[kuwai (Japanese), ci gu (China), Sagittaria sagittifolia (Asian)] -
[Duck Poatao, Indian Potato, Broadleaf Arrowhead, Wapato
Sagittaria latifolia (North American)]
The Asian species of this acquatic plant is seasonably available in Asian markets in Los Angeles and elsewhere. The tubers can be eaten raw or cooked. They are bland and starchy much like potato but when cooked are somewhat crunchier than potato. The photo specimens were 2-1/4 inches diameter and weighed 3 ounces each. They do not keep well even refrigerated so should be cooked within a couple of days.
Boiled arrowhead tubers figure prominently in both Chinese and Japanese New Years celebrations. They can also be sliced and deep fried like potato chips.
The North American version is not sold commercially. It was at one time
eaten by the North American Indians but today is eaten mainly by beavers,
porcupines and muskrats.
Ginkgo - [Ginkgo biloba]
Dietary supplements made from extract of ginkgo leaves are thought to improve memory but this is controversial. The suplements are approved for treatment of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) in Germany. I took them for that purpose when I contracted that problem from a certain brand of Australian red wine, but I'm not sure if they helped or the problem went away on its own. What is known is that ginkgo improves circulation in small blood vesels, reduces clotting and contains strong antioxidants.
The seeds are used in a number of Asian dishes and highly esteemed there,
but should not be eaten by themselves in quantity over a long period of time
because they cause poisoning by MPN (4-methoxypyridoxine). In the quantities
called for by recipes and with the frequency such recipes are likely to be
used they are perfectly safe.
Jujube - [Red Date, Chinese Date,
Annab (Persia (dried)), Taejuja (Korea), Ziziphus zizyphus]
Jujube fruit trees were first domesticated in India about 11,000 years ago. Their natural range is uncertain because of long cultivation but may have extended from Syria to southern China. They belong to the Buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae), a fairly large family but one yielding very few edibles.
The fruit is initially green but turns red when fully ripe and eventually shrivels. It is very light, almost foam like, moderately sweet. and apple-like in flavor. The photo shows fresh (top), dried (left) and candied (right). Fresh are about 1.7 inches long, 1.6 inches diameter and weigh just over 1 ounce.
Fresh and candied jujubes are eaten as snacks. Dried they are a flavoring
ingredient for soups and stews. In China dried jujubes (hong zao) may
be smoked (hei zao) and will then be black instead of red. Jujubes are
also used for teas and beverages. Jujube teas are reputed to be a good
treatment for colds and sore throat.
Details and Cooking.
Kiwi Fruit - [Chinese Gooseberry,
Yangtao, Actinidia deliciosa (standard Kiwi), Actinidia arguta
(Hardy Kiwi, Baby Kiwi), Actinidia chinensis (Golden Kiwi)]
Native to northern China, this berry was taken to California in 1904 and New Zealand in 1906. Originally known as the Chinese Goosberry. The name "Kiwi" was selected as a marketing name when New Zealand growers started promoting the product ("Chinese" was considered not good during the Cold War). Italy is now the leading producer with New Zealand second and the two account for 75% of world production. A. deliciosa is now very common in the U.S. and the tiny A. arguta is gaining a market here as growers crank up production (yupies will pay more for "baby" anything). The yellow fleshed A. chinensis is still very seldom seen here.
Kiwi has soft green flesh with a taste that has been described as a mix
of strawberry, banana, and pineapple. The seeds are edible and always eaten
but fussy people peel the fuzzy skin. I don't bother - and get the advantage
of the skin's high antioxidant content as a bonus.
This small plant is the only commonly eaten species in the entire Valerian family (Red Valerian is edible, but not considered worth the bother). This slow growing herb is gathered wild and planted in gardens in cooler areas of the temperate region. In warmer areas it bolts too quickly. Because it is usually quite small with closely spaced leaves it is often used as a garnish in fancy restaurants.
Where easily avaialable it is a common salad green.
The flavor is unique and slightly nutty (emphasis on
"slightly"). The common name "Corn Salad" comes from it being a common weed
in wheat fields (called "corn" in England). The photo specimens, about
2-3/4 inches across, were obtained from a specialty grower in a Los Angeles
[Shishnu (Nepal); Urtica dioica subsp. gracilis (American) |
Urtica dioica subsp. dioica (European) of family
Urticaceae of order Rosales]
The Stinging Nettle is the only culinary member of the entire
Urticaceae family. While this highly nutritous plant was important to
the Native population of North America, it has fallen out of use here
except as an ingredient in some herbal teas and hair treatment formulas.
It is still eaten frequently in Ireland, and also in parts of Northern and
Eastern Europe, as well in Nepal and the neighboring Kumaon division of
India. It also has medicinal uses, particularly in treatment of arthritis.
Details and Cooking.
Pineapple [Ananas comosus]
The Pineapple is the only bromeliad familiar as food in North America. There are several patented varieties sold in the U.S. and plenty of lawsuits as to who owns what. Taken throughout the tropics by the Spanish and Portuguese, the largest production is now in China and Southeast Asia, though Hawaii and Costa Rica produce most sold fresh in the USA.
South American pineapples are green when ripe but some of the patented
varieties, particularly from Hawaii, are green and gold when ripe. Appearance
and smell are the indicators of ripeness, not thumping or pulling leaves,
and they do not ripen more once picked. Pineapples sold here in Southern
about 4 to 5 pounds. The photo specimen, a 4-1/2 pound fruit, yielded about
2-1/2 pounds (56%) when trimmed and cored. Chopped it's about 7-1/2 ounces
Poppy [Papaveraceae family]
In Western cooking, black poppyseeds are presumed. In Indian cooking where they are used both for flavoring and as a thickener the white variety is presumed. Opium is harvested from the same seed pods but by time the seeds are mature there is negligeable opium in the pods - however, avoid poppy seed bagels before a drug test - you can be found positive.
Pictured is P. Eschscholzia californica, the California poppy
which is supposed to have a mild opiate effect when the dried sap is smoked
but is not supposed to be adictive. I haven't tried it so I can't confirm or
deny. Seeds of the California Poppy have been used in cooking but the yield
per pod is realtively small.