Duckweed: A new source of protein?

By: Alro Taylor

Duckweed, an aquatic flowering plant found in wetlands, has been considered as an alternative source of food for humans and livestock for quite a while. Duckweed is a very fast growing plant that can double in size in less than 24 hours.1 The plant provides much more protein than soy and is popular among many animals. One problem is that certain animals cannot digest it as well as others. For example, tilapia love duckweed protein but pigs cannot digest it as well as soybean protein.2 According to many scientists and farmers, the problem is very minor and duckweed is still considered an amazing alternate form of food for livestock. A wide range of animals still benefit from this plant.           

Human consumption of duckweed is common in many Asian countries. In Burma, Laos and Thailand, a certain genera of duckweed called Wolffia Globosa is commonly used as a vegetable. Wolffia Globosa contain 20% protein, 44% carbohydrates, and 5% fat. They also contain vitamins C, A, B6, and Niacin. Unfortunately, duckweed is not a complete protein with all of the essential amino acids.3 The plant is rich in leucine, threonine, valine, isoleucine and phenylalanine. They are usually low in cysteine, methionine, and tyrosine. The amount of nutrients depend on how well the plant was grown. The quality of the environment matters.4           

Like many leafy green vegetables, calcium oxalate, a salt that can be toxic in high dosages is prominent in duckweed. Certain studies claim that it is not high enough to worry about, but it is still good to keep that in mind. There are cases of people being diagnosed with stones in their kidney from too much calcium oxalte. Depending too much on duckweed can cause harm in the long run.4                 

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This plant has been tried to be grown under the farmer’s and scientist’s ideal condition but has failed many times. It grows the best in nature. The problem is that nature is not so clean and contain debris. There is a patent that is out on a new way to grow duckweed under sanitary conditions.4 Finding a way to mass produce duckweed for livestock feed would save plenty of money and provide more nutrients for the animals.           

Besides the macronutrient content, duckweed is used in medicine. Duckweed has been shown to help with upper respiratory inflammation, jaundice from liver problems, and arthritis.5 Also, because of how fast the plant reproduces, duckweed is being researched on because of its availability as biodiesel (They have about 5 times more starch than corn).3           

This little plant is definitely a potential source of food, fuel, medicine, and possibly a lot more. In a constantly changing world where many resources run the risk of depleting, readily available plants like duckweed is a blessing to our society. It is a very versatile plant that should be used more often.


References:

  1. Lemnoideae. Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemnoideae. Accessed: October 25th, 2016.
  2. R A Leng, J H Stambolie and R Bell. Duckweed – a potential high protein feed resource for domestic animals and fish. Livestock Research for Rural Development. 1995;7(1). http://www.fao.org/ag/Aga/agap/frg/lrrd/lrrd7/1/3.htm. Accessed: October 25th, 2016.
  3. Deane, Green. Duckweed. Eat the Weeds. http://www.eattheweeds.com/duckweed/. Accessed: October 25th, 2016.
  4. Duckweed nutritional composition. http://www.mobot.org/jwcross/duckweed/nutritional-c
omposition.htm. Accessed: October 25th, 2016.
  5. Duckweed. WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/
ingredientmono-426-duckweed.aspx?activeingredientid=426&
activeingredientname=duckweed. Accessed: October 25th, 2016.
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