Kitchen Botany 101

We are very fortunate to have a nature preserve around the corner from our house that offers numerous guided hikes and lessons on everything from species found in the park to types of plants and ecosystems. Awhile ago we attended a kitchen botany class. Originally we thought it might focus on the plants in the park that could be incorporated into meals, or perhaps allow one to survive Naked & Afraid. Instead, it focused on how our fruits and veggies went from wild roots, stems and leaves to cultivated foods we take for granted. It turned out to be very interesting. Here are a few things we learned.

Did you know the weed Queen Anne’s Lace was the precursor to carrots. The root of the plant was cultivated to be the carrot. Colored carrots did not occur naturally. Across different parts of the globe, humans manipulated the genes of the plants to tease out certain colors. They were first cultivated near the Caspian Sea with the color purple playing a role. The Dutch developed the orange carrot in honor of the House of Orange. This manipulation is called genetic plasticity. Other foods that were considered roots at first are radishes and parsnips.

We learned that it took 7,000 years to cultivate the onion. Its wild origins are largely unknown, though. Today, we simply walk into a farmer’s market and have our choice of onions.

In the Mediterranean asparagus grows wild. Before being cultivated, it was considered a stem and is a distant cousin of the onion and leek. Cucumbers date back almost 3,000 years and originated in India.

The most interesting thing we learned was that bananas are a hybrid between two different plants. Every banana you’ve ever eaten has come from the same exact plant. Once it was cultivated, all of the crops grew from a single hybrid and were cloned billions of times. We are actually on the third version of the hybrid as disease wiped out previous crops.

I found the workshop fascinating and will never look at the produce section of my local market the same. It gave me a new found appreciation for the fruits and veggies available to us.