If you’re on a budget, this post will be of use to you. Whether you’re a staunch vegan, a vegan-leaning vegetarian, a pescetarian, a semi-vegetarian, or an omnivore who simply wants to learn more, you will benefit from the consumption of hierbas when traveling or living in Guatemala. Hierbas translates from Spanish to English as “herbs”, but the actual term pertains more to weeds. Hierbas, in Guatemala, generally equate dandelion greens, red clover greens, or other things considered a nuisance or thrown away (the supposedly-unusable parts of root vegetables like beets, for example). In Guatemala, the women who sell vegetables in or outside the local markets will throw away nutritious vegetables such as beet greens and broccoli leaves because culturally they were never taught to keep them, thereby knowing nothing about the nutrients the leaves provide. The “hierbas” that a parent or older sibling often cooks and serves to their child or younger sibling, typically come from the tops of root vegetables, or the weeds that grow in their backyard. Few people ask sellers of vegetables in or outside the local markets if they can take or buy the greens they would otherwise toss. You can ask the vendedora if she wouldn’t mind giving her vegetable greens aka her basura, but know it’s not likely to guarantee results on the first try. Befriend her, and utilize tactics I wrote about in previous articles i.e. research in an internet cafe or on a laptop if you have one. Ask about her daughter who works as a temp in Guatemala City, or her husband who occasionally visits. Once you know who she is and she knows who you are, you can pose the question: Can I take the trash for you?. If that doesn’t work, ask if you can take the rubbish for your horse. If her expression continues to be skeptical, ask if you can take the greens for yourself. If that fails, offer 3Q for all of it. If this doesn’t work, try 5Q. These nutritious greens are tossed by the wayside normally, so an offering of $0.50 to $0.75 will help get the point across that you actually want to buy the greens/leaves.
Cook the greens, or weeds, or whatever you want to call them, as you would cook kale, collard greens, or chard. Use a bit of salt to tenderize, after thoroughly rinsing and blanching, in order to remove any bits of rock or bacteria.
Serve with sliced beets, and/or use in place of analogous greens in your favorite vegan recipes. If you want to really take it to the limit in terms of border crossing regarding not only country lines but also culinary…then make a vegetable broth of it and diced onion.