Flower Iris Family


The Iris family (Iridaceae) is a large family of flowering plants found in temperate and subtropical climates worldwide, with the greatest genetic diversity in southern Africa. Many members are popular decoratives, but very few present anything even remotely edible. The photo is of Iris douglasiana, native to the coastal region from southern Oregon down to central California.   Photo by Curtis Clark distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic.


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Saffron Crocus   -   [Crocus sativus]
Live flower

The only plant in the Iris family of culinary importance, the Saffron Crocus. does not appear in nature - it is sterile, so must have been the result of human intervention. It may have originated in Bronze Age-Crete, but is now harvested as a crop from Spain through India and North Africa. The only part of the plant with culinary use is the stigmas, thread like components of the flower. These are used as a flavoring and coloring in many cuisines. They must be dried, causing chemical changes, before they are effective.

It takes 150 flowers to make 1 gram (0.035 ounce), which is about 1/2 tablespoon of threads, very loosely packed. These threads must be carefully harvested by hand. In North America, a single gram can cost between US $2.00 and $16.00 depending on size of package, grade of saffron, point of origin and what the retailer thinks he can get from his customers.

The largest producer, with something like 90% market share, is Iran. Greece is next, then Kashmir and Morocco, with Afghanistan rising as Kashmir falls. That available in North America is most commonly from Spain, but Persian (Iran) is also available.   Details and Cooking.   Photo by Gut Gimritz distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Orris Root   -   [German Iris; Iris germanica | Sweet Iris, Dalmation Iris; Iris pallida]
Live flower

Orris root was once a common medicinal in Western medicine, but has fallen out of use. It is still used in perfume compositions, but it's only culinary use is as a flavoring for gin. The roots are harvested and dried, then aged for about 5 years to develop flavor and aroma. The photo is of German Iris, a hybrid, developed in Europe, which comes in a number of colors.   Photo by Bernard Haynold distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Tigridia   -   [Tiger Flowers, Shell Flowers; Tigridia pavonia]
Live flower

These plants, native to the region from Mexico to Chile, are grown today for their large and unusual flowers, but the Aztecs of Mexico also ate the roots. Sorry, I don't yet have a recipe (the Spanish burned all that stuff).   Photo by Noah Elhardt distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic.

Bloublommetjie-uintjie   -   [ Moraea Fugaz]
Live flower

This plant is native to South Africa, and was a favored food among the early Dutch settlers. The bulbs (corms) were peeled and sliced, then gently fried in butter. They have a flavor between sweet chestnuts and potatoes.   Photo by Andrew Massyn distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

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