Tuesday, October 5, 2010

List: Houseplants Which Could, In Theory, One Day Produce Something Edible, Perhaps

Lots and lots of caveats for this one.

1. I could be mistaken. I've collected what appears to be good information from knowledgeable sources, but they could be wrong, I could have been looking at the wrong line on the page, etc.

2. You might not have the identity of your plant correct, even if I do.

3. Just because some part of the plant may be edible, it does not necessarily follow that the rest of the plant is safe to eat.

4. Even if you and I have both identified the plant correctly and I have good information regarding the edibility, some "edible" plants are poisonous if not prepared in a certain way. Some things have to be cooked first. Some things have to be washed and filtered and washed again, and so forth. Some fruits are incredibly nasty if you try to eat them before they're ripe. And so forth. So don't just assume you know how to prepare it.

5. Even if I'm right about the identity of the plant, and you're right about the identity of the plant, and I've located good information about which parts are edible and under what circumstances, and you prepare the plant properly, if the plant hasn't been in your care for a reasonably long time, it may still have been sprayed with pesticides of some kind and be unfit to eat. Unless you know where it's been, don't assume you can eat it.

6. I also have to qualify this list by adding "in theory" and "someday." In general, tropical houseplants need to be fairly old, large, and healthy before they will flower and fruit, which is fairly difficult to pull off in normal home conditions. One stands a better chance, obviously, with leaves.

7. Even if you manage to get a plant to the point where it bears fruit indoors, or whatever, and you know for sure what plant it is, and I've identified it correctly, and I was working from good information, and you prepare it correctly, and it's been yours for long enough that pesticides aren't a problem, you may find that the fruit (or whatever), when eaten, is not particularly good, compared to the sorts of stuff you could get from the supermarket.

8. And you could be unlucky enough to have an allergic reaction to the plant anyway.

But! Hypothetically! If you were locked in a tropical botanical garden or garden center greenhouse full of houseplants or whatever, and aliens/zombies/genetically-engineered frog-bear hybrids/H1N1 flu/bird flu/Big-Bird Flu1/whatever attacked Earth and killed everybody except for you, these are the plants that could maybe keep you going for a few more miserable weeks as you starved to death, dazed by grief and shock and completely alone. I think I personally would get the hell out of the botanical garden and set up in a nice abandoned supermarket somewhere, with a can opener, charcoal grill, and a few blow-up dolls or mannequins for company, but hey. It's your apocalypse; you do what you like.

Ananas comosus. (pineapple) Edible portion: ripe (!) fruit.

Cereus peruvianus. (Peruvian apple cactus) Edible portion: fruit, seeds.

Coffea arabica. (Coffee plant, coffee tree) Edible portion: flesh of berries, roasted seeds.

Cordyline fruticosa. (ti plant) Edible portion: rhizome, young leaves.

Eriobotrya japonica. (Loquat) Edible portion: fruits (excluding seeds).

Hylocereus sp. (dragon fruit cactus) Edible portion: fruits, seeds.

Monstera deliciosa. (Split-leaf philodendron) Edible portion: ripe (!) fruit.

Musa x 'Cheeka' and some other Musa cvv. (Banana, plantain) Edible portion: fruit, flower, trunk.

Myrtillocactus geometrizans (Whortleberry cactus) Edible portion: fruit.

Opuntia microdasys (Bunny ears; shown), and most other Opuntia species (Prickly pear). Edible portion: fruit, stems.

Of the above, the three I'd recommend would be Cereus peruvianus, Myrtillocactus geometrizans, and Coffea arabica. Cereus is definitely a pretty nice guy, and although I don't know Myrtillocactus as well, it seems friendly enough so far, and the fruit is supposed to resemble blueberries. Even if it's a long shot, that's still pretty cool. Also the color is nice -- the photo makes it look more green than blue, but in person it's more blue than green.

Coffea arabica is a weird one to recommend, since it's supposed to be a fairly difficult plant. Monstera deliciosa would be the more obvious choice for the third recommend. But, if I'm honest with myself, my Coffea has done better here than my Monsteras have. So Coffea it is.

The anti-recommend would be Opuntia microdasys, because of the glochids (tiny barbed hairs that get embedded in skin and itch and hurt -- they're terrible). I think Opuntia microdasys is actually the very species of Opuntia that traumatized me as a child in Evil Grandmother's house.

Not pictured:
NOTE: Much of the below information was gathered from Plants for a Future. I'm reaching kind of hard for plants that qualify, but everything in the below list is either a plant I've grown indoors more or less successfully, or a plant I've heard of people growing indoors more or less successfully. Additional suggestions are welcome.
Abutilon cv. (Flowering maple) Edible portion: flowers. Leaves are technically edible but not very good.
Agave americana, A. parryi, A. tequilana (Century plant, tequila agave) Edible portion: baked leaves, stem, and seeds; sap and fermented sap. Some people's skin is irritated by the sap. (Usually too large to be particularly good houseplants.)
Aloe vera (Medicinal aloe) Edible portion: juice from center of leaves. Avoid juice from near the leaf surface if you like the current speed of your digestive system.
Amaranthus caudatus (Love-lies-bleeding) Edible portion: leaves, seeds. (from comments; not common as houseplant)
Aptenia cordifolia Edible portion: leaves. (from comments; uncommon as houseplant; likely harmful in large amounts)
Araucaria araucana (Monkey-puzzle tree) Edible portion: seeds (fresh, cooked). (uncommon as houseplant)
Araucaria bidwillii (Bunya-bunya) Edible portion: seeds (fresh, cooked, partly sprouted). (uncommon as houseplant)
Asparagus setaceus (Asparagus fern) Edible portion: cooked young shoots. Apparently does not include the related A. sprengeri, though I'm not positive about that.
Aucuba japonica (Spotted laurel, Japanese laurel) Edible portion: cooked leaves, but you'd have to be fairly desperate, from the sound of it.
Calathea allouia (Sweet corn root) Edible portion: roots. (from comments; I've never actually heard of it being grown as a houseplant)
Capsicum annuum and some other Capsicum spp. (Ornamental peppers, Sweet peppers) Edible portion: fruits.
•Some Caralluma spp. Edible portion: stems? I assume? Likely toxic in large quantity (from comments; uncommon as houseplant)
Celosia argentea (Lagos spinach, Feather cockscomb) Edible portion: leaves. (from comments; I've never actually heard of anyone growing it as a houseplant)
Chamaerops humilis (Dwarf fan palm) Edible portion: young leaf buds or suckers, fruit. (uncommon as houseplant)
Citrus sinensis (Orange), C. limon (Lemon), other Citrus, Citrofortunella, and Fortunella spp. Edible portion: fruit, flowers.
Dasylirion wheeleri and other Dasylirion spp. (Sotol) Edible portion: cooked or fermented stem, flowering stem. (I've seen it sold as a houseplant, but I don't know anyone who's actually grown it successfully indoors.)
Ensete ventricosum (Ornamental banana?) Edible portion: rhizomes. (from comments)
Epiphyllum anguligar Edible portion: fruits. (from comments)
•Some Ficus fruit, but not the species ordinarily cultivated indoors.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (Tropical hibiscus) Edible portion: flowers, young leaves (?). Root is technically edible but not very good.
Hydrocotyle leucocephala (Brazilian pennywort) Edible portion: leaves. (from comments; uncommon as houseplant but maybe semi-common as aquarium plant)
Ipomoea batatas (Sweet potato) Edible portion: tuber. Uncommon as houseplant, though some ornamental varieties are widely grown outdoors.
Laurus nobilis (Bay tree) Edible portion: leaves (fresh or dried), fruit, flowers.
Liriope spicata (Lilyturf) Edible portion: cooked roots. (Rare as houseplant, though I'm growing the variety 'Cassidy' inside now. It's going so-so.)
Maranta arudinacea (Arrowroot) Edible portion: tubers. (from comments; I've never actually heard of it being grown as a houseplant)
Muehlenbeckia complexa (maidenhair vine) Edible portion: "fruit" (actually swollen flowers). (uncommon as houseplant but not unheard of)
Ocimum basilicum (Basil) Edible portion: leaves.
Olea europaea (Olive tree) Edible portion: fruit.
Ophiopogon japonicus (Snake's beard) Edible portion: root. (Rare as houseplant, though I'm growing O. planiscapus var. nigrescens indoors now. It's not particularly satisfying: growth is slow.)
Origanum majoranum (Marjoram) and O. vulgare (Oregano) Edible portion: leaves.
Oxalis deppei (Iron cross oxalis) Edible portion: leaves, flowers, root. Excessive consumption can lead to calcium deficiency and other problems.
Oxalis stricta (Yellow wood sorrel) As for O. deppei. It's a common enough hitchhiker in houseplants (around here, anyway) that I figure it qualifies as a houseplant, though it's rarely (never?) cultivated indoors on purpose.
Oxalis triangularis (False shamrock, purple shamrock) As for O. deppei.
Pachira aquatica (Money tree, Water chestnut, Malabar chestnut) Edible portion: nuts, leaves, flowers. (from comments)
Passiflora spp. (Passion flower, Passion fruit) Edible portion: fruit. (from comments)
Perilla frutescens (Perilla, Shiso, Beefsteak plant, Purple mint, Japanese basil) Edible portion: leaves. (from comments)
Persea americana (Avocado) Edible portion: fruit.
Portulacaria afra (Elephant bush, Spekboom) Edible portion: leaves.
Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary) Edible portion: leaves. (I know people grow it indoors, but I don't recommend it.)
Salvia elegans (Pineapple sage) Edible portion: leaves. (uncommon as houseplant, but undeservedly so)
Salvia officinalis (Sage) Edible portion: leaves. Can be toxic when used to excess and/or over long periods.
Saxifraga stolonifera (Strawberry begonia) Edible portion: leaves, flowering stem. Usually cooked.
Sempervivum tectorum (Houseleek) but not necessarily other Sempervivum spp. Edible portion: young leaves and shoots. (much better as an outdoor plant than an indoor one, in my experience)
Solanum lycopersicon (Tomato) Edible portion: fruit. (from comments; uncommon as houseplant)
Stevia rebaudiana (Stevia) Edible portion: leaves.
Thymus vulgaris (Thyme) Edible portion: leaves.
Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan palm, Chinese windmill palm) Edible portion: young flower buds (cooked).
Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium) Edible portion: leaves, flowers, seed, seedpod.
•many Yucca spp., including Y. guatemalensis, the only one commonly grown indoors. Edible portions: flowers, fruit, leaves, stems. (from comments)
Zingiber officinale (Ginger) Edible portion: rhizome. (from comments; I'm told it's a fairly uncooperative houseplant)


1 ("Mr. Hooper's Revenge")


Anonymous said...

"The Tropical Houseplant Diet". Perhaps not a potential best-seller, but it sounds like a likely way to drop a few pounds.


Diana said...

You might eat better and survive better in the grocery store but the greenhouse might be more pleasant.

Unless your grocery store carries live (overpriced) houseplants. In that case you could move them in front of the windows and have your cake and eat it, too!

Hmmm... I guess I'll join you in your grocery store during the Zombie Big Bird Apocalypse.

Anonymous said...

You can add Epiphyllum anguligar to your list. It is one of the day-blooming cereus.Mine usually has between 30-50 flowers. I don't have ideal growing conditions, but I usually get 1 or 2 fruits. I have eaten it; it reminded me of a kiwi.


Liza said...

You slay me, mr_s!

Pat said...

My favourite subject. The caveats alone should be on the school syllabus.

Musa ensete, or Ensete ventricosum is grown for its starchy rhizome.

I have just acquired a Portulacaria afra and its leaves taste ... just like Portulaca, the purslane. I suppose I should be happy that it doesn't taste of pork fat (Spekboom means pork fat tree).

A couple of species of Caralluma have been eaten (C. edulis, C. burchardii amongst others) but they do contain highly medicinal steroids as well. Good for rheumatism, they say.

I have a friend who is growing a Korean Perilla as a houseplant. Seeds and leaves edible. Another friend has a ginger. I used to have a Boesenbergia but that is not a usual houseplant.

I was told by a man at Kew that Monsteras don't tend to flower until they think they have go to the top of the forest canopy, at least 30 foot. He then told me how delicious they were and so deserved the specific name, the swine. The fruit apparently tastes different in different parts, giving it the name of Fruit Salad Fruit. It will cause extreme pain and swelling in the throat and tongue if eaten when unripe, as it contains raphides.

I tried boiled houseleek and am going to wait until I find a recipe before I try it again. They were horrible.

Citrus flowers are also edible and make superb fragrant tea. There is a trace of caffeine in the flowers.

Various Ficus fruit.

Maranta and related genera are used to make arrowroot. Damn, I looked up Calatheas to make sure they were as well and found that Calathea allouia (= C. latifolia, C.marantifolia, C. violacea = not available) is known as Sweet Corn Root. Another one to go on my Unlikely but Wanted List.

The tuber of Testudinaria elephantipes is a yam that can be eaten but surely it is just too cute?

Passiflora spp.

Pachira aquatica has been quite common in nurseries here recently. It is called the malabar chestnut by some and has edible nuts. The laeaves and flowers are also edible according to Wikipedia.

Various parts of various Yuccas. Flowers, fruit, leaves, Seed and stem for the most edible according to PFAF, Yucca baccata.

Celosia is used, like the related Amaranthus, as a leaf vegetable.

Didn't we discuss Callisia fragrans recently?

Cuphea ignea seed oil.

If you have spider mite around then keep a close watch on the loquat. Outside they are fine but I have lost plenty indoors. Luckily, as I tend to plant the seeds for all that I eat and then they all come up.

Also fruit and flower for Laurus nobilis. We only get them fruiting outdoors here.

I see you have a Plectranthus amboinicus, the Mexican Soup Mint.

Podocarpus_macrophyllus arils edible but seed should not be eaten as tehy are toxic, like the Yew.

Now I am going downstairs to have a look in my landlady's conservatory

Paul said...

Funny about coffee. I thought the same thing and avoided it completely. Then my bf came back from shopping one day this spring with a half-dead baby one. I went ahead and gave it the rehab treatment and repotted. The sucker tripled in size since then. Beginners luck, I guess. I hope it actually blooms next year, but I'm not counting on it.

I'd add the amaranth cultivar Love Lies Bleeding if you're talking indoor plants that happen to get a LOT of light. Same w/the sweet potato vine as long as you can get it to produce a tuber. I was only ever successful once and it was a pitiful little nugget.

And Metroxylon sagu, but that would have to be found in a greenhouse. I don't know anyone who actually keeps one inside other than a botanical center.

Also, may as well list ever pot-able herb if you have thyme, basil, and rosemary.

Pat said...

Back from the conservatory and I can add, err... tomatoes?

Sixwing said...

If you're stuck in an aquarium store, Hydrocotyle leucocephala is edible.

I have no idea what it tastes like, but it always makes my mouth water to prune it: it smells exactly like green apples.

Ivynettle said...

If it weren't cold and wet, I'd be heading right outside to nibble on some Abutilon flowers. ;)

We've grown Aptenia cordifolia as a houseplant for a couple of years, also supposedly edible. I've tried a few leaves - didn't much care for the taste.

Also, it's a sad world when talking about edible plants needs such a long list of caveats. Seems to me these things should be obvious (but I know, I know, not everyone did grow up with plants, and common sense is sadly not so common.)

mr_subjunctive said...


Considering the speed at which most indoor plants grow, I imagine it wouldn't take long to drop all your pounds. Even with as many plants as I have, I think I'd run out of edibles more or less immediately. I might have a day, day and a half's worth of Saxifraga, Abutilon, Salvia, Musa, and Cordyline.


Maybe a grocery cart, run back and forth between greenhouse and grocery.


I added most of your suggestions, though I didn't add the ones I couldn't confirm on-line, and I left off Podocarpus for the same reason I left out Zamia and Cycas -- part may be edible, but it strikes me as pretty dangerous to try.


Added Ipomoea and Amaranthus, but not Metroxylon, for the same reason I left off Podocarpus.


True, about the caveats. But [shrug] what're you gonna do?

Pat said...

I would be careful with Aptenia cordifolia, Ivynettle. It contains mesembrine alkaloids, probably with similar effects to Sceletium. It may not be directly toxic (not known) but would probably interact with some pharmacy medications giving serious problems. That would be why it tasted bad, alkaloids are usually bitter. It probably has oxalic acid as well, like the Oxalis spp.

Pat said...

Ivynettele, could it be a confusion with another "iceplant" of the same family, Mesembryanthemum crystallinum, which does have edible leaves?

The Caralluma is the stems, but I haven't found out how they are cooked. My C. burchardii is not big enough yet.

Celosia was a very popular houseplant a few decades ago. I haven't seen it in nurseries for a while, perhaps it is out of fashion.

I am sure several of the Ficus spp are edible, difficult to find online though.

mr_subjunctive said...


My only exposure so far to Celosia has been at work; we sold them as outdoor annuals. I'm pretty sure I've never seen them in houseplant books, though that doesn't mean people don't grow them inside.

W/r/t Ficus: I ran into a list semi-recently that listed four edible Ficus sp. figs, though the only one I remember was F. carica. I'm almost positive that F. elastica's figs are not edible, and I would be surprised if binnendijkii/maclellandii's, lyrata's, or benjamina's were either. Though it's not impossible.

Pat said...

Can't resist a challenge, three Spanish language references saying Yucca guatemalensis (Y. elephantipes) is edible.


"The petals and soft, young shoots are eaten as vegetables/greens"

"It is edible, its petals are eaten with egg and tomato or with lemon and its buds (buttons) as a salad. In Central America they eat it a lot. In the United States 30% of the Salvadorean population eat it. It has a bitter flavour, like the pacaya (Chamaedorea palm?)."


"Flower of Itabo (Yum Yum)
Yucca guatemalensis (very edible)."


"Flower of itabo (Yucca Guatemalensis), much appreciated because it is edible. Prepared with eggs, in salads, in chopped up stuff, in tamales or in pickles. ... In Nicaragua it is called the Flower of Death."

mr_subjunctive said...

Well, if "Flower of Death" isn't a recommendation for edibility, I don't know what is. :^P

But okay. Fine. I'll change the post.

Mae said...

Thank you for calling the edible portion of the Opuntia (prickly pear) the stems. Our grocery stores here in California carry them in the produce section and call them cactus "leaves". Then I go into an Asperger's like fit: "They're not leaves!!! They're stems! The spines are the modified leaves!"

And regarding your comment of dropping to zero pounds eating only house plants, that makes me think of the movie "Mission to Mars" where the Don Cheadle character has been living on Mars for a while consisting of oxygen produced from a handful of plants in what basically was an Easy-Up shade tent. Cracked me up.

Another Asperger's tangent...when I asked someone to make me a traditional Gyro, he put spinach, olives, tsastiki sauce, and then RRR (record scratch) green bell peppers?! I said, "Umm, green peppers are in the solanaceae family and all solanaceous plants are new worls plants. Which means they wouldn't be in a traditional gyro, would they???" When I got home I realized, yeah, so how did tomatoes become a staple of Italian cooking and potatoes a staple of Irish cooking. Plants travel. Rant done.

Ivynettle said...

"Ivynettele, could it be a confusion with another "iceplant" of the same family, Mesembryanthemum crystallinum, which does have edible leaves?"

I wouldn't rule it out - that family seems to be a taxonomic mess! And I haven't bothered to find other confirmation than a couple of online references - which, for all I know, might be quoting one another - I didn't really do any in-depth research, just enough to make sure it wouldn't kill me immediately. That's also why I only nibbled ate one leaf (or rather, two, but on separate occasions).

Pat said...

I had some very nice Death Trumpets from a supermarket a few years ago but they didn't catch on, even though they were in French. They were a black version of a chanterelle.

The Yucca flower is used as decoration at funerals, there are some very nice edible lilies as well.

Kenneth Moore said...

Yeah! Oxalis stricta!! Love that sumbitch. Mine died of drought back during the summer when I was gone during one of my being-gone phases, but I did intentionally grow it indoors. I wouldn't call it "cultivated," but I tried keeping it alive while I was home.

Also, I wish tomato weren't so uncommon. They don't yield a hell of a lot, but they're fun to grow indoors!

My ginger is doing alright, but I think it needs more light than I give it, hence the issue with it being a houseplant.

As Paul said, a lot of herbs do pretty well indoors. I'm growing a couple (basil and perilla already mentioned, but also sage, lavender, a dying lemon verbena, chives... Is that all? Yeah, I guess everything else died), and, of course, lettuces, spinach, radish, turnips, and a lot of other cool-weather crops are all pretty good on the windowsill. I've even had (limited) success with various beans, corn, and fingerling potatoes.

And what about your Pandanus?

And, of course, mushrooms can be grown well indoors.



Pat said...

Ginger (and its relatives) need surprisingly little light. Most of them grow in jungles. Humidity and warmth may be more important.

Thomas said...

Just so we're on the same page, I am Charlton Heston/Vincent Price/Bruce Campbell barricaded in a supermarket subsisting on canned goods and other aseptically package foods, spicing up my diet with fresh edibles from the floral department. And Big Bird wants to eat my brains. Close?

I understand the berries from grape ivy (Cissus rhombifolia) are edible.