TASTE TEST

The pre­req­ui­site for a place in my gar­den is that plants must be ed­i­ble. This, I thought, would keep things sim­ple.

NZ Gardener - - Waikato Plants -

Since then, I have dis­cov­ered there is a huge range of plants which we can use one way or the other, so I now di­vide them into ed­i­ble and palat­able – the former is not go­ing to kill me but the lat­ter is worth eat­ing.

What has re­cently been el­e­vated to the ed­i­ble cat­e­gory is the Ja­panese raisin tree.

Hove­nia dul­cis came to my at­ten­tion when I learnt that it (ap­par­ently!) cured hang­overs. The nov­elty fac­tor of its ed­i­ble stem also ap­pealed.

I had orig­i­nally planted it by the dam. Raisin trees are pretty tol­er­ant of most con­di­tions ex­cept mar­itime, and, I found, wa­ter­log­ging. After sev­eral years of tor­ture re­sult­ing in a spindly-look­ing stick with noth­ing look­ing re­motely ed­i­ble, I up­rooted and plonked it on the south­ern bound­ary in the pig pad­dock. Ap­par­ently they don’t mind the cold, so I fig­ured it could live or die there as it pleased.

Dig­ger work ac­ci­den­tally redi­rect­ing a spring and pigs do­ing what they do best with wa­ter (mak­ing wal­lows) meant its roots were once again cov­ered in mud. The cows pruned it up and I dis­missed it as be­ing use­less un­til I no­ticed some nob­bly, dis­torted ends on some of the branches late one au­tumn.

Some fence climb­ing and stretch­ing (only pos­si­ble when sober so more proof that it is use­less as a hang­over cure) and I had a hand­ful of un­ap­petis­ing, stunted twigs. A nib­ble brought about a rev­e­la­tion. The flower stalks taste ex­actly like raisins, maybe a bit crunchier with a hint of ap­ple.

I ap­praised my tree anew. It is sup­posed to have a rounded canopy with pretty fo­liage and cream-coloured blos­soms, and some­times even yel­low au­tumn colour. The blos­som­ing can be de­layed into sum­mer, then the flow­ers die back and the ed­i­ble flower stalk de­vel­ops, ripen­ing to a light brown colour.

So the wa­ter has been di­verted, the pig’s wal­low re­lo­cated, the cat­tle pro­tec­tor en­larged and some fer­tiliser ap­plied.

An­other re­cent pro­mo­tion went to the lin­den tree.

Tilia cor­data had been planted to make honey (via the bee­hive), but I re­cently dis­cov­ered its leaves are ed­i­ble. Think of a crunchy ice­berg let­tuce in a heart shape. Lin­den flow­ers and the green seed bracts are fa­mous in a tea, and can be in­fused into a syrup, wine, al­mond milk or steamed with veg­eta­bles for flavour. But it is the new leaves, picked fresh and added to a salad, that have de­lighted me. Not just ed­i­ble and palat­able, but ac­tu­ally rather tasty and ap­par­ently nu­tri­tious.

The lat­est ad­di­tion is some dahlia bulbs.

They’re dis­cards from my flow­er­gar­den­ing mother who thinks I have fi­nally ma­tured enough to ap­pre­ci­ate aes­thet­ics. Lit­tle does she know that all parts of the dahlia are ed­i­ble. Ap­par­ently the flavour changes with va­ri­ety and con­di­tions but the bulb can be sweet and crunchy like a yacón. Or it can be bit­ter and fi­brous.

In the UK, a nurs­ery has done some taste test­ing and re­leased a range of Del­i­dahlias. I’ll let you know if mine turn out palat­able… or sim­ply ed­i­ble.

Hove­nia dul­cis.

Tilia cor­data.

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