Have you ever eaten this plant? Do you know what it is?
It's a water fern called azolla, also known as mosquito fern and duckweed fern ... which might not sound terribly appetizing, but it turns out that scientists have been researching azolla's potential for space agriculture. The nutrient-rich plant grows so rapidly it can double its mass in a few days.
But what does it actually taste like? Swedish artist Erik Sjödin was inspired to find out:
Fascinated by the Azollaʼs uniqueness in the botanical world and its incredibly rapid growth I started to research it and learned that scientists had proposed it as a food crop for future space travel. However, I couldnʼt find any recipes or records of what the plant actually tasted like...
After experimenting with growing and cooking the plant, he reports that it "has a crisp texture, smells a bit like moss and has a slightly tart taste, that is somehow earthy and reminiscent of forest." Possible uses include salad, soup, and even burgers. In addition to food, azolla may have uses in sustainable agriculture and biofuel, making it a "green goldmine" according to Sjödin.
The nutritional implications of this plant have not been fully teased out, says Sjödin. "Though Azolla is nutrient rich, it is a fern that lives in symbiosis with a cyanobacteria and it is still unclear how healthy it for humans to eat it. It could be really healthy but it could also not be. Azolla is commonly used as animal fodder but no studies have been done on humans."
Azolla soup and Azolla balls with rice noodles
If you want to try azolla for yourself, check garden centers and aquatic stores but "be careful where you plant it and donʼt let it loose in the wild," Sjödin cautions. The USDA lists azolla as weedy or invasive in many states.
• Read more: The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project (formerly Super Meal, 2010 - ongoing) at Erik Sjödin
Related: Future Food: Backyard Fish Farming
(Image: Erik Sjödin, used by permission)