Azolla is widely used as a livestock feed in India and the Far East, but its potential as a food for people is less well known. This is now changing and some of the impetus has come from studies into diets that could be used for space stations, space travel, and habitation on the Moon and Mars.
Azolla is ideally suited for use as a food in space travel within controlled ecological life support systems (CELSS) due to the limited amount of available space in these habitats and the zero or low gravity. It only needs shallow freshwater less than an inch (2.4 cm) deep, so that it can be grown in multi-layered frames that require less space than other plants.
For example, Katayama and a group of other Japanese and Chinese scientists evaluated possible diets for Mars colonies (Katayama et al., 2008). They concluded that rice, soybean, sweet potato and a green-yellow vegetable could provide the basic vegetarian menu, with azolla, silkworm pupa and loach providing the protein needed to meet human nutritional requirements.
Azolla’s protein content
- Azolla as a feed for chickens in Nigeria (Alalade & Iyaya, 2006)
- Azolla as a livestock feed in India (Kamalasanana et al., 2009)
- Azolla as a feed for ducks in Vietnam (Beccera et al., 1995)
- Azolla as fish feed in Benin (Fiogbe et al., 2004, Shiomi & Kitoh, 2001)
“Azolla’s nutritional value is similar to that of Alfalfa sprouts and Spirulina – a dietary supplement made from the cyanobacterium Arthrospira. It is a rich source of minerals (10-15% of dry weight), essential amino acids (7-10% of dry weight), vitamins and carotenoids. 20 – 30% of Azolla’s dry weight is protein, which is a lot for a vegetable. The quality of the protein in Azolla is good, although there are some deficiencies of the amino acids methionine, histidine and lysine. Two to five percent of Azolla’s dry weight is nitrogen.”
Erik Sjödin included several recipes developed by him that use azolla as the main ingredient, including azolla soup, azolla burgers, azolla pancakes, azolla hardtack, azolla balls, and azolla bread.