Amaranths - [family Amaranthaceae]
The Amaranths have been of culinary interest since prehistoric times the
world around, but were, and may again be, of great importance in the high
Andes mountains of South America. The family provides Beets, Sugar Beets,
Amaranth (seeds and greens), Quinoa, Spinach and other edibles.,
They are important enough as
food to have their own Amaranth Page
on this site.
Buckwheat & Sorrel -
Family Polygonaceae has played a very important role in human
survival, particularly in colder regions at at higher altitudes, both in
Eurasia and North America. Today use of buckwheat seed is still very
widespread, particularly for its flavor and association with Russian
cuisine. Others in the family provide greens and leaf stems appreciated
for their tart acidic bite. This family has its own
Buckwheat & Sorrel page on
Photo by Dawn Endico licensed under Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.
Cacti are strictly New World plants, though it is possible one species
thought to have been taken to Africa by migratory birds. They are an
immensely interesting family specialized to survive in hot arid environments
and have now been planted all over the world. They are important enough as
food to have their own Cactus page on
Purslane - [family
Portulacaceae and family Montiaceae]
These families of low growing succulents have worldwide distribution
and have provided greens and roots in both the New and Old Worlds since
prehistoric times. They were all in family Portulacaceae until
the APG III of 2009 split them apart. In Australasia the seeds have also
been used to make seed cakes. These unprepossessing plants are of particular
importance because they grow in poor soil and arid conditions, in both high and
low altitudes. They have their own
Purslane Page on this site.
Photo by Stan Shebs distributed under license
Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic.
Malabar Spinach - [Ceylon / Indian /
Surinam / Chinese / Vietnamese Spinach; Broad Bologi, Poi Baagi, Calaloo,
Buffalo Spinach; Mong Toi (Viet); Paag-Prung (Thai); Genjerot, Jingga,
Gendola (Indonesia); Saan Choy (Cantonese); Shan Tsoi, Luo Kai, Shu Chieh,
Lo Kwai (China); Pui Shak (Bengali); Kodip PasaLi (Tamil); Tsuru Murasa
Kai (Japan); family Basellaceae, Basella alba]
Not related to regular spinach but rather to cactus and purslane (order Caryophyllales (Carnations)), this plant has a similar flavor to spinach, but milder without so much oxalic acid. The leaves are thick, almost succulent. One cultivar, "Rubra", has red stems.
While regular spinach is a cool temperate plant which doesn't like the
tropics at all, Malabar Spinach is a tropical vine. A fast growing perennial,
it is harvested continuously by cutting new growth. It can be grown as an
annual in warmer temperate regions.
Details and Cooking.
[Uluuco; Papa lisa (South America); Melloco (Ecuador); Olluco (Peru); Chugua
(Colombia); Ruba (Venezuela); family Basellaceae,
Native to the Andes mountains where it is cultivated second only to
potatoes, both the leaves (similar to spinach) and the root tubers (similar
to potatoes) are used as food. A characteristic of the tubers is that,
unlike potatoes, they remain crisp even after they are fully cooked. The
tubers are also pickled and added to hot sauces.
Watercolor by Sir William Jackson Hooker, copyright expired.
[Mauka, Chago, family Nyctaginaceae, Mirabilis expansa]
Native to the Andes mountains where it was formerly an important food
crop for the Inca. Once thought to be a "lost crop", it was rediscovered by
science in the 1960s and 1970s growing in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. It is
notable for growing well under conditions too harsh for most food crops.
The leaves are used raw in salads or cooked as greens,
The root tubers, which can grow up to a few pounds, must be sun dried to
remove bitterness and astringency, and it then becomes quite sweet. Water
from cooking the tubers makes a delicious drink. More information, particularly
on growing this plant (and many others), can be
found at The
Photo © Frank Van Keirsbilck by permission.
Pokeweed - [Pokeberry, Inkberry,
family Phytolaccaceae, Phytolacca americana
(North America), Phytolacca esculenta (photo) and others]
This generally toxic plant is important to the culinary culture of the American South. Young leaves can be eaten as "Poke Salit" after being boiled in three changes of water. The seeds are quite toxic but the berries are less so, and can be eaten and used to make pies after cooking.
juice has been used as ink, and the United States Declaration of Independence
as well as many Civil War era letters were written with this juice.
contributed to the public domain.
Rau Dang - [Bitter Leaf, Bitter Herb,
Bitter Cumin; Rau Dang (Viet); Jima, Jharasi, Peru-n-tiray (India);
This tropical and subtropical plant grows in very wet areas of Africa,
South and Southeast Asia and Australia. With rather mild bitterness, it is
an important flavoring for some Vietnamese soups. It is now available here
in Southern California (approval was probably delayed by the State's
intense suspicion of fast growing water plants that clog irrigation channels).
It is also eaten as a vegetable in parts of India and Southeast Asia. The
name "Bitter Cumin" comes from the cumin shaped seeds. A related species,
Glinus lotoides, with similar distribution, is similarly used.
[Chickenwort, Craches, Maruns, Winterweed; family Caryophyllaceae,
Common in both Europe and North America, chickweed is an aggressive
weed, particularly in tilled or disturbed soil and is difficult to control.
It is edible though, and nutritious - used as a leaf vegetable and often
raw in salads. Chickens also like it. The edible chickweed can be identified
from similar looking varieties by the stem. Stellaria has fine hairs
on only one side of the stem while other chickweeds have fine hairs all
around the stem. This plant is also used medicinally.
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Sand Verbinas -
[family Nyctaginaceae, Abronia latifolla (yellow),
Abronia fragrans (white)]
Native to the western United States, the sand verbinas produce edible
roots that may be as large as 24 inches long. The yellow sand verbina is native
to the coastal region from Southern California to the Canadian border. The
white is native to the mountain west through about the same latitudes.
Photo by United States Department of Parks and Recreation = public
[Clove Pink, family Caryophyllaceae, Dianthus caryophyllus]
We would be remiss not to include the Carnation itself, even though it is
not much eaten - after all, it gave it's species name to the entire order.
It is thought to be native to the Mediterranean region but this is not
certain because it's been in cultivation for at least 2000 years.
Photo © i0107.
Venus Flytrap -
[family Droseraceae, Dionaea muscipula]
Nothing to eat here - it's the one that does the eating. I've included it
here as an example of just how diverse the order Caryophyllales is.
Carnivorous habits were developed by several families of this order to allow
them to flourish in nutrient starved environments.
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