Black Salsify, Coltsfoot, Yellow Pond Lily, Mexican Hyssop, Carambola, Baobob, Kapok, Durian, Italian Bugloss, Blueweed
Edible plants collect a lot of names. This one has been dubbed black salsify, Spanish salsify, black oyster plant, serpent root, viper’s herb, viper’s grass, and simply Scorzonera which is also its botanical name, Scorzonera hispanica. A native of the Mediterranean areas it’s cultivated around the world and happens to be naturalized in California. It was cultivated in Europe by the 1600s and is a significant crop there still. The root contains protein, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron as well as vitamins A, B1, E and C. It also has inulin which is suitable for diabetics. The long black roots are boiled, steamed, baked, batter-fried, put into soups and stews or roasted as a coffee substitute. Shoots are added to tossed salads. Flower buds raw or cooked are eaten on salads. Blossom petals are also sprinkled on salads or used in omelets.
Coltsfoot has become controversial. Young leaves, flower buds, and young flowers can be use in soups or as potherbs. Fresh or dried flowers are used to make an aromatic tea. A delicious wine is made from the blossoms and ashes from the plant are a salt substitute. Used for centuries it has come under scrutiny for chemical that might cause liver damage, at least in infants. There is one documented case of coltsfoot tea causing severe liver problems in one infant. In another case, an infant developed liver disease and died because the mother drank tea containing coltsfoot during her pregnancy. The plant has also been used for centuries to make a cough suppressant. Indeed, its botanical name Tussilago farfara means “cough suppressing activity.” A European native it is naturalized in the northeast quadrant of North America as well as Washington State and British Columbia.
The Yellow Pond Lily has been on the botanical move. It’s been Nuphar Luteum, Nuphar lutea, Nuphar lutea var. advena and Nuphar advena. The latter will probably stick for a while. Genetically it never was Nuphar luteum/lutea. Indeed, the Yellow Pond Lilies in North America might go from one wrong species to eight new right ones, once the botanists have argued it all out. One hint that the yellow pond lilies in North America were different than the yellow pond lilies of Europe was the total lack of their use in Europe and their common use “across the pond.” While the local root is too bitter to eat it’s seeds are only mildly bitter and can be retted to get rid of that quality. See my article on the Yellow Pond Lily. The large-petaled yellow blossom of the Nuphar advena can be used to make a tea.
The Agastache genus provides a lot of flowers and leaves for salads and teas. At least nine if not ten species have consumer friendly parts. Despite that one of my readers, a teacher, took some blossoms in for a tasting in her mostly Hispanic class and ran brick wall into the administration who viewed anything not from the grocery store as toxic. So much for ethnobotany. Pictured here is Agastache mexicana, Mexican Hyssop, which is in the greater mint family. It’s highly aromatic leaves and flowers are used in salads, for flavoring and tea. Other useable Agastache include: Agastache cana, Agastache foeniculum, Agastache neomexicana, Agastache rugusa, Agastache urticifolia, and Agastache anethiodora.
I happen to have the next tree growing in my back yard, which is about 50 miles north of where the tree would choose to grow. It flowers twice a year but the second setting is minor. Called Carambola or Star Fruit, its botanical name is Averrhoa carambola. The edible fruit go from small, green and tart to large, golden yellow and very sweet. But, it also has edible flowers and leaves that are used like sorrel. The acid flowers are used in salads or used to make conserves. The fruit is eaten fresh, dried, sliced into fruits and salads, or used in sherbets, ices, creams mousses and other desserts. When the tart the fruit is cooked with fish and fowl or made into a relish. Another member of the genus, Averrhoa bilimbi is the cucumber tree. It’s fruit and flowers have various edible uses as well.
With so many readers around the world I have to include an exotic or two though this next flower does grow in Florida and other warm areas. The Baobob Tree, Adansonia digitata, is extremely odd looking and versatile. Like the Kapok Tree it is pollinated by bats. The fruit is eaten, the leaves boiled as a potherb or dried and ground and used like file, to flavor and thicken sauces, stews and soups. The seeds are used as a coffee substitute or as a baking powder substitute. Germinating shoots and tender shoots are eaten. And the flowers are edible raw.
When one studies edible plants you quickly learn that one group can consider a plant only edible, another will think of the same plant as only medicinal, a third will view it as famine food only and a fourth don’t consider it good for anything. The Kapok Tree, Ceiba pentandra, falls into medicine and food, depending upon the eyes of the beholder. Like the Baobob Tree it is pollinated by bats. Tender leaves, buds and fruit are eaten like okra. Seeds are roasted and ground, eaten in soups, used as flavoring, or employed to make the fermented drink kantong. They can be used to make tempeh or squeezed for cooking oil. Wood ashes are a salt substitute. Flowers are blanched and often eaten with chili sauce, the dried stamens are added to curries and soups for coloring. A nice specimen of the tree can be seen in Dreher Park just north of the entrance to the zoo in West Palm Beach.
This next tree is infamous for its fruit. You either wildly love its aroma or passionately hate it. Carrying it on trains in Thailand is illegal. It is banned from commercial flights. At least one jet passenger was stopped and a man reeking of it kicked off. Last year a tycoon sent a private jet to pick up 88 fruit when it came into season. He wanted 100 but they weren’t available then. It is the infamous Durian, a spine-covered fruit that smells like a sewer and tastes like microwaved socks, and some people love it. Their passion is not shared. The flower petals are edible. Did I mention the huge fruit falling from the tree has hit people on the head, killing them. As with coconut, in some areas where there are Durian trees and hotels the fruit is intentionally removed to decrease the likelihood of someone being beaned.
One cannot make up a name like Italian Bugloss. Also known as Wild Bugloss, Alkanet and Anchusa, botanically it’s Anchusa azurea a member of the Forget-Me-Not family. Originally from Europe it’s cultivated around the world, is intensely blue, and is used among other things as a dye. Italian Bugloss has become naturalized without logic in a number of places in North America including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio. Michigan, Iowa, Texas, Colorado, Utah, California, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia The bright blue blossoms are an excellent salad addition and are quite attractive when mixed with rose petals. On Crete it’s called αγόγλωσσος, ang-GO-gloss-ose. Locals eat the tender stems boiled. Also eaten are the bosoms of Anchusa capensis and Anchusa officinalis. “Bugloss” means ox tongue because of the roughness of the leaves. αγόγλωσσος can mean literally “impiety tongue” read rough tongue.
Closely related to borage and Italian Bugloss, Blueweed, Echium vulgare, is naturalized throughout most of North America, missing only from Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, North Dakota, Arizona, Nevada, California, Canada’s Northwest Territory and the Yukon. A native of Europe, it’s an invasive species in Washington state. What is slightly odd about Blueweed is that the blossoms start out pink and turn blue. However, the stamens remain red making the blossom striking. Echium is grown as an oilseed crop and contains significant amounts of gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and the rarer stearidonic acid. Leaves are cooked and used like spinach. The flowers are candied and added to salads. The plant is covered with spines, so pick carefully.