Family Proteaceae, a Southern Hemisphere family, is best known for large, dense, showy flower heads found in upscale flower arrangements, and for shrubs with bright red, white or yellow "bottle brush" flowers. They are also important nectar producers in Australia and New Zealand (where the most spectacular versions grow) and South America. A couple Genera produce edible nuts of commercial importance.
Family Nelumbonaceae, a Northern Hemisphere family, contains only the Genus Nelumbo, with only two species, yet it is of great culinary interest - the Lotus family.
Family Platanaceae, if you separate it out from
Proteaceae, contains Northern Hemisphere trees called Sycamores in
North America and Plane Trees everywhere else. They have no culinary
Gevuina avellana -
[Chilean hazel, Avellano Chileno (Spanish), Gevuina avellana]
Native to Chili and Argentina this evergreen tree bears bright red berries
that turn black when ripe. The seeds are eaten raw or toasted and yield a
cooking oil high in monounsaturated oils (similar to olive oil) with a high
concentration of antioxidants, vitamin E and Omega 7. It is also much used
by the pharmaceutical industry in sunscreens and cosmetics. While it grows
well in California and the Pacific Northwest, commercial production comes
mainly from South America, but New Zealand is now ramping up to become a
Photo by Franz Xaver distributed under
GNU Free Documentation License..
Macadamia - [Macadamia Nut, Poppel Nut, Bauple Nut, Bopple Nut, Bush Nut, Maroochi nut, Kindal kindal (indigenous), Queensland Nut, Macadamia tetraphylla, Macadamia integrifolia]
This tree is native to Australia but best known to Americans from Hawaii where large commercial crops were first grown. These nuts are now also grown commercially in California, Africa, South America, Israel, Costa Rica and New Zealand.
Macadamias remain a high priced nut because they are very difficult to
shell on a production scale. I shell them by dropping a nut into my big
Thai granite mortar and hitting it with the heavy pestle. This way the
shells don't fly everywhere. The oil is prized by the pharmaceutical
industry due to it's 22% content of Omega-7 palmitoleic acid which makes
it particularly good for skin care products.
Photo © i0128
Native to a vast area stretching from Afghanistan to Vietnam, the Asian Lotus has been an important source of food throughout it's entire range since prehistoric times. It has since been carried to all tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Flowers, seeds, leaves and rhizomes (roots) are all edible and popular throughout India, East Asia and Southeast Asia. Photo © i0138 .
The American lotus (Nelumbo lutea) is similarly edible to the Asian species and was a significant native food resource into Colonial times. It is indigenous to the southeastern U.S., Mexico, Honduras and the West Indies but has been dispersed farther by humans.
The Lotus was unknown in Egypt until the Persian invasion. The
"sacred lotus" of ancient Egypt was instead the blue water lily
Nymphaea caerulea. Lotus and
Water Lily are frequently confused but the plants are actually
pretty easy to tell apart. Water lily leaves have a deep notch from the
edge all the way in to the stem and they always float on the water
surface. Lotus leaves are fully circular with stems in the center, no
notch, and generally stand proud of the water surface (see photo to
left). Flowers of both are similar and both are noted for mild
psychoactive and anesthetic properties. Water lily plants are not so
edible and may be toxic.
Wild Almond - [Bitter almond; Ghoeboontjie; Ghoekoffie, Bitteramandel (Afrikaans); Brabejum stellatifolium]
Not a real Almond, this low spreading tree is native to the west coast of South Africa. The fruits look much like almonds, but are laced with lethal amounts of bitter prussic acid. While sometimes called "bitter almond", it is not to be confused with the bitter almond of commerce, which is just a high cyanide variety of the regular almond.
Toxicity did not keep these seeds from being eaten. The Hottentots
soaked and roasted the seed kernels to drive off the toxins, and did the
same with roots, which are very high in cyanide. The early Dutch
settlers similarly soaked the seed kernels and roasted them to make a
coffee substitute. Porcupines, an important food animal in South Africa,
feast on these seeds.
Photo by Andrew Massyn contributed to the Public Domain