brew in which a weird "finely chopped" item could hide. Whatever happened to adding food that contributes good flavor (rather than "added texture") to the dish?

Nevertheless, I was intrigued - especially when another sign appeared.

This sign, which included what I assumed was the word "wasong" in Korean, also touted wasong's "strong anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, immune-enhancing activities" and its effectiveness "in the prevention of skin aging." But its food applications were "salads and juices with yogurt," and its taste was likened to "purslane with sour and tart overtones."




Good news! I really like purslane. And salads are juices aren't the hiding spots that a "hearty soup" is. I was getting optimistic about my weirdo cactus! I tried three different kinds of the wasong.


Verdict: I know purslane. I've eaten purslane raw; I've eaten it sauteed; I've eaten it on its own; I've eaten it with other stuff, such as tomatoes or watermelon. And you, wasong, sir, are no purslane.

As a food item, wasong tastes like something you're eating medicinally. "Sour and tart overtones" is a euphemism for chalky, sour and weird. The wasong's texture was the only thing that reminded me of purslane.

Adding the wasong to a salad would probably just render the salad odd and unpleasant tasting, but I did want to finish up the wasong - on the off chance that the three stalks would stave off cancer, inflammation and aged skin.

Grapes to the rescue!




I ate as if I were a toddler being fed by a kind and determined parent: One bite of wasong, one bite of grape. One bite of wasong, one bite of grape. There, that wasn't so bad, was it sweetie?

Soon the wasong was all gone. I doubted that I would ever become a regular consumer of this herb anytime in the near future.

Good thing I still had another nutritional powerhouse right on hand - a wonderful source of the phytonutrient resveratrol and other health benefits. And there were still a few left on the stem.

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