Friday, April 30, 2021

Riding the Crow

Riding the Crow/Night 
Painting by David Nicholls 4/21. 60cm x 50cm.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Cardiocrinum giganteum bulb, vegetable or edible starch source?

The book 'Food Plants of China' by Shiu-ying Hu reports that peasants extract edible starch from the bulbs of Cardiocrinum giganteum (var yunnanense).

By contrast 'Mansfeld's Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops' states the starchy bulbs are actually used as vegetables.

I decided to eat some bulbs to see for myself, is it a convenient vegetable or purely a starch source?  

As I suspected the outer layers (scales) of the large bulb I tried were very starchy but too fibrous to eat directly as vegetables, so would only be suitable for starch extraction (I only tried a large fully developed bulb, it is possible the smaller young bulbs are free of fibers). The inner core however, when peeled, is free of fibers and has a pleasant texture, like more widely eaten Lilium bulbs, so is, in my opinion, suitable for use as a vegetable. It is however slightly bitter and you do not get a huge amount to eat compared to the very large space this plant takes up. It looks like it would be considerably more productive as a starch source than as a vegetable, the numerous fibrous outer scales for starch, the comparatively small core as a vegetable. 

The fact that it takes around seven years to reach maturity (then dies sending out offshoots) may also indicate it is not a particularly productive crop, especially if you don't have much space. 

Despite possible drawbacks this plant may still be one of the better understory crops around since it is reportedly tolerant of deep shade and dry soil (Ref: The Genus Cardiocrinum. Philip Bolt I'm trying it out under native and exotic trees at present.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Unopened flower buds of Epiphyllum species as food.

 I wanted to grow various Hylocereus for their valued edible unopened flowers (1) which are similar to Okra (2) but they are difficult to grow here in temperate Wellington, New Zealand. I managed to get one to survive the winter but it has not grown much at all. So I decided to try the related and similar Epiphyllum flower as a substitute since it grows easily outdoors here. The Cactus Cook Book (3) recommends Epiphyllum flower petals candied, although this is the only reference I could find to Epiphyllum flowers in general being edible aside from the well known use of opened Epiphyllum oxypetalum flowers in soups in Asia (4). 

So far I've tried unopened flower buds, including flower stems, of Epiphyllum cooperi and Epiphyllum ackermannii (possibly actually Disocactus x hybridus which is often incorrectly called ackermannii in trade (5)). Both are bland in flavor, reasonably thick, firm, chewy and, like Hylocereus flowers (5), mucilagenous when eaten raw. Cooked (as is recommended for Hylocereus) they are a bit tastier, like mild brussels sprouts, they become more mucilagenous the longer they are cooked, like Okra to which Hylocereus flowers are often likened. I haven't tried Hylocereus flowers so I don't know how similar they are but I find Epiphyllum a good addition to my edible garden because of their novel texture, ease of cultivation and epiphytic habit, occupying a niche that might not be otherwise used for food production. 

It looks like it may be best to stick to sampling Epiphyllum species only for food and not so called "Epiphyllum hybrids" which are not necessarily bred exclusively from Epiphyllum species despite the misleading name (7) (that would be any plant called "Epiphyllum" followed by a pretty name like "Starlight" or "Golden Beauty" rather than a species name). "Epiphyllum hybrids" may include Selenicereus parentage (7), the flowers of Selenicereus grandiflorus are unusual among cacti for being medicinal and toxic in excess (8). I don't know if it has been used in "Epiphyllum hybrids" but probably best to avoid them unless parentage is well established, they were bred for looking at not eating. 

It is however likely the reference to Epiphyllum flowers in general as edible in the Cactus Cook Book (2) is meant to include "Epiphyllum Hybrids" as it also recommends "any" cactus flower, they may be perfectly safe, I can find no record of any kind of Epiphyllum being toxic. 

If you're worried about unknown toxicity stick to Epiphyllum oxypetalum flowers as they have had widespread long-term use as food. 

1) Edible Medicinal and Non-medicinal Plants. Vol 7, Flowers, Page 45. T.K Lim.  2014.


3) The Cactus Cook Book. Page 94. J L Tate. 1991.

3) Food Plants of China. Page 567. S Hu. 2005.




8) Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses. D Bown. 1995.


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Anti-stress may be anti-hierarchy

 "We now see that the process of rank allocation" (among primates) "especially dominance contests, encourage the upward movement of those group members most most able to withstand stress and best equipped to impose stress on others, while those with the most difficulty handling stress, or the least interested in stressing others, move downward. Thus there is a natural sorting that places individuals who are comfortable with stress near the top of the hierarchy and those who are "nervous" at the bottom".

-Allan Mazur. Biosociology of Dominance and Deference. Pg 87. 2005.

It is interesting that the Semai people of rainforest Malaysia have long viewed causing stress as a form of unacceptable violence. The violent effects of stress have much more recently been confirmed by modern science (Robert Dentan. Overwhelming Terror. Love, fear, peace and violence among Semai of Malaysia. Pg 138. 2008). 

It may be this "taboo" on causing stress partly explains the relative equality found in Semai society, hierarchy may be prevented from developing in the process of avoiding stress (Robert Dentan & David Nicholls. Stress, equality and peacability among east Semai. A preliminary account. Paper presented at Annual meeting of America Anthropological Association, Montreal, Nov 2011). Although multiple factors are probably involved, perhaps most notably they appear to "delegate" hierarchical roles such as "law and order" and "boss" to the supernatural (as reported in similar "egalitarian" societies by Kirk Endicott in Peaceful Foragers: The Significance of the Batek and Moriori for the question of Innate Human Violence. War, Peace and Human Nature. Ed D Fry. 2013.)

So if a group is trying to encourage equality, treating stress as acceptable or desirable will probably be counterproductive. If a group is seeking to establish hierarchy (to maximize efficiency in a division of labor for instance) restrictions or "taboos" on stress are likely to interfere. Presumably the middle path between these extremes would have the widest appeal. 

This could also have implications for health policy in modern states, it is conceivable hierarchy could inadvertently be restricted or prohibited in efforts to eliminate fatalities from stress.   


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Fruit Fly (Drosophila melanogaster) as Microlivestock

The Vinegar Fly or "Fruit Fly" (Drosophila melanogaster), that is a common "pest" in New Zealand kitchens (1) is farmed for food in Mexico (2). It is a potential edible microlivestock for those interested in food self-sufficiency outside Mexico. Insects in general are reportedly rich in fats, protein and carbohydrates (3). Before you say "yuk" take note it is eaten in Mexico, you could be accused of cultural insensitivity or worse if you say that.  

As an experiment I captured about a teaspoon full of these insects in my kitchen by leaving out a jar with some vinegar at the bottom for about a week (they were breeding in my worm farm which has since been moved outside). The insects are attracted to the vinegar and drown in it. I then separated the dead Vinegar Flies from the vinegar with a sieve and discarded the vinegar. I was concerned the vinegar still on the bugs could have "gone bad" over that week and might cause me to vomit, so I boiled the bugs for ten minutes in a soup to kill any germs. I was not sick after eating it. I could not taste or notice the bugs as I drank the soup, aside from being able to see them.

Despite being very small the Vinegar Fly may be one of the best edible microlivestocks anyone with only a small space such as a kitchen can farm, which admittedly isn't saying much, options this small seem to be quite limited. In most situations they would be more for providing essential nutrients than any kind of bulk to full you up. I have found no record of them spreading disease like houseflies and they are actually considered useful in spreading yeasts for making wine and cider (4). 

Scientists are experienced in deliberately raising Vinegar Fly for research purposes and information on how to do this is available online. It may even be possible to combine with recycling by deliberately raising the bugs in a worm farm, which also provides edible Tiger Worms (which I have also tried, they are not bad fried or roasted, after proper preparation (my blog post (5)). 

So next time someone says you've got a Fruit Fly infestation you can say "actually I'm a farmer".


1 Bob Brockie   2016.

2. Jun Mitsuhashi. Edible Insects of the World. 2017.

3. John Wiseman. SAS Survival Guide. 1999.

4. Andre Crowe. Which New Zealand Insect?  2002.

5. David Nicholls. Cooking Tiger Worms so not tough and rubbery. 2015.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Young Inflorescence of Cabbage Tree edible (?)

 The peeled young inflorescence (flowering shoot) stem of Cordyline australis (white bit pictured above) is very good to eat in my experience, though I have not eaten a great number. It is similar to Water Chestnut in texture, somewhat nutty in taste. It is one of the more substantial and pleasing edible offerings of the New Zealand flora, for me a welcome break from the endless supply of introduced wild greens in NZ. 

This use is not listed anywhere in the literature of edible New Zealand native plants as far as I know. Perhaps this is because it is often out of reach, tending to be very high up on trees difficult or impossible to climb. Crowe (1) lists pretty much every other conceivable part of this plant as edible and no part of it has ever been listed as remotely toxic (2), so I feel very confident eating it.

 I got the idea of eating it from the fact that the young inflorescences of related and similar Yuccas, from the Americas, are edible (3).

If the inflorescence does prove to be completely safe and palatable to eat this would make Cabbage Tree a much more realistic and reliable edible resource as the inflorescence is produced yearly and removing it does not really damage the plant (the inflorescence will die in a few months anyway). Other edible parts of this plant represent extremely low productivity in my opinion and harvesting them may seriously damage or kill the tree. Still, accessing the inflorescence is a major problem, I wonder if the inflorescence is still produced if the plant is kept pruned to a practical height, otherwise reaching and grabbing equipment would usually be needed. 

Disclaimer: Although I am very confident no part of Cabbage Tree is toxic based on 35 years of eating, sampling and reading about wild food (& I'm still here), some caution is advised, unknown toxicity may be possible with any new food.  

1. Crowe, Andrew. A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand. 1997.

2. (e.g., not in) Connor H.E. The Poisonous Plants in New Zealand. 1992.

3. Couplan, Francois. The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of America. Nature's Green Feast. 1998.


Some other New Zealand native plants I sometimes eat that are not listed as edible in any book or anywhere else (caution advised):

Pyrrosia eleagnifolia. An epiphytic fern which is often abundant in improbable niches in older urban environments. The Fronds or "leaves" are eatable raw but very nice and crispy if fried very briefly, good as a snack. I feel fairly confident eating this as it has been claimed (the shoots of) all native ferns can be eaten (How to Survive in the Bush, on the Coast, in the Mountains of New Zealand. Fight Lieutenant B Hildreth. 1962). But more and more ferns are being found to be carcinogenic, the carcinogenicity of Pyrrosia eleagnifolia is not known. I only eat it occasionally and boil it for 20 minutes beforehand as this is done with potentially carcinogenic but popular Bracken fronds in Russia, apparently reducing or eliminating the danger. This plant does not seem to grow very quickly so harvesting it a lot is probably questionable.  

Hebe salicifolia and similar species. The soft young leaf buds have been consumed for medicinal purposes in fairly large quantities at a time (Maori Healing and Herbal. M Riley 2010). I find them tasty with a pleasing texture boiled.

Myrsine australis. The fruit is tiny but produced in bunches so a number can be collected with one gesture. The only interesting thing about them is the seeds have a pleasant crunch which could add interest to a dish. Some other Myrsine fruit are eaten overseas (Tanaka's Cyclopedia of Edible Plants of the World. 1976). 

Collospermum hastatum. The berries are known to be edible. I've also eaten the base of the young flower stem which is good, presumably much like the "bland and tender" base of the flower stem of the similar Astelia solandri eaten by Crowe (1, cited above.)

Arthropodium cirratum. The base of the flower stem is reasonably thick, palatable & seems harmless to me. The tender white leaf base also seems to be fine to eat though productivity is rather low as the plant grows fairly slowly. I also occasionally nibble the bland tasting flowers and young flower buds.  The rhizomes have been thought to have been eaten by early Maori, partly because the plant was found around settlements (Crowe (quoting Colenso). Ref 1 above). I've found the rhizomes too tough to eat so far, perhaps they need to be very young. Could it be it was above ground parts that were taken advantage of instead?

Tecomanthe speciosa. I have eaten the vaguely substantial & satisfying (solid) growing tip of this vine about 30 times, spaced over long periods, with no noticeable damage. It tastes much like the bitter edible leaves of  Plantago major, complex in flavor, strangely, not bad. But the bitterness may indicate toxicity. Apparently goats ate/destroyed all but one of this species on its native island, found on a cliff this single plant is apparently the source of all plants found in cultivation. Goats eating a lot of something probably indicates it is not highly toxic but they sometimes safely consume mildly toxic species by eating a little at a time mixing it with more palatable species. They occasionally poison themselves.

Disclaimer: Although I have eaten all of the plants listed above in modest amounts with no noticeable ill effects, unknown toxicity is a possibility with any new food. Caution is advised. 

Also worth mentioning:

Potamogeton pectinatus (syn Stuckenia pectinata). Native to New Zealand but also native to many other places. I can't find any references to this aquatic plant being eaten in NZ but the whole plant is eaten overseas. (Edible Roots and Underground Stems of Ethnic India. SK Sood, V Prakash. 2007. The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America. F Couplan. 1998. Tanaka's Cyclopedia of Edible Plants of the World. 1976). 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Some images from book "Fight for Harmony" by David Nicholls

'Fight for Harmony' is a 70 page book in which a "heroine" fights to transform evil into good. The book is intended to offer a fantasy alternative to the traditional action hero who tends to shoot and kill evil. 

The "heroine" represents human culture, "evil" consists of base instincts. In the end, after a prolonged struggle to "heal" and "mature" evil, both good and evil make sacrifices and unite to form a harmonious whole. The freedom and unity a community can then enjoy is represented by numerous individual "parts" rearranging to form a series of contrasting eco-communities.