Monday, February 3, 2014

Edible Duds - Mexican Tree Dahlia

Some plants are edible, perennial and beautiful and I get very excited about their prospects but then they turn out to be duds in some way. Mexican Tree Dahlia is one of these plants. As an ornamental it remains one of my favourites. I love the bamboo-like canes emerging in spring, pushing skywards all summer until sprays of pink star flowers float in the air on grey autumn days. But as for edible tubers, forget it!!! I dug some up, of varying sizes (mostly enormous) and tried to bake them. The resin smell was off putting and they were as hard as a rock. It would have been easier cooking a pine log. It's hard to believe that anyone who has ever promoted this species as an edible has actually tried them. I suspect that people have taken a guess that they're OK to eat because smaller dahlia tubers can be cooked up and eaten. A comment from David on my last post on this species said that he had never eaten a Dahlia tuber of any type worth eating and I think he's probably right.

Intrigued about this supposed edible quality of Tree Dahlias I did an extensive search through Google Scholar of accounts of their use as food in the species' original habitat. Finally I found a paper (sorry, don't have it handy now) which had Tree Dahlia in a table of foods eaten by the descendants of the Mayan people. However, the edible portion used was the leaves not the tubers and these were boiled then fried. So out I went into the garden to pick some Tree Dahlia leaves. These I simply boiled and ate (no frying) and they were passable at best.

So I officially recant my first post on Tree Dahlias except for one thing, they're beautiful to look at. So in short: do not bother with the tubers, if you are desperate you can cook the leaves but if you want the a plant with seasonal drama and autumn display then plant away....(final caveat: it's hard work removing them once they are established.)

I'm the tall one in the background

Hi, I'm beautiful but not worth eating

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