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A jungle vegetable with a tang of mustard oil

December 16, 2010

If you go to the Chiang Mai markets this time of the year you will see some curious violet spikes for sale. Our gardeners ate them at a lunch break, so I asked for a try, and they were delicious. It is a bit hard to describe the taste; nutty, green, bitter with a few molecules of mustard oil.

What you eat is the young inflorescence and flowering buds of Aspidistra sutepensis. This is a tentative name, because the scientists are actually revising it so we shall see what they come up with. It is currently placed in the family Ruscaceae, which some scientists wish to include in the asparagus family Asparagaceae. Other scientific names are Tupistra albiflora syn. T. muricata (Asparagaceae). ‘Tupis’ is Greek for a ‘mallet’, i.e. a long wooden hammer such as in croquet.

The name ‘sutepensis’ is a Latinized form of Doi Suthep mountain where it grows too. It may surprise people that even edible species commonly found nearby the Chiang Mai University are not fully investigated. You need to consider that Doi Pui/Doi Suthep mountain contains more plant species than in all of Sweden, and unlike Sweden Thailand’s history of botanical research is brief, beginning in the 20th century. There are many areas in Thailand which have only been visited by botanists once or twice, some never. There is still a lot to do, and the name is just the beginning, we need to know about ecology, uses and biochemical (medicinal) properties.

Eric Danell

Aspidistra sutepensis is in blossom at Dokmai Garden right now.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Yang permalink
    December 20, 2010 10:00 AM

    Thanks a lot for the introduction. I will surely get some tomorrow from the market to have a try! I have shared your wonderful blog with my plant lover friends:)

  2. December 22, 2010 9:03 PM

    How interesting! Thank you for posting such a cool species. It is not common in central part of Thailand.

  3. รักษ์ permalink
    December 23, 2012 5:12 PM

    The flower in this page is Tupistra albiflora.

    • December 23, 2012 9:55 PM

      Thank you very much! When I check this name with the Plant List, it says it is accepted. When clicking the WCSP reference, I end up with T. albiflora being a synonym of Tupistra muricata (Gagnep.) N. Tanaka, Novon 13: 335: 2003.

  4. December 23, 2012 11:41 PM

    So if I get some at the market do I eat the whole thing? Just the flowers? Are both cooked and raw normal?

    • December 23, 2012 11:55 PM

      You eat the whole flowering shoot, raw or cooked!

      Aroi!

      Eric

      • December 24, 2012 12:01 AM

        Great! I’ll keep an eye out for it.

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