The grass pea
It can save the hungry in the short term, even if it can ruin health in the long term. The drought-tolerant, flood-tolerant grass pea (Lathyrus sativus), first cultivated around 8,000 years ago in the Mediterranean and today used in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India and Pakistan, is extremely high in protein. Because it’s so hardy, it’s often the only food source available when other crops fail. The problem is, overconsumption can lead to permanent paralysis in adults and brain damage in children due to a neurotoxin present in the plant. Researchers are now trying to breed a low-toxin variety.
The prickly pear
Nothing survives dry conditions like cacti. The prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is native to Mexico, where it is cultivated on a large scale. Both the fruits, known as tunas, and the pads, nopalitos, are delicious. The thirst-quenching young pads can be prepared as a green vegetable, and the fruit is eaten fresh or made into jams and drinks. Prickly pear has been found to lower blood cholesterol and provides large amounts of Vitamin A, important for eye health. Once sacred to the Aztecs, the prickly pear is easy to grow, gaining popularity in dry areas around the world. It is also the host to cochineal insects, which are used for red dye and food colouring.