Can I safely eat grass?

56

10

A recent comment

Cows eat grass, doesn't mean you can!

got me thinking. Corn, wheat, rice, etc are all grass that we eat regularly. I am not sure the human race could survive on the planet without eating grass.

But in all fairness, for the most part humans only eat the grains of the grass.

Can I eat the other parts of the grass also?

If yes, what do I need to know and/or do to prepare the grass for eating?

James Jenkins

Posted 2017-11-13T14:10:39.810

Reputation: 13 127

9+1 because this is a very important issue in our society. If we could figure out how to straight-up eat grass like other animals, then there would be many fewer starving people. I have been thinking about this for years, and I've always wondered why we don't hear more research about developing techniques to process grass (not just seeds) or to genetically modify people to develop enzymes to at least somewhat digest grass.kloddant 2017-11-13T23:46:37.180

12@kloddant or far more likely: There would be no grass in less than a generation. Then someone would need to plant more. Replacing crops still means the need to grow those crops, then the issues remains the same, just a different plant. – None – 2017-11-14T00:00:14.007

I agree. If more people thought like you, the world would be a better place.Caleb Way 2017-11-14T00:06:34.270

9Do humans eat the stalk of the corn or wheat?Paparazzi 2017-11-14T04:39:14.717

1

@Paparazzi yes, they are eaten when young as sprouts additionally sugar cane is eaten when mature

James Jenkins 2017-11-14T11:09:54.647

3Since I don't have enough rep here I can't answer, and I'm not sure if it's substantial enough for an answer anyway, but you can chew on grass shoots and it can be quite tasty. I don't swallow them, but if you find the larger pieces of grass that seem to be tubes inside tubes, you can firmly but very carefully pull one of the inner tubes out of the outer tube, and chew the pale-coloured end.Muzer 2017-11-14T13:40:12.860

1There is no point of eating grass like cows, our stomachs can't extract energy from cellulose like cow stomachs can. All you will get is some fiber at best. At worst, you will get food poisoning.FailedUnitTest 2017-11-14T15:25:17.607

@FailedUnitTest you know cane sugar comes from grass?James Jenkins 2017-11-14T16:04:33.123

4Sugar cane grass is a bit special in that it has a lot of sugar. But, sugar on its own gives us very little, we cannot survive on it. Cows are able to get all kinds of nutrients and far more energy from grass because their stomachs are able to breakdown rich cellulose.FailedUnitTest 2017-11-14T16:11:04.973

"Back in the day" when our Appendix was not atrophied (or vestigial) it might have served us a purpose: digestion of cellulose - which could have enabled us to meaningfully consume grasses. Nowadays, however, it serves no function to us (that we know).PCARR 2017-11-14T17:37:16.953

Eat less than 1,500 pounds in 15 minuets and you're all good.

Mazura 2017-11-17T00:38:09.180

How about if you pull the grass, mash it up a bit, put in a jug with a bit of water, and let it ferment. Then drink the liquid?Hot Licks 2017-11-19T03:38:56.010

@HotLicks It is possible but not easy to make Cellulosic ethanol it is not as simple as adding water to grass, if it was we would be using it for fuel.

James Jenkins 2017-11-19T12:05:53.043

Radika is an extremely delicious dish from Izmir, Turkey. We call it Radika I don't know what people call it in English and I never had problems with either digesting nor contamination. It's a wild plant and people collect it from mountains. This is a photo of Radika dish: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-5GEzFieJLpU/UmgPavZ0XwI/AAAAAAAABgo/YpgHYJCcDnE/s400/DSCF4518.JPG

ferit 2017-11-19T17:24:08.877

Answers

83

Just because there are grasses (Poaceae) with edible and nutritious parts does not mean that this applies to all grasses. That is pretty common-place.

A quick Google search give you all the info you need:

Many grasses are edible, in the sense that you can eat it; you simply won't get any energy/nutrients out of it. They consist mostly of cellulose, and our digestive tract is simply not made to break that down (as opposed to, e.g. cows, which employ four stomachs for that purpose). There are however also grasses that are toxic. So when not discerning between actual species, the effect of eating grasses is somewhere between no effect and harmful.

imsodin

Posted 2017-11-13T14:10:39.810

Reputation: 14 526

7If you (reader) are still not convinced (that not all grass are edible), replace "grass" with "mushrooms" in this page. Except maybe the cellulose and cow part...Mindwin 2017-11-13T16:38:49.037

4

mmm, delicious destroying angel

Wayne Werner 2017-11-13T16:52:53.550

5@Mindwin: Not quite the same, as the mushrooms are actively poisonous, while AFAIK few if any grasses are. I certainly have survived a number of decades of pulling up grass stems and chewing on the ends while walking through meadows...jamesqf 2017-11-13T18:42:24.273

1

Even though we can not get energy/ nutrients out of grass, we could still benefit from it as dietary fiber, I guess. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietary_fiber

Marzipanherz 2017-11-13T19:00:09.843

2@imsodin OP asks about possible special preparation methods. While eating common grass directly might not provide benefit, what if you boiled the grass, perhaps for tea? Do you know if the cellulose would break down into something digestible?Aaron 2017-11-13T20:19:09.937

1You can also have problems with things growing on the grass. E.g. ergot poisoning from ergot infested rye grass (even though rye would otherwise be safe to eat). Note that it can be difficult to recognize (or even see) fungi on grasses.user3067860 2017-11-13T21:31:52.323

71@Aaron, there isn't much that will break cellulose down. The most effective way humans have found is to feed the grass to a cow and then eat the cow.Mark 2017-11-13T23:02:39.467

25

It's not just the cellulose: many kinds of grass incorporate small silica filaments or spines called phytoliths - essentially biological glass shards. Grazing animals have thick lips, stomach lining, and constantly-growing teeth to resist the effects of eating it. Grass doesn't want to be eaten and just because it can't run away doesn't mean it's defenseless.

IndigoFenix 2017-11-14T07:09:30.137

You can make the answer a community wiki if you want to.SQB 2017-11-14T11:45:04.173

1@Mark Or sheep. The vegetarian argument of "what if we used all that land for crops?" is true enough for corn-fed beef, but it fails for sheep which will happily graze on land that is unsuitable for arable farming. Almost all hilly areas in Britain are sheep farms.Graham 2017-11-14T12:36:18.930

3Bamboo is a grass. And harvested as a shoot and prepared right, it is delicious :)rackandboneman 2017-11-14T20:20:23.797

"the effect of eating grass..." I'd bold that last phrase, and possibly move it to the top; it sums it up so nicely.jpaugh 2017-11-15T15:39:58.293

3The fun fact is that even cows lack enzymes to break cellulose down. They have a huge digestive tract for bacteria to live in, and let bacteria do all the dirty job.polkovnikov.ph 2017-11-16T04:10:25.443

2@Mark Well, the most effective way would probably be some bacteria or yeast or such, which have far lower overhead. Cow products are usually more pleasant, though, and a lot more traditional :PLuaan 2017-11-16T13:33:55.413

2But what if I cook grass or otherwise prepare it (adding enzymes to break down the cellulose, let it ferment,...)? Just because I want to eat something doesn't mean I need to eat it raw and untouched.Trilarion 2017-11-17T09:24:09.290

23

Eating grass isn't smart because our bodies lack the enzymes to digest it, and because you never know if some animal came along and crapped on it. Don't eat grass.

Caleb Way

Posted 2017-11-13T14:10:39.810

Reputation: 363

1

Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

Rory Alsop 2017-11-15T09:52:12.730

Also: tons and tons of parasites and pollutants. The same reason humans avoid e.g. raw pork.Luaan 2017-11-16T13:35:00.443

14

To add to the existing answers, depending on where the grass is growing, there can be all sorts of synthetic fertilizers thrown onto it which would be very harmful to humans. You do not want to eat Scott's Lawn Fertilizer.

Adrian Padin

Posted 2017-11-13T14:10:39.810

Reputation: 241

13

Apart from the low nutrients issue, grass stems are covered in tiny silica spikes, which act as an abrasive on your insides. These spikes are thought to have evolved as a defense against being eaten (Silica in grasses as a defence against insect herbivores:) -- which clearly didn't work in the long run.

But anyway, if you don't have a tough lining like a cow has on its lips, esophagus and stomach, you'll risk feeling sandpapered inside or worse.

Elise van Looij

Posted 2017-11-13T14:10:39.810

Reputation: 231

1On the contrary, it clearly did work - otherwise grasses without this defense would be far more plentiful, and they aren't. It doesn't prevent a specific blade from being eaten right now, but it certainly does has an advantage. Most adaptations only confer a tiny bonus to fitness - if it makes you 3% likelier to reproduce, it's a pretty darn good adaptation :DLuaan 2017-11-16T13:38:05.540

10

A look through the veterinary literature can show you some further reasons not to just go out and eat grass. Specifically, parasites like liver fluke, different species of tapeworm, and some nematodes can infect humans as well as sheep (or cows, or mufflons, or whatever lives on the pastures where you find your grass).

So, in a real outdoors situation, experimenting with grasses is unwise, even if you are very hungry.

rumtscho

Posted 2017-11-13T14:10:39.810

Reputation: 639

3Are grasses more likely to transmit these then any other plant one might consume in the outdoors?James Jenkins 2017-11-14T15:22:03.123

1@JamesJenkins I'm pretty sure that it is so. 1) sheep get them from the grass (said my grandpa, who was a farm vet for 50+ years) and 2) the eggs cling to the stuff they are excreted on, even after the initial heap of dung is no longer visible. Most mammals don't excrete on fruits and nuts over a certain height, and humans are not as susceptible to bird parasites (less evolutionary similarity). 3, you can peel nuts and most fruits, you can't peel grass.rumtscho 2017-11-14T15:27:33.710

Would washing and/or cooking the grass remove the danger? You can peel grass See this comment "you can firmly but very carefully pull one of the inner tubes out of the outer tube, and chew the pale-coloured end" Personally I have chewed peeled grass for decades.

James Jenkins 2017-11-14T15:39:48.087

1I don't know about cooking, I have no idea if anybody has published safety data on wild nonedible plants. As for the peeling, I may have been thinking of different types of grass (blades) than you do.rumtscho 2017-11-14T16:25:43.120