How many times have we browsed through plant catalogue descriptions padded with chatty, ethnobotanic non sequiturs like such-and-such is an edible delicacy in its country of origin?
Impatient to discover whether the object of your desire is frost hardy, does such arcane information sometimes strike you as an insufferable display of useless erudition?
Eat this? Don’t you dare. My only lily this year, ‘Black Charm’ cozying up to aeoniums for support.
Take lilies, for example. Catalogues would have you believe that someone, somewhere, is growing lilies not for those soul-stirring flowers and scent but to eat the bulb.
And of course it’s all true. I was recently vividly reminded that eating some plants that we consider only as ornamentals isn’t a practice remote in time or place.
All these photos were taken last month at my favorite shopping destination when I work in Koreatown, Zion Market.
(Lily bulbs used for cooking are the “Lanzhou lily (Lilium davidii var. unicolor), which was mainly grown in the region around Lanzhou, Gansu province, Longya lily (L. brownii), which was mainly grown at Hunan and Jiangxi province, and Yixing lily (L. lancifolium), which was mainly grown in Jiangsu province,” source here.)
I knew these leaves as Chyrsanthemum coronarium, when I tried growing them for cut flowers, now Glebionis coronaria
Platycodon grandiflorus, the Balloon Flower, doraji in Korean. Lots of ways to go with this, including boiled and dried.
Campanulas are typically considered the bellflowers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is platycodon as well.
Platycodon grown as an ornamental, photo via Monrovia
There does seem to be a Campanulaceae slant to this edible theme.
I did have a codonopsis phase once, spurred on by Heronswood’s wide selection under Dan Hinkley.
Very dainty vines with tiny, subtle bellflowers that, as far as I could tell, hated life in So. Calif. Eating it would be the perfect revenge.
Leaving plants behind for the moment. Examples like this always make me wonder about that first pioneer who urged, “Try it! Tastes just like __________!”
I just love that word, bracken. It’s just so, I don’t know, Wuthering Heights. (It’s a large fern.)
The blurred line between edibles and ornamentals shouldn’t be such a surprise to me.
I’ve long grown two well-known edibles, the sea kale, Crambe maritima, and samphire, Crithmum maritimum, not in the vegetable plot but among agaves and grasses.
New, powder-blue leaves of Crambe maritima in March
And who just went through an extensive search, at no little cost, to source the rare variegated Tuscan kale? That would be me.
I still haven’t decided whether to eat it or worship it.
(Territorial Seed Company carries small plants of “Kosmic Kale” — it doesn’t come true from seed.)
Edible or ornamental? Depends on the eye, palate, and culture of the beholder, and we know those three things are in constant flux.
Zion Market is located roughly between Normandie and Vermont on Wilshire Boulevard.
It’s improbably tucked away in a new mall at the back of the Brutalist-style Equitable Plaza. The main entrance is on Sixth Street.
You could spend a half hour in the kimchee section alone.
And if you want to try your hand at home-made Korean tacos made famous by Roy Choi and his ground-breaking Kogi food truck, you can find your bulgogi marinade here.
I’d been raving about this market to Marty for some time (oh! the aisle-long, mulit-hued bags of rice display!) and finally was able to show him around recently.
It was gratifying to see Marty utterly gobsmacked too. The fresh fish section is a wonder, and the dried fish section is no slouch either.
We’re huge fans of the anchovy, especially in pasta, and there were enormous bags of dried anchovies for I know not what purpose, but we’ll have to figure something out.
photo via The Los Angeles Times
A few blocks from Zion Market, Roy Choi opened up The Line Hotel.
I love how the greenhouse-inspired restaurant emphasizes the source of all our food, of life itself, plants.
I’ve peeked in the door, but the busy lunch crowds have scared me away so far.
Maybe the The Commissary is serving up some tasty crown daisy.