Bauhinia: Pretty Eats

Fresh flowers can be used in salads

Bauhinias’ Beauty

Bauhinia leaf nicked named "Camel Foot"

It’s called the Camel Foot Tree, the Cow Foot Tree, the Mountain Ebony Tree, the Orchid Tree, and the Hong Kong Orchid Tree. I ignored it until one day my curiosity got the better of me, and I discovered another edible in my local landscape.

Why did I ignore it? Well, there are so many imported ornamentals in Florida it could be a time-consuming task to identify them all. Plus most of the ornamentals tend to be toxic.  But this was a tree I had noticed many times in many place and when I saw a stand of them readily accessible I decided to key it out and put a name on it: Bauhinia. (bah-HIN-ee-uh.) More so, my friend and fellow forager Sunny Savage in Hawaii uses the flowers in salads.

At least nine Bauhinia have edible parts from nectar to seeds. B carronii, B. esculenta, B. hookeri, B. malabarica, B. purpurea, B. racemosa, B. retusa, B. tomentosa, B. variegata (white flowered.)

Gaspard Bauhin, 1560-1624

A native of India, it is a tropical tree to 40 feet. But it is also found in subtropical areas and I live exactly on the subtropical/temperate line. There are occasional frosts here and an established tree can take a few degrees of frost. Farther south — say 100 miles — it is a common and well-naturalized tree, and on the official pest list. That’s another reason to put it on the edible list: The tree is becoming common and that means plenty of food should one want it. The stand I saw was along a bike trail so access is not an issue.

Jean Bauhin, 1541-1613

World wide there are over 600 species in the genus. In the United States they are naturalized along the coastal area of California, Texas, Louisiana, and central Florida south, planted in Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. It is also a favorite of India, Vietnam and China. In Hong Kong, where B. blakeana is endemic, it is a special of the local ecosystem. The tree was introduced into Florida before 1900. The edibility of the B. blakeana is not mentioned but it is thought to be a hybrid between B. vareigata and B. purpurea, both with edible parts.

The give away of the species is it’s distinct leaf, basically a circle with a clef on one end, giving it the appearance of a round, cloven hoof.  Of course, it is planted for its five-petal flower resembling an orchid.  When in blossom it is considered “staggeringly beautiful.”

Sir Henry Blake

The name Bauhinia is after two 16th century Swiss botanist, Jean and Gaspard Bauhin.  Variegata (vah-ree-uh-GAH-tuh) is for white variations on the leaves, purpurea (pure-PURE-ee-a) is from Greek for purple and blakeana (blay-kee-AY-nuh) is named after Sir Henry Blake, British governor of Hong Kong from 1898 to 1903. He was an enthusiastic botanist who discovered the blakeana in 1880 near the ruins of a house on Hong Kong island. The flower appears on the flag and coins of Hong Kong.

Bauhinia seeds contain high amounts of linoleic and oleic fatty acids and low amounts of myristic and linolenic fatty acids.

Some identification guides:

B. purpurea usually flowers September through December;

B. variegata January to March while the tree is leafless;

B. tomentosa (toe-men-TOE-suh) has yellow blossoms;

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile


Semi-deciduous tree to 40 feet, spreading crown. Leaves alternate, long petiole, thin-leathery, simple, deeply cleft at apex, making two large rounded lobes; lower surface downy. Flowers are showy, fragrant, in clusters near stem tips, five petals, clawed, overlapping. Fruit a flat, oblong pod, to one foot with up to fifteen seeds.


Young leaves in season, flowers and pods usually fall.


Full sun to part shade, all soils.


B. variegata: Young leaves, young seeds, young seed pods boiled. Flower buds pickled, flowers cooked. Can be made into a  chutney.





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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Dan February 17, 2013, 11:38 pm

    How ( without ingesting them myself) could i figure out if the beans on the local Bauhanias’ are edible? I was taught in plant identification course that ours here in Sunrise are blakeana..purple petals, white throatwe also have the white flowering varietys?/spp? And I am wondering about their edibility, spevifically the bean pods and beans themselves…How old is too old? Do they develop toxic compounds as they mature or is it just a palatability thing…edible but not eatable?

    • Green Deane February 18, 2013, 8:06 am

      This is one I can’t answer. I just don’t know and have not found a good way to sort those issues out.

  • Dan February 18, 2013, 8:50 pm

    Thanks anyway Deane:) I appreciate your honesty. If you have any paths to send me down that I could research that would be cool…Im not going to let this one go..So much potential food on these trees each season,I gotta figure this out…alot of hungry ppl could be fed.

  • Dan February 20, 2013, 3:21 am

    Okay so I ate 4 beans off a Candida tree today…I was concerned about age so I started checking out the young ones, with parts, even oetals of the old flowers holding on…I thought they would be a good stir-fry or deep fried candidate…PERSISTENT waxy coating that has phenolic, turpentine, and Menthol scents…Move on to larger…pop a few in…delicious. no joke….gave one to the guy at the produce stand and he approved. Really tastey…May have some stimulant properties. Not usually up this late. Surinam Cherries, beautiful deep red, and Cactus fruit, also on the menu…lucky me:)

  • Graham February 21, 2013, 6:57 am

    So THATS what these are near my place…

    I’ve munched on a few beans and bean pods from time to time, out of curiosity: they’re good but I didn’t want to eat more than a very small amount on the off chance they would make me sick.

    Well now I have more info. The flowers are dropping on the local ones and are really enjoyable to eat. Considering asking a friend of mine who makes moonshine to consider throwing some of the flowers into a bottle as a decoration and to give it that nice color and possibly a hint of flower.

  • helene mein February 28, 2013, 1:32 pm

    which area of the california coast does the Bauhinia racemosa leaf grow?

    Thank you

  • cynthia October 18, 2014, 10:38 am

    I have the variety that doesn’t produce pods. Are the flowers still edible raw? (I know, I know, disclaimer, disclaimer. I take full responsibility)

  • Neil February 25, 2015, 9:30 pm

    I found one of those orchid trees that doesn’t produce pods, the hybrid one. I’m not sure if it’s safe to eat.

    I ate 1 flower petal today and it tasted very slightly sweet on a very subtle level and a little bit cucumber like, I’ll post tomorrow to say if I got sick or not.

  • Neil February 27, 2015, 10:08 pm

    I didn’t get sick 🙂

  • Simone September 3, 2016, 8:31 pm

    Hi Green Deane

    I’m trying to find out info on the Bauhinia Corymbosa ( butterfly vine). It has gorgeous small leaf forms and smaller compact flowers. I have nibbled and spat and digested on my own head be it… All good. I can’t seem to locate ANY info on its toxicity all. Can you please direct me to any info?
    Cheers and mighty appreciative

  • Content Exotics July 19, 2017, 8:48 pm

    This is giving me lots of ideas, thanks. This grows well here, in Jamaica


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