Carnations Carnations

This page is a catch-all for the almost unbelievably diverse members of order Caryophyllales. Aside from the familiar garden carnation flower the order includes all the Cacti, the Amaranths, Buckwheat, just about all the carnivorous plants - and many more.

The families that have broad culinary usage like the Cacti, Amaranths and Buckwheats have their own pages linked from here. The miscellaneous ones will be found on this page.

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Amaranths   -   [family Amaranthaceae]
Amaranth Mix

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]
American Bistort Flower Heads

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 this site.   Photo by Dawn Endico licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

Cactus   -   [family Cactaceae]
Large Cactus Plant

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 this site.

Purslane   -   [family Portulacaceae and family Montiaceae]
Purslane Flowers

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 Creative Commons 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]
Malabar Spinach Tendrils and Leaves

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.

Olluco   -   [Uluuco; Papa lisa (South America); Melloco (Ecuador); Olluco (Peru); Chugua (Colombia); Ruba (Venezuela); family Basellaceae, Ullucus tuberosus]
Olluco Root Tubers

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.   Photo by Eric Hunt distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Aizoaceae Family

New Zealand Spinach   -   [Warrigal Greens, Sea Spinach, Botany Bay Spinach, Tetragon, Cook's Cabbage; Kokihi (Maori); Tetragonia tetragonioides]
Malabar Spinach Leafy Stems

Native to New Zealand and Australia, this plant is sometimes used as an ornamental ground cover, but it's also edible. There is little evidence the native Maori ate the stuff, but after Captain Cook discovered it he used it fresh and pickled to ward off scurvy in his crew. He took seeds to England and it was soon grown there, in France and in North America, but faded out during the 20th century.

Today New Zealand spinach is grown by home gardeners in the summer when regular spinach won't grow. It's not a commercial crop in California but is grown commercially in the tropical Americas. Unlike Malabar Spinach which grows long and likes to be trellised, New Zealand is low and spreading. It is usually cooked but can also be used raw in salads.   Photo by US Geological Survey = public domain.

Ice Plant   -   [Freeway Plant (California); Hottentot Fig, Sour Fig (South Africa); Carpobrotus edulis   |   Carpobrotus acinaciformis (less sweet)   |   both of family Aizoaceae]
Ice Plants with Flower

Native to South Africa, this spreading succulent with triangular leaves and brilliant magenta or yellow flowers is now familiar to everyone in California. In the early 1900s it was planted to stabilize soil along railroads, and in the 1960s was extensively planted by Caltrans for freeway landscaping - and now it's everywhere. Few, however, realize both leaves and fruits are edible.

Early Dutch settlers in South Africa made jams, called Konfyt, out of the fruits of both species listed above, but C. edulis is sweet enough to be eaten fresh.

Caltrans stopped using it in the 1970s because it was becoming an aggressive invasive in the coastal environment - but there's still thousands of acres of it - and it's presenting the same problems in Australia and the Mediterranean region.

Vetkousies   -   [Yellow Carpet; Carpanthea pomeridiana of family Aizoaceae]
Vetkousies Flower

Native to South Africa, this spreading succulent is closely related to the Ice Plant, but its leaves are more flat than triangular. Flowers were used by early Dutch settlers in South Africa in stews called "Bredies". Young leaves were also used in salads.   Photo by Andrew Massyn distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Kanna   -   [Channa, Kougoed; Sceletium tortuosum]
Growing Kanna Plant

This succulent herb, native to South Africa, is not used for nutrition, but for its mood altering properties. It is reputed to reduce anxiety and supress hunger. Traditionally, it was dried and chewed. Today it's made into gel caps, teas and tinctures - as well as used as snuff and for smoking. It is said to enhance the effects of other psychoactive herbs, such as cannabies - though it may have adverse effects with alcohol and some other drugs. Study is ongoing.

North American companies are studying extracts for use in products. One reports "statistically significant improvement in cognitive set flexibility". I interpret this "cognitive flexibility" to mean "more liberal", so the GOP will probably move to have it banned.   Photo by Accord H. Brisse distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Mauca   -   [Mauka, Chago, family Nyctaginaceae, Mirabilis expansa]
Root Tubers

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 Vegetable Garden.   Photo © Frank Van Keirsbilck by permission.

Pokeweed - [Pokeberry, Inkberry, family Phytolaccaceae, Phytolacca americana(North America), Phytolacca esculenta (photo) and others]
Pokeweed Leaves and Berries

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.

Fermented pokeberry 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.   Photo by Algirdas contributed to the public domain.

Rau Dang Bien   -   [Bitter Leaf, Bitter Herb, Bitter Cumin; Rau Dang (Viet); Jima, Jharasi, Peru-n-tiray (India); Glinus oppositifolius of family Molluginaceae]
Rau Dang Bien Leaves and Flowers

There is confusion due to more than one Rau Dang (Bitter Leaf), but all the Vietnamese sources I've found with photos of culinary usage show this one, and it's the one available in Asian markets here in Los Angeles. It is a tropical and subtropical plant that 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 also eaten as a vegetable in parts of India and Southeast Asia.

This plant is now grown in Southern California (approval was probably delayed by the State's intense suspicion of fast growing water plants that clog irrigation channels). The name "Bitter Cumin" comes from the cumin shaped seeds. A related species, Glinus lotoides, with similar distribution, is similarly used.

Rau Dang   -   [Bitter Leaf, Bitter Herb, Prostrate Knotweed, Birdweed, Pigweed; Rau Dang (Viet (Bitter Leaf)); Polygonum aviculare of family Polygonaceae]
Rau Dang Leaves and Flowers

This plant may or may not have culinary usage in Vietnam (see Rau Dang above), but that it is called Rau Dang (Bitter Leaf) is confirmed by the Viet version of Wikipedia. In any case, it is sour in taste from oxalic acid, and it does have medicinal uses. This plant is a common weed in California and many other places worldwide.

Rau Ram   -   [Vietnamese Coriander, Vietnamese mint (not unique), Vietnamese cilantro, Cambodian mint, Hot mint; Daun kesum, Daun kesom, Daun Laksa (Malay); Phak phai (Thai); Luam laws (Hmong); Phak phaew (Laos); Chi krasang tomhom, Chi pong tea koun (Cambodia); Phak-pai (NE India); Persicaria odorata syn Polygonum odoratum]
Rau Ram Leafy Stems

This rangy herb is used throughout Southeast Asia, raw in salads and summer rolls, as a garnish and cooked, particularly in soups, but also in some stews. It has a slightly resinous taste and is particularly associated with Vietnamese cuisine. It is considered a suppressant of sexual urges so is often grown by Buddhist monks to make celibacy more tolerable. This herb is easily recognized from the spearhead shaped leaves with two purplish splotches.   Details and Cooking.

Chickweed   -   [Chickenwort, Craches, Maruns, Winterweed; family Caryophyllaceae, Stellaria media]
Live Chickweed Plant

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.   Photo by Hugo.arg distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike v3.0.

Sand Verbinas   -   [family Nyctaginaceae, Abronia latifolla (yellow), Abronia fragrans (white)]
Sand Verbina Flowers

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 domain.

Carnations   -   [Clove Pink, family Caryophyllaceae, Dianthus caryophyllus]
Garden Carnation Flowers

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]
Venus Flytrap Leaves and Traps

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.   Photo by tato grasso distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike v2.5.

cn_carnation 090704   -
©Andrew Grygus - - Photos on this page not otherwise credited are © cg1 - Linking to and non-commercial use of this page permitted