White Flower Liliales - Order

Formerly, Lilies were practically synonymous with Monocots, and included Asparagales (Asparagus), Dioscoreales (Yams) and other families. In 1998 the APG reordered Monocots in a big way. Asparagales and Dioscoreales are now orders on the same level as Liliales, and there isn't a lot edible left in Liliales.   Photo of Sego Lily distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

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Liliaceae Family

These are the lilies proper. While many grown very widely as decorative flowering plants, a few are used for food.

Lanzhou Lily   -   [Lilium davidii var unicolor]
Lanzhou Lily Flower

This lily is native to mountainous regions from northwestern China south as far as Yunan. They are also found in the far northeastern tribal regions of India as well as Bhutan and Tibet. This lily, growing to about 5 feet tall, produces crisp sweet edible bulbs up to 1-3/4 inches diameter. These are used in stir fries and in various other ways. The flowers are not aromatic, so are not used for food. The center for cultivation of this lily is around the city of Lanzhou in the Gansu province of northwest China. This is not the lily used to make dried lily buds called "Golden Needles". That one is actually in the Asparagus order.   Photo by Darm Crook Contributed to the Public Domain .   Details and Cooking.

Calochortus (Genus)   -   [Mariposa lilies, Globe lilies, Fairy lanterns, Cat's ears, Star tulips; Calochortus]

This genus of more than 70 species is native to North America, mostly in the U.S. Western States. The bulbs of may species were important to the American Indians, eaten both raw and cooked, and young flower buds were also eaten. The bulbs were also eaten by early Mormon settlers in Utah during times of crop failure. They aren't much eaten now, so I have no information on how they taste.   Photo by Noah Elhardt distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Katakuri   -   [Erythronium japonicum]
Flowering Plant

This Trout Lily is native to Japan, Korea, the Russian Far East and northeastern China, but is best known in Japan. It produces a small root tuber about 3/8 inches in diameter and 2-3/8 inches long, from which was made a starch powder called katakuriko. The starch used today as "katakuriko" is usually potato starch, because the real thing would be prohibitively expensive. The Katakuri lily is getting very scarce. It propagates very slowly, taking 7 to 8 years before it flowers. It is not farmed, but is subject to poaching, not for starch these days, but for sale to wild flower enthusiasts.   Photo by Kropsoq distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Twisted Stalk   -   [clasping twistedstalk, Watermelon berry. Scoot berries; Streptopus amplexifolius]
Plant with Berry

This herbaceous plant grows to 39 inches high. It is identifiable by its stems being kinked at each leaf, and a kink in the flower stem which remains with the fruit (see photo). It is native to the northern United States, including Alaska, western Canada, Greenland, Europe from Spain to Ukraine and as far north as Poland. It is also found in East Asia and Eastern Russia.

Tender young shoots taste similar to cucumber and were eaten as raw greens by American Indians in eastern North America. The juicy berries, tasting much like watermelon, are also eaten, but have a mildly laxative effect, thus the name "Scoot Berries". When young, this plant resembles plants of the highly toxic Veratrim genus, so should not be eaten unless identification is positive.   Photo by Walter Siegmund distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Indian Cucumber   -   [Indian Cucumber-Root; Medeola virginiana]
Growing Plant

Native to North America from Minnesota to the Atlantic including eastern Canada, and as far south as Florida, this plant grows to 30 inches high with one or two tiers of leaves. It is reported to be naturalized in Bermuda. Only two tier plants have flowers. The lower tier leaves are from 2-1/2 to 5 inches long.

The berries of this plant are not edible, but the crisp root tuber is, and smells and tastes like cucumber. This plant is now rather scarce, so eating it is to be discouraged.   Photo by Percor distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Alstroemeriaceae Family

Jaranganha   -   [Peruvian Lily; Cará-de-caboclo, Bico-de-nambú, Cará-do-mato (Spanish); Bomarea edulis]
Flowering Plant

Native from Central Mexico to Chile, and the Caribbean, Brazil and Argentina, this vining plant grows to about 10 feet long. The root tubers, more than 20 on a well developed plant, are up to 2 inches in diameter and have been used as food through its range since prehistoric times. It's wide range is probably because of its desirability as food and ease of cultivation.

The tubers are high in starch, and are generally boiled and puréed. They have a light texture and a pleasant flavor.   Photo by Alex Popovkin distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Smilacaceae Family

Smilax is a genus of more than 240 species of plants found in tropical and warm temperate climates worldwide. We have listed here the culinary species well known in the West, but there are others that have had minor food usage by native Americans.

Common Greenbrier   -   [Ekala (Georgia); Smilax rotundifolia]
Flowering Plant

This prickly vine is native to Nova Scotia and Ontario in Canada, and south to Florida and as far west as Texas. It produces small blue-black berries in September, but they are not edible. Fresh young shoots are considered excellent when cooked like asparagus. Young leaves and tendrils can be cooked like spinach or used raw in salads. The roots have a gelling agent that can be extracted and used as a thickener. This, or a very similar Smilax species, is used the same way in the Republic of Georgia   Photo by Fepup contributed to the Public Domain.

Mexican Sarsaparilla   -   [Gray Sarsaparilla, American Sarsaparilla; Nannari, Maahali, Mahani (southern India); Smilax aristolochiifolia   |   similar: Jamaican sarsaparilla, Honduran sarsaparilla; Zarzaparrilla (Spanish); Smilax ornata syn Smilax regelii]
Fruiting Plant

Native to Mexico and Central America, S. aristolochiifolia and S. ornata are the two sarsparilla plants most famous for use of their roots as medicinals and for flavorings. They were particularly used to flavor soft drinks (sarsaparilla, root beer), but also baked goods, dairy desserts and candies. The taste is sweet, but also bitter, so they have usually been combined with other flavorings to counter the bitterness.

As a beverage flavoring, in the West they have been largely replaced by artificial flavors, but are still used in southern India for a popular summer drink, Nannari. In southern India they are also pickled and use as a condiment with Curd Rice. These roots still have many significant medicinal uses.   Illustration by Franz Eugen Köhler from Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen, copyright expired.

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