A jungle vegetable with a tang of mustard oil
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.
Aspidistra sutepensis is in blossom at Dokmai Garden right now.