What? That’s disgusting!
Well, you might be surprised that many cultures, from the ancient Greeks to modern-day Saharan tribes participate in geophagy – or eating dirt. You never know if you are ever caught out in the wilderness and your chances of survival come down to dying or eating a mud pie. Here are five things you might need to know about this soiled treat.
Eating clay can save your life if you have eaten a plant toxin. Something in the makeup of clay binds with the toxins and makes them safe for consumption. Many cultures mix clay in with certain plant foods such as seeds, potatoes and acorns to ensure that they are digested properly. It isn’t an old wives tale. It actually works. What happens is a toxin known as glycoalkaloids are found in tubers and can wreak havoc on your intestinal tract. Coat them in clay when you cook them and you won’t have any problems.
If you need to grab a handful of the soil, make sure that you dig a little before digging in. The earth near the surface has the greatest chance of being contaminated by human and animal interaction (you know what I am talking about). By seeking out the soil a foot or more below the surface, you can be ensured of a more quality dirt that shouldn’t carry any pathogens.
Soil is also considered a dietary aid to pregnant women. Depending on the location, it can be a great source of calcium, iron, copper, and magnesium. Many cultures that do not practice dairy farming eat dirt as a way of gaining these nutrients. In Africa, the dirt found in termite mounds are a rich source of these nutrients.
White clay is a commonly consumed soil because it calms the stomach, can stop bouts of morning sickness, and can reduce other gastrointestinal disorders. White clay contains a substance known as kaolin which is found in such modern-day medicines such as, Rolaids, Maalox, and antacid compounds. In the 1800s, clay was commonly mixed with water and taken as a cure for hangovers.
Care must be taken when consuming dirt. Since eating dirt helps to stop certain problems like diarrhea, overconsumption can cause constipation. You don’t want to make dirt a common food source, but taking in the common soil that is underfoot will not hurt you other than, perhaps, in social circles.