This is a blog about the pursuits of Naturalist Alan Russo to incorporate all things Natural, especially Plants, into his daily life. Living close to Nature has always been a passion of mine and I try, with natures help, to live a Healthy lifestyle for myself and for the Earth.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Edible Canna

 Another plant I learned about after moving South is the Canna Lily. Not a true Lily, again, don't be confused by the common names of plants. They are tall plants with huge leaves and topped by beautiful delicate flowers. Generally the foliage is more impressive than the flowers but many cultivars have been bred to accentuate the flowers.
 When I moved into my new home it was winter so I had to wait till the Spring to see what plants and flowers were planted around the property. When Spring finally arrived, I noticed what looked like a bulb beginning to break the surface of the ground. As the summer progressed they got taller and taller till they were over my head, than a flower spike started to grow and beautiful red flowers began to appear. By this time I noticed these plants growing all over the place. Apparently a very popular garden plant in NC.
 I never really pursued any further knowledge of the plants till one day I was looking through my Ethnobotanical Catalog of Seeds and saw Canna listed. Turns out there are a couple of Edible species of Canna grown around the world. Of course I had to buy some seeds!
 Canna edulis is grown in parts of the world for its Edible tubers. They are grown for the starch that is used to thicken soups and stews etc.( like Arrowroot or Kudzu) and also for the tubers to be eaten like Potatoes.
  I planted mine in the early spring in pots so I could bring them in to protect from frost. They grew easily and I was excited that only one seed didn't come up. They grew rapidly and were ready to transplant as the weather got warmer. I really didn't expect to see flowers this year but to my surprise when they were about 4.5 feet tall they started to flower. These are spectacular plants. The foliage is magnificent and the flowers beautiful.
 I tried a taste of the leaves but they were bitter. Apparently you need to get them when they first come up and before they are unfurled. The young flower stem is supposed to be good cut up and sauteed, though I was not willing to sacrifice a new plant to try this. We will see next spring. I did try the flowers and they were good, though again, I wasn't willing to eat too many as I wanted to collect the seeds to grow more next year.
I also tried the young seed pods and they were also good, slightly sweet and a little mucilaginous. The mature seeds are rock hard so I wasn't willing to risk a broken tooth just to try them. I read somewhere one of the common names of the plant is 'Shot Plant' because the seeds are used as shotgun pellets.
 So, the adventure of the Canna Lily is just beginning. This fall I will dig some of the tubers and see if they have reproduced enough to sacrifice a few to taste then and to try extracting the starch to use as a thickener. Next year I will try the stems etc.
 If I try anything new with the Canna I will keep you abreast of the results.


  1. Hi, Alan
    I'm in Australia and I have a couple of edible cannas in my garden, but haven't tried to eat them yet. Do you know whether all cannas are edible? Also, I thought the story of their name was that they were used in India as bullets. Can't find any proof of that in a quick internet search, though.

    1. This is a new edible to me so I am no expert on it. The two Canna I have read to be Edible are edulis and indica. Though some clump all Canna together when talking about edibility. I like to stick with what has traditionally been used for hundreds if not thousands of years. So for now I'm sticking with the edulis. Also, keep in mind that most people who grow Canna get them from a nursery and the plants have spent there whole life being doused with one toxic chemical or another to keep them sellable so make sure you get your seed/plants from a safe place.
      I mention the seeds being used as bullets, I have read it several times and it seem Historically correct.
      You may find this page interesting: http://www.eattheweeds.com/canna-confusion/
      Thanks for checking out the Blog and commenting, would love to hear more about the Wild Edibles of Australia.

  2. Hi, Alan
    I'll check out the link you posted. Thanks. My plants are edulis. One I got at a vegetable swap under the aegis of the Transition movement, so I trust the person who gave it to me gardens organically. The other came from an organic nursery, so I should be okay in that respect.

    The native wild edibles of Australia are not much eaten by the average Australian, like myself. They come under the general term here of 'bush food'. A famous one is the madadamia nut, and one that is grown often as a decorative plant is the lilly pilly. I'm growing kangaroo apples, a relative of the tomato, but to be honest I think they taste horrible. I guess if the apocalypse arrives, I'll be glad to have them in my garden, lol. Another plant I have growing all around my garden is called Warrigal Greens, and it is edible, but you have to blanch it in boiling water to lessen the oxalic acid before using it.

    Here's a site about native plants that are edible. http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/plant_info/aboriginal_bush_foods

    I have an interested in edible weeds, though, and I'm starting to make use of nasturtiums, dandelions and nettles in our regular diet. Lately I've noticed edible flowers in the local supermarket, and I've heard that someone has set up a business supplying them. Today I noticed calendula, pansies, and a few others whose names I forget.

    I enjoy your site and visit it regularly, even though I don't usually comment.

    1. Thanks for the info! I like the site you sent me, I love learning about the Ethnobotany of other places in the world, makes me want to go there to learn first hand!
      Keep checking back, as soon as I have time, I will update with some new posts (I'm behind buy about 4)