Parsleys: Apiaceae (formerly Umbelliferae) is a large family (300 genera, 3000 species) important as herbs, spices, flavorings and root vegetables.
Aralias: Family Araliaceae, though so closely related to Parsleys as to cause botanical confusion, is noted mainly for medicinals and little for edibles.
Pittosporums: Family Pittosporaceae is well known
for decoratives, but there is only one significant edible.
This very important culinary family grows the world around, mainly in temperate climates but some into the subtropics.
[Horse Parsley, Black Lovage, Macedonia Parsley, Wild Celery;
Alexanders is native to the Mediterranean region and has been used as a
culinary and medicinal herb from the times of ancient Greece through the
Medieval period. It has since fallen almost entirely out of use,
displaced by celery. This plant still grows wild through much of Europe,
and as far north as the British Isles, having been carried far and wide
by the Roman Legions. Its flavor is between celery and parsley, with
leaves, stems, roots and flower buds all edible. The small black seeds
are also edible and were used as a substitute for pepper.
Photo by tato grassso distributed under license Creative
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
[Angelica archangelica (garden angelica),
Angelica sylvestris (wild angelica)]
Angelica is native to the subarctic regions of the northern
hemisphere and grows as far north as Lapland. While there are many
angelica species, only the two listed above are of culinary interest.
To have it on hand you must grow it yourself - it likes damp soil,
growing leaves the first year and going to seed the second year. It
grows wild in Scandinavia where it is quite popular and is cultivated in
one region of France, mostly for flavoring liqueurs and medicinal
properties. It is also used to flavor omelets, some fish dishes and
jams. Angelica is more gently "perfumy" than other members of the
parsley tribe. Wild angelica has been used mainly as an emergency food.
Native to the Eastern Mediterranean region, the dried fruits are an
important flavoring there. The vegetable sold as "Anise" in grocery
stores is actually Fennel. Anise is not sold as a fresh herb or
[Carom seed, Ajowan; Omam (Tamil); Ajmo (Gujarati); Owa (Marathi);
Originating in Egypt or the Middle East, the dried fruits of this plant are now used mainly in India but also in Afghanistan, Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia. It is said to reduce flatulence from beans if cooked with them. Ajwain contains thymol and raw it smells and tastes like thyme but stronger, harsher and with some bitterness. Raw ajwain can overwhelm a dish if not used with discretion. In India it is always dry roasted or fried before using, which tempers the flavor. Some sources say ajwain is lovage seed but that is incorrect.
The leaves are also edible, but this plant is not cultivated in
North America. Ajwain seeds should be stored in a tightly sealed
container away from heat and sunlight, but still should be used within
6 months or so because the flavorful oils evaporate fairly quickly.
This spice has an afinity for breads and starchy foods, including
potatoes, beans and lentils. It is also used in Takdas (Tempering),
oil fried spices used as a finishing touch in many Indian dishes,
particularly in the south. It is considered a digestive aid and to
reduce flatulance from beans.
[Apio (Puerto Rico), Apio Criollo (Venezuela), Zanahoria Blanca
(Ecuador), Virraca (Peru), Mandioquinha / Batata-baroa (Brazil),
This parsley root, native to the Andes region of South America is a major
crop in Brazil but popular all over South America and the Caribbean region.
The flesh may be white, yellow or purple. It is put to uses similar to
potatoes but has a more distinctive flavor and in some cultivars intense color.
Leaves are used as a flavoring herb and young stems are cooked as a vegetable
similarly to celery. Arracacha roots can be kept loosely wrapped in the
refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Subst: parsnips combined with some
celery should work. Arracacha is now grown in Vietnam where the starch is
used to make noodles.
Fibonacci licensed under
GNU Free Documentation License v1.2 or later.
Native to western Asia and Europe the dried fruits of this plant are
used mostly in the cuisines of Central and Northern Europe to flavor bread,
sauerkraut, cheeses, liquors, casseroles and other foods. They also have a
long history of medicinal use. The roots may be cooked as a root vegetable
but are not grown commercially for that purpose.
[Apium graveolens (common), Apium prostratum
[Gourmet's parsley, Garden Chervil, Anthriscus
cerefolium, Apium prostratum (Australian)]
This plant, native to the Caucasus, was spread through Europe during the Roman Empire and today is used there mostly in France. The leaves have a more delicate flavor than parsley and with a hint of liquorice. Today it is commonly called for in gourmet magazine recipes to help you feel inadequate because you can't get it. I imagine it can be had at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market, but nothing's going to get me to drive to Santa Monica at dawn on Saturday to do battle with desperate chefs from all those fancy West Side restaurants.
On the other hand, it can almost always be found put up in 26 oz jars of brine at markets serving an Armenian or Turkish community (see Details and Cooking).
There is another variety which, as with parsley, is grown for its roots
rather than leaves. This is commonly used in France to flavor soups and
pretty much nowhere else. Photo by Rasbak distributed under
GNU Free Documentation License.
[Sweet Cicely, Myrrhis odorata]
Native to Central Europe, leaves of this plant are used as an herb in
the cuisines of Scandinavia and Germany, and to flavor alcoholic beverages.
It has a strong scent and flavor similar to anise. Roots and seeds are
also edible and used in that region, and it has medicinal uses.
Photo of drawing by Kurt Stueber distributed under license
Coriander - Cilantro - [Chinese parsley, Mexican parsley; Dhania (India); Coriandrum sativum]
Originating in Western Asia and/or Southern Europe, coriander has been cultivated at least since the days of Tutankhamen and gathered wild from deep into prehistory. It was brought to North America by the first English and Dutch settlers. All parts of the plant are edible.
[Long coriander, Sawtooth Herb, Mexican coriander, Donnia;
Ngo gai, Mui ta, Ngo tau (Viet); Eryngium foetidum]
Native to Mexico and South America this herb is now grown worldwide and
particularly popular in Thailand and Vietnam, but is little known in
North America. Unlike Cilantro with which it is often compared, culantro
dries fairly well, retaining color and flavor. It is said to be stronger
but similar in taste to cilantro, but I do not find it very similar. It
can now be found fresh in most of the Asian markets here in Los Angeles.
[Jeera (India), Cuminum cyminum]
Probably originating in southwestern Asia, this plant has been
native to the region from the eastern Mediterranean to eastern India since
prehistoric times. This is one of the most important spices in Indian
cuisine, generally combined 1 teaspoon to 1 Tablespoon coriander seed.
Details and Cooking.
Cumin - Black
- [Kala Jeera, Shahi Jeera (India); Zireh Kuhi (Persia); Siyoh
Dona (Tajiki), Bunium persicum alt? B. bulbocastanum]
Fruits of this plant are used in the cuisines of northern India,
Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Persia - and are all but unknown outside that
region, though the plant grows wild as far as southeastern Europe. The
leaves can be used as is parsley and the roots cooked, said to taste
like sweet chestnuts, but only the fruits are available in North America.
Caution: This spice is not to be confused with
Nigella, often also called "Black Cumin". This is not an English
translation error, nigella is actually called "black cumin" in Bengal,
where many of the early Indian immigrants came from (most of Bengal is
now Bangladesh). Visually, they are easy to tell apart - nigella seeds
are tiny and not elongated.
Details and Cooking.
[Shubit (Semitic); Shepu, Sowa (Asia); Thi la (Vietnam);
Fennels - [genus Foeniculum (fennel proper) | genus Ferula (giant fennel) | Hippomarathrum (horse fennel)]
[Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum (Europe), Conium
chaerophylloides (South Africa)]
Do not eat - this is one of the most toxic plants known to man, just a few leaves are enough to kill an adult. The powerful neurotoxin can also be absorbed through the skin from handling the plant. Death is from asphyxiation when the respiratory muscles become paralyzed. I describe it here as a warning not to eat just any herb that looks like a carrot - and there are others similarly toxic
While native to Europe it has been introduced to North America and is
now widespread, particularly in the Mountain West where it is easily confused
with wild carrot and other plants valued by Native Americans for food and
medicine. It has also been introduced to Australia. This plant grows only in
places where the soil is permanently moist. Identify it by crushing leaves
which will have a rank and musty smell, not spicy. Wash your hands after
crushing to avoid absorbing the toxin.
Photo by US Department of Agriculture = public domain.
Lovage was a very important flavoring herb during the Roman Empire and is still used in parts of Southern Europe, and especially in Georgia, but has fallen out of general culinary use. The closest substitute we have is Celery Leaves, but it's far from perfect. Lovage flavor is similar to a combination of celery and parsley, and quite a bit stronger than celery leaves.
Strangely, what is sold
commercially as "lovage seed" is often actually
Ajwan, while much of what is sold as "celery seed" is actually part
or wholly lovage seed. Lovage roots are edible cooked as a vegetable.
The plant is often used as an insect repelling companion plant and is
used in herbal medicine.
Photo by Microlit distributed under
Free Art License v1.3.
[Japanese wild parsley, Cryptotaenia japonica alt.
Cryptotaenia canadensis subsp. japonica]
Native to North America and East Asia this plant is used as an herb
seasoning and sprouts are used in salads. It is described as similar to
angelica. Photo by Mbc distributed
GNU Free Documentation License v1.2.
Parsley - [Petroselinum crispum]
Possibly originating in Persia, parsley is now very commonly used in Europe, North America and Western Asia, and has almost completely displaced coriander (cilantro) as a green herb in Europe.
Wild parsnips should be avoided as their foliage contain a chemical
that sensitize the skin to sunlight, resulting in severe burns. They are
also easy to confuse with Hemlock, an extremely
[Wild Celery (not unique); Ajmod (Hindi / Urdu);
Trachyspermum roxburghianum alt Carum roxburghianum]
This plant is grown widely in South and Southeast Asia, including Indonesia.
It's highly aromatic seeds are use in curries, and in some parts of West
Bengal and Bangladesh replace mustard seed in the Bengali spice mix
Panch Phoron. It smells similar to parsley seed, but must be used with
considerable discretion as it is very strong and can overpower a dish. The
seeds are generally fried in oil until aromatic and crackling before adding
other ingredients. The herb can also be used fresh and is reported to be so
used in Thailand. Photo by Badagnani distributed under license
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
Rock Samphire -
A salt tolerant plant that grows on cliffs and rocky shorelines of
the British Isles, rock samphire has long been gathered and eaten England,
appreciated for it's spicy, aromatic flavor. Gathering it is now illegal in
England, though it can be grown from seed in gardens, if you can get seeds.
This is the samphire mentioned by Shakespeare and not to be confused
with Marsh Samphire (Salicornia europaea) - while used similarly
that one's an amaranth, not a parsley.
Photo by Jymm, contributed to the public domain.
Native to Western North America, this parsley looks like grass until
it blooms and prefers to grow in grassy meadows. The peanut size roots
were a staple for American Indians but were harvested to extinction in
some areas. They were baked or steamed and provided excellent nutrition.
The seeds were used as a flavoring similar to caraway seed. Raw, the root
acts as a mild laxative. Photo by U.S. National Parks Service =
Aralias - [Ginsing family, family Araliaceae]
- [Panax quinquefolius (American); Panax ginseng
Of the two major species of Ginseng, the American, farm grown in Wisconsin and Canada, is considered the best. Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) belongs to a different genus and has a different makeup of active ingredients. While considered inferior, it's put to much the same uses as the Panax species and is often deceptively sold as Panax. Given the reputation of American ginseng, much of the Korean variety is put up in red, white and blue packages and sold as "Wisconsin Ginseng", even by Asian markets here in the USA.
Ginseng is reputed to improve libido and sexual performance,
improve blood circulation, response to stress and recovery from
weakness. Side effects are reputed to be insomnia and change in
blood pressure (up or down). The photo specimens, from a Korean
market in Los Angeles, were 6-3/4 inches long and weighed 1-3/8
ounce (left) and 2 ounces (right).
Ivy - [English
Ivy, Common Ivy; Hedera helix]
Ivy, mostly noted for covering buildings on expensive college
campuses, is not actually edible (the seeds are toxic to people but
not to birds), nor is it of much use as a medicinal. It's included
here just to add perspective to the Aralia family.
Photo © i0076.
Pennyworts grow worldwide in wet and moist tropical and temperate areas but the varieties of most culinary interest are native to Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka and Australia. Botanists variously place them in family Apiaceae with carrots and parsley or in family Araliaceae with ginseng or in family Mackinlayaceae with a few Australian plants of little note. The largest photo specimen (H. javanica) is 3-1/2 inches across the leaf.
Non-Asian species have fully round leaves with the stem attached near the
middle of the underside. Water Pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides)
is native to North and South America and grows in water with the leaves
floating on the surface. Hydrocotyle vulgaris looks like
ranunculoides but grows out of water, is native to North Africa, Europe and
Florida, and the variety noted in English and European herbals. All common
species are edible.
Details and Cooking
Devil's Walking Stick
- [Aralia spinosa]
This aralia is native from eastern Texas to the Atlantic and from
Pennsylvania down to northern Florida. It is usually planted as a
decorative, but young leaves can be chopped fine and used as a potherb.
Older leaves are too prickly to be eaten.
Photo by Richard Chambers distributed under license Creative
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
Japanese Angelica Tree
- [Aralia elata]
This aralia is native to northeastern Asia, and is very similar to
the American Aralia spinosa and is now an invasive species in
northeastern United States. In Japan, Young shoots, called
taranomeare, are deep fried with tempura batter. In Korea,
young shoots, called dureup, are prepared for various dishes,
usually pan fried with a light coating, but can also be simply
blanched. Photo distributed under license Creative
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
- [udo (Japanese); Mountain asparagus; Aralia cordata]
This aralia is native to Japan, Korea and eastern China. In the Spring
it sends up tender young shoots, which are blanched and eaten as a
vegetable. They are often thinly sliced and added to miso soup. They
need to be blanched in boiling water a couple of times to remove a
resin coating that tastes much like pine resin. Stems do not become
woody and can be cooked like asparagus. Photo distributed
under license Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
Pittosporums are well known in Southern California as landscape shrubs and small trees, particularly Pittosporum tobira which thrives all too well.
Apple Berry -
[Hairy Apple Berry, Apple Dumpling, Billardiera scandens]
Fruits of this shrub which grows over most of Australia were enjoyed by Australian Aborigines, either ripe or roasted unripe. They are variously described as tasting like stewed apple or kiwi fruit. The fruits are a little over 1-1/8 inch long, green with a red blush, and do not ripen until they drop from the shrub.
This shrub is now grown far from it's Australian
homeland, but mainly as a decorative that can tolerate part shade from
eucalyptus. Few gardeners may even realize the fruits are edible.
Photo by Cas Liber contributed to the public domain.