Tassel, Musk and Grape Hyacinths

by Green Deane

in Flour/Starch, Flowers, Plants, Spice/Seasoning, Vegetable

Muscari "Blue star"

There are dozens of edible species that are wild in Europe and cultivated or escaped in North America. Three related species with a multitude of names are quite popular in Europe but relatively unknown in North America though they grow there and are used in similar ways with some variation. They are the Tassel Hyacinth, the Musk Hyacinth and the Grape Hyacinth.

The Tassel Hyacinth

The Tassel Hyacinth, Leopoldia comosa, is used extensive particularly in Italian and Greek cooking. The bulbs are boiled then pickled or preserved in oil. They are thought to stimulate the appetite and are also diuretic. Interestingly wild ones are preferred over cultivated ones. It is “officially” found — read on United States Department of Agriculture  maps — in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, both Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Oregon and Washington state. They, like the other species here, can be found elsewhere but have not made the official USDA list. The Tassel Hyacinth naturalizes easily and can become invasive. It’s native from southeastern Turkey to Iran but was in the British Isles by the 1600s. Its flower stalk is up to two feet tall, pale brown urn-shaped fertile flowers on the lower half, blue flowers on the upper half. The blue flowers on top, pollinated by bees, resemble a tassel, hence the name. Depending upon the climate it flowers in mid-spring. In Greece it is called βολβοί (vol-VEE) literally “bulbs.” The Italians call them “lampascioni”, “lampasciuni” and “lamponi.” Leopoldia, (leo-POL-di-ah) honors of Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1797 – 1870.) Comosa (kom-OH-suh) means “hairy”

The Musk Hyacinth

The Musk Hyacinth, Muscari neglectum, is used in a similar way but has urn-shaped blue blossoms. The blossoms are used as flavoring in Europe. The bulbs are also boiled then eaten. More so it was planted as a source of starch for ironing clothes. It is found in the eastern United States from southern New England to west to Michigan south to Florida then west to New Mexico. The species has had a lot of botanical drift and over the years nearly four dozen different names. The species grows in clumps to about a foot high, in full sun to partial shade, has a raceme of blue urn-shaped blossoms in the spring, Actually the lower blossoms are dark blue to black blue and the upper blossoms are brilliant bright blue. In Spain it is a favored blossom under olive trees. Muscari (mus-KAH-ree ) is from Greek and means Musk. Neglectum (nay-GLEK-tum ) mean “slight” or “overlooked.”

Indian Grape Hyacinth

Blossoms of the Grape Hyacinth (Muscari botryoides) are also picked. They and the buds are pickled. It is naturalized in North America in a patchwork of areas including the eastern U.S. and Canada, the Pacific coast of the U.S. and Canada plus Texas, Utah and Nebraska. The high plains states and the desert southwest are left out as is South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana. Like the other members of group the stems grow from an underground bulb. Leaves are basil, linear, hairless, grooved or “U” shaped in cross section. Flowers are a dense, terminal raceme, urn-shaped, blue. Again Muscari  (mus-KAH-ree) means Musk and botryoides (bot-ree-OI-deez) means in clusters like grapes.

Leopold II

The bulbs of the edible species are slightly bitter because of saponins, basically plant soap which is why cooking the bulbs is necessary if not changing the water once or more.

Filippo Parlatore

I cannot find a declarative statement why Leopold II, the last reigning Grand Duke of Tuscany, was honored by the genus. Leopoldia was established by the Italian botanist Filippo Parlatore (1816 – 1877.)
Leopold was Palatore’s patron, gave him the position of professor of botany and made him director of the botanical garden in Florence… good enough reason to have a genus named after you. The grand duke was also a founding patron of  L’Istituto Statale della Ss. Annunziata, the first female boarding school in Florence for well-born ladies. To his credit he also commissioned large public works and was the first to promote tourism to Tuscany.

A "Blue River" of Muscari armeniacum at the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland

 

If you would like to donate to Eat The Weeds please click here.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard ramey March 21, 2014 at 11:54

Interesting how modern sources will tell you something is not good for food or medicine but older books and native or tribes of people will say they use it all the time.
Have found today’s books on poke berries is wrong. I eat them all the time. Course some people have allergies to something g others do not. Always do the test/safe test for yourself – your body’s reaction.

Reply

Carl in Texas January 23, 2014 at 22:17

Just to be sure, regarding Muscari botryoides: (1) does it have a bulb worth consideration? and (2) is it edible? Implied in your article, but I didn’t want to assume.

Reply

Green Deane January 24, 2014 at 05:54

The flowers and buds can be pickled.

Reply

Patricia DeMarco February 21, 2015 at 11:25

I have a profusion of grape hyacinth in the edges of my shrub border. Are the blossoms edible as salad or soup accents, or do they need to be pickled to be edible?

Reply

Brian April 4, 2012 at 13:03

Hi,

the genus Leopoldia was established by the italian botanist Filippo Parlatore (1816 – 1877).
Leopold II of Tuscany was Palatore´s patron and gave him the position of professor of botany and made him director of the botanical garden in Florence. Probably sufficient reason to name a genus after the Grand Duke !

Tchau
BrianO

Reply

Green Deane April 4, 2012 at 17:23

Thank you. I went looking and found it supported on an Italian museum site.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: