Category Archives: Edimentals

Chiugok, Small Bird’s Garlic, a hardy Himalayan edimental

Like Sherpa onion or Nepalese onion Allium wallichii, which features in my book Around the World in 80 plants, chiugok (small bird’s garlic) as Allium macrantum is known in Lithang, Tibet is the latest emerging Alliums in my garden. I often wonder if they are still alive when, in a cold spring they haven’t emerged by the end of May, but both species have overwintered now for almost 20 years.

A nice large group of Allium macranthum in the Gothenburg Botanical Gardens in Sweden on 26th May 2008
Spring shoots in the Tromsø Botanical Gardens on 4th June 2009

I’m not sure where my oldest plants came from but my second accession came from Vojtec Holubec’s seedlist, collected in Szechuan in China.  It’s native to Bhutan, Sikkim, Gansu, Shaanxi, as well as Szechuan and Tibet and grows in wet places at elevations of 2700–4200 metres (Flora of China).

The roots are fleshy and could no doubt be eaten like the fleshy roots / rhizomes of Allium wallichii and Allium hookeri are.
The roots of Allium macranthum (on the left) are similar looking to larger Allium wallichii (right)

By early July the old roots are withering away and new roots are growing as the flower scape appears:


The flowers are gorgeous hanging on long pedicels. Note that the flower colour varies and the Szechuan accession is pink with green pedicels and has relatively many flowers.

One of my multi-species salads with Allium macranthum flowers in the centre:

Seed heads on 6th September:

Seeds ready to share or trade:

Ethnobotanical records
I searched Google Scholar for evidence of Allium macrantum being used traditionally for food and there were indeed a few ethnobotanical studies recording its use as a food plant. Although not the most popular food Allium in the Himalayas, it is reported to have been one of several species eaten both in Arunachal Pradesh in North East India, the Eastern Hills of India (along with more commonly used Allium wallichii, Allium hookeri and Allium fasciculatum) and used as a spice with meat in South Central Tibet. In Lithang, chiugok “is cleaned and cut into small pieces. It is mixed with butter, tea, roasted barley flour (tsampa), salt, and chilly. Tsampa may not be added. The sauce so obtained is eaten with Tibetan dumplings (mokmok) and fried meat-filled pancakes (shapakle)” (in Traditional knowledge of wild food plants in a few Tibetan communities). 
The taste is in my experience relatively strong and therefore best in mixed salads and cooked dishes.
Allium macranthum has also been moved into gardens as an ornamental and has also been used medicinally, including,  along with other Allium species, as a cure for altitude sickness! 

Allium ulleungense: a new vigorous edimental

In 2019, a very interesting paper was published giving a very good case for splitting the geographically widespread Allium victorialis species complex, at the same time describing a new endemic species to the island Ulleung between Korea and Japan. The paper also mentions that the species is “Rare in natural habitats, but widely cultivated in Korea as an edible plant named ‘Myeong-i-na-mul’ or ‘Sanmaneul.’”
Reference: Allium ulleungense (Amaryllidaceae), a new species endemic to Ulleungdo Island, Korea” by Hyeok-Jae Choi, Sungyu Yang, Jong-Cheol Yang and Nikolai Friesen in the Korean Journal of Plant Taxonomy
Those who follow my blog and FB posts will maybe remember my article on the Giant Ulleung Celery, Dystaenia takesimana, another edible endemic to this island which I’m growing in my garden from two sources, one of which is the Gothenburg Botanical Gardens in Sweden (see http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=24998)
Figure 4 in the paper shows a map of Allium subg. Anguinum showing the disjunct distribution of what was earlier classified as Allium victorialis, now split into Allium victorialis, microdictyon, ochotense and the new species Allium ulleungense together with other species in the section like Allium ovalifolium.
The article has a useful table and pictures showing the differences between microdictyon, ochotense and ulleungense.
I have about 10 different “Allium victorialis” accessions in my garden both from Norway, Kola (Russia), the Alps and the Far East. Having read the paper which documents that the Ulleung victory onion has both broader and longer leaves I noticed that one of my plants had very different and broader leaves than my other ones and was particularly vigorous. I had lost the label of this plant. Johan Nilson of the Gothenburg Botanical Garden wrote on the Alliorum forum thread about this species: “I believe we might grow this” (they had had an expedition to the island some years ago and this onion and Dystaenia had been collected). Johan had given me various edibles on a visit to Gothenburg a few years ago and I wonder if he might have given me this plant?
Anyway, the morphology of this plant fits well to the newly described species with several leaves 12 cm wide (ochotense reaches 10 cm and microdictyon 6 cm); leaves up to 26-27 cm long (the other two species reach 25 and 21.5cm) and yesterday I measured the white tepals which are slightly longer in the new species and this also matched with 7mm length (the others reaching 6.5). The rounded leaf apex of my plant also matches ulleungdense, acute in the other two species (and other Japanese accessions I have in my garden). I now need to propagate it and plant it in the Allium garden Chicago at the Ringve Botanical Garden. 

Keeled garlic, a useful winter Allium and edimental in summer

There are Allium species that can be harvested year round in the garden, notably nodding onion / Norw:prærieløk (Allium cernuum) which I’ve blogged about before. In autumn, new shoots of Allium carinatum subsp. pulchellum (keeled garlic / Norw: rosenløk) appear and with the mild weather we’ve been experiencing they’ve already reached about 20 cm high. They are hardy and can survive to at least -20C. It’s now in the autumn that this edimental Allium is most useful. I use the shoots in a similar way to chives (Allium schoenoprasum), which died back some time ago and won’t reappear until spring (unless I force them indoors), in salads, cut and sprinkled on sandwiches, in scrambled egg, quiches etc. I use them from October to April.

8. mars: Pizza greens, all harvested outside after most of the snow disappeared during the day. From the top and clockwise; Ficaria verna (lesser celandine / vårkål), Allium cernuum (nodding onion / prærieløk), Hablitzia tamnoides (Caucasian spinach / stjernemelde), Allium carinatum, Allium senescens (or hybrid), Primula veris (cowslip / marianøkleblom), Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard / løkurt) and Taraxacum spp. (dandelion / løvetann)

There are two colour forms, pink and white which are particularly valuable as they last such a long time and are popular with pollinators:

There are also forms with bulbils which can be a bit invasive:

You’ll see the flowers used as a tasty decoration in my multi-species salads (bottom right in the picture):

Allium carinatum is also popular with pollinators:



Broad Bean Diversity contributes to Resilience

Broad beans (favas / bondebønner) will easily cross with other varieties that are growing nearby.  In order to keep a variety pure, you need to isolate them physically. I’ve chosen a different strategy and manage to maintain a mix of different bean colour and size forms by selecting for these characteristics every autumn. This automatically gives different flower colours too (broad beans are beautiful enough to be included in the edimental category and are also edi-ento-mentals as they are also extremely popular with bumblebees). Here are my selections which I made yesterday after drying the beans for storage.

Each form will be stored separately and each variety will be planted close to each other in a large block of beans containing many different forms! I think that diversity within a species also contributes to a good harvest with better bean set. I have never had a crop failure using my own home saved mix of beans. I don’t offer the different forms as named varieties, but as a mix or composite “Væres Venner* Mix” through the KVANN / Norwegian Seed Savers yearbook (kvann.no) in February so that others can also select for separate forms!
*Væres Venner is the community garden where most are grown.
See also this post showing the diversity of flowers that produced these beans: https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=26183

Scorzonera harvest

This is the harvest of 6 varieties of Scorzonera at our community garden (Væres Venner) last week two years after I sowed seed (I was surprised by an early hard frost and didn’t get round to harvesting it). The following accessions 
Libochovicky (Czechoslovakia) (IPK Gatersleben SCOR5)
‘Peter Schwarzer’ (IPK Gatersleben SCOR3 and SCOR 6)
‘Schwarzwurzel’ (IPK Gatersleben SCOR 7)
‘Einjaehrige ‘ (IPK Gatersleben SCOR 8)
Wild accession 1653 from Bundesgarten Wien
(I had hoped to include other varieties from the Nordic gene bank in this trial but those were sadly not available)
Einjaehrige gave as expected the biggest yield (this is a variety selected to be grown in one year…traditionally it would take two years for roots to be big enough. I will grow this one on as a perennial for seed to supply seed as a root variety. The biggest roots of the other accessions apart from the wild accesion which gave as expected the smallest roots (planted now in the World Garden) will be grown on to investigate differences in production of Scorzonera lettuce (spring shoots) and Scorzonera scapes (the sweet flower stems).
Scorzonera is not only one of my favourite must have perennial vegetables but also a popular plant for pollinators flowering right up to the first frosts.


Queen Anne’s Thistle: a multi-purpose ediavientomental*

Two years ago I accidentally dug up one of my Queen Anne’s Thistles (Cirsium canum) and I discovered the tubers were quite like the tuberous thistle (Cirsium tuberosum). I’ve now dug them all up, harvested the largest roots and replanted. This really is a great plant: a thornless thistle which yields good size tubers that is also attractive to look at, is popular with pollinators and provides winter food for some bird species (oil rich seeds).
* Edi-avi-ento-mental (edible, ornamental and useful for both avian (birds) and insect pollinators)…the most useful category of plant in my book!

Indian summer flowers

There were unusually many plants still flowering in the garden in October this year as we experienced a bit of an Indian summer. We’ve now had our first frost, so time to publish this album of 116 pictures of over 100 species. Most but not all are edible / edimentals and, yes, I should have made a salad.




Edimentals and other useful plants in the Atlanta Botanical Garden

A year ago I was scheduled to give the Alston lecture at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Before the lecture, my host Cornelia Cho showed me round the botanical gardens. I’ve collected a series of pictures of the useful plants we saw (with captions). There’s a large Japanese garden which had many familiar Japanese edimentals and perennial vegetables and the main theme of teh glasshouses was ethnobotany! More can be read about the lecture here:
https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=23467

Nettle-leaved bellflower

Nettle-leaved bellflower (Campanula trachelium) has a more southwesterly distribution in Europe than my favourite giant bellflower C. latifolia and replaces the latter species in the south of England, France, Italy, Spain and North Africa and eastwards into West Asia. It has also widely naturalised in northeast North America. Like C. latifolia, it has edible sweetish tasting roots that contain the carbohydrate inulin like Jerusalem artichoke, good for diabetics, but can give flatulence. I suspect, however, that it takes several years to get to a usable size. I’ve been digging over an area of the garden into which Polygonum alpinum (Alpine knotweed) had invaded this week and there were also many self-seeded bellflowers with good sized roots, so I put them to one side to use in a delicious zucchini-bellflower curry which we ate last night!

Nettle-leaved bellflower has similar habitat requirements to the giant bellflower, inhabiting open woodlands and hedgerows and grows well in complete shade on the north side of my house amongst the Hostas. It has a preference for alkaline soils and grows well on clay. It is therefore an excellent plant for the forest garden, although given the choice I would prefer the giant bellflower as the spring leaves of trachelium are coarser and hairier and therefore less good in salads, but nevertheless fine finely chopped in mixed salads.  It has been used traditionally in Italy in mixed species spring soups such as minestrella (see page 59) and is one of the ingredients in pistic (boiled and fried, see page 59 of my book Around the World in 80 plants).

Campanula trachelium in the Jardin de Botanique, Paris at the best stage for harvesting tops and leaves
White flowered Campanula trachelium “Alba” has yellower spring leaves.
Campanula trachelium subsp aloha (in Kew Gardens)
Nettle-leaved bellflower thrives in shade together with Hostas

There are a number of ornamental forms available in the trade which you might like to try, including a single-flowered white form (var. alba), which has naturalized in my garden. The double white (‘Alba Flore Pleno’) form and “Snowball” (https://dorsetperennials.co.uk/product/campanula-trachelium-snowball) haven’t come true from seed for me. ‘Bernice’  is another deep purple-blue flowered cultivar.

Campanula trachelium in the background of emerging Allium wallichii flowers
Campanula trachelium flowers are edible and can be used to decorate salads
Naturalised blue and white forms in my garden
Nettle-leaved bellflower produces masses of seed