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The Mile: Panicum miliaceum

The millet is a minor cereal, of which qualities and virtues are being rediscovered, for this reason, although its production was by now marginal (since it was used almost exclusively exclusively as a feed for small birds), it is now being rediscovered and in some Italian areas are cultivated in the summer period in an intensive way. It is a plant used by man since ancient times; the panicum miliaceum has Asian origins, and there is evidence of its cultivation in Europe since Roman times, here it was used as a cereal, especially to prepare a sort of polenta.
The millet plants are about 1006150 cm high, they are grasses, with the appearance of thin canes, which have long, papyrus ribbon-like foliage; towards the end of summer, at the apex of each stem, an enlarged spike develops, containing thousands of small hard fruits; once dehulled the millet fruits have two tiny hard yellowish seeds inside them. These seeds can be consumed whole, after boiling or steaming; or they are milled to prepare a thin flour, with which to prepare a soft polenta, or with which the bread is prepared, but only in mixture with other cereal flour, as millet does not contain gluten.
In addition to the Panicum plants, millet is also produced using the seeds of another plant, called Setaria, which produces almost identical seeds with a flavor almost equal to those of Panicum.

Cultivating the Mile

This cereal has been almost abandoned, in favor of other cereals, such as corn, wheat or barley, due to the fact that the small seeds give a decidedly smaller harvest than that of other more common cereals. In ancient times, however, Panicum miliaceum was preferred for some very simple reasons: this plant also develops in poor and dry soils, and cultivation, from sowing to harvest, generally lasts only about three months. Even today millet is one of the main cereals in some semi-desert areas of Africa and Asia.
In fact, this cereal has no particular soil requirements, but it also develops in previously uncultivated, stony or sandy fields; tolerates drought very well, and a good harvest can be obtained even without any irrigation; For this reason, the Panicum miliaceum in Italy (together with the sorghum) is grown in soils left clear between two harvests, resulting almost as an additional crop, compared to the common agricultural rotations. Many millet fields can be seen in areas characterized by very hot and dry summers, in plots where wheat or maize would have required excessive irrigation.
In addition to not needing water, the Panicum miliaceum does not even need fertilizing, and therefore, despite the poor harvests, it becomes interesting as a filler between two harvests, in the summer period.

Panicum miliaceum in the kitchen

Millet is a minor cereal, and the ancient recipes in which it was widely used have by now been forgotten in most of our peninsula; yet, during the Middle Ages, millet was one of the most widespread cereals. For many people the millet is familiar only in the whole form of the grain, still to be decorticated, as it is traditionally used as food for the caged canaries. The millet alimentary resembles little to the millet for the canaries, in how much it is decorticated (as it happens to the barley, to the farro or to the rice), revealing two small roundish seeds, of light yellow color, slightly floury. In order to be eaten, the millet must be cooked, boiled or steamed. It is prepared like rice or barley, and although it is decidedly smaller in size, it generally requires a longer cooking time: generally the millet needs to be boiled for about 20-25 minutes before being edible and digestible. Unlike rice or barley, millet does not have starch on the outside, and therefore, if it is prepared as a risotto (perhaps it would be better to say an miles), a creamy preparation is not obtained, but the small seeds remain well detached. It is used as a side dish, but also in the preparation of cereal salads, mixed with vegetables, meat or fish, as if it were couscous.
With the millet it is also prepared a thin light yellow colored flour, with which a polenta is prepared, used anciently in the Padana regions; mixed with wheat flour it is also used to prepare bread or desserts. Millet flour is subject to rapid deterioration, and therefore it is generally used to mill the millet at the time of use.

The millet, merits and virtues

Panicum miliaceum contains many vitamins and mineral salts, and enters as a main ingredient in numerous drugs (traditional and herbal) to improve the quality of skin, hair and nails; in fact it contains a good quantity of silicon, which stimulates hair and nail growth.
The consumption of cooked millet does not significantly affect its content in mineral salts, and therefore this food is very useful in feeding the elderly and children.
In fact, most of the millet produced in Italy, which is not used as bird feed, enters the composition of preparations, tablets, supplements, used precisely to improve and accelerate the growth of hair, and to cure them from exhaustion or split ends.
In phytotherapy, millet is used as a diuretic, for pregnant women, against stress, depression and anemia.