Monday, April 16, 2018

Food plants that originated in Europe

As part of my native edible plants of different continents series This was going to be of Europe. Unfortunately I have not been able to find many wild plants of this area that are not just weeds that are spread over most of the northern hemisphere.

I did wonder, but then I realised that the reason for this is that people have been very active in this region for millennia turning their native weeds into the amazing, and popular vegetables that we know today. It is not that they don't have unique edibles, it is that we just don't recognise them from what they used to be.

Take the cabbage family for example.
Starting from over a thousand years ago a fairly nondescript plant native to Europe was selected and bred to produce the great diversity that is the garden brassicas of today - cabbages, broccoli, mustard, brussells sprouts etc.

This is truly a fantastic accomplishment and shows just what we can do over time to change nature to suit our needs.

It is amazing what we can come up with just by selecting mutations that appeal to us.
Hey, let's make a scrawny weed into a plant that has thick, edible bud covering its trunk, or, Hey I don't like having spread out flowers, what if we keep growing this plant that has all its flowers squashed together, that is much more efficient.

Globe Artichoke.
Not quite as varied, but the large flower buds we see today have been lovingly selected for bigger size and tenderness.
Same with its sibling the Cardoon, with its thick leaf stems

Not just an old thistle now, huh.


Taking a bitter, leggy plant and turning into a tight headed, tender and non-bitter salad vegetable was a master stroke.

I love lettuce for its texture in sandwiches and salads.


Another plant that is still found growing wild in Europe is asparagus, and it is not that much different than the garden varieties we grow today. The garden ones produce bigger and fatter spears but many people still take the time to go and harvest wild ones.


We can't forget all the fruits that have also be tamed and changed, like gooseberries, blackcurrants, and garden raspberries.

Europe has been a source of some of the best vegetables and fruits in history, I think partly due to the upper class who had lots of time on their hands to pursue plant interests and breeding over the past thousand years.

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