Friday, August 31, 2012

Identifying Edible 'Elephant Ears'

A nice discussion on FaceBook reminded me of my initial confusion about them when I moved back from Denver in 2002. The "wild" ones seen on Florida riverbanks can contain VERY high levels of EXTREMELY stinging calcium oxalate crystals in the leaves and tubers that sets one's entire throat and windpipe on fire for half an hour or more, with the emergency room a possibility.  But even  though  the types cultivated for centuries as a staple have enough in them to require boiling or frying to make them edible. The taste and texture is much like an excellent potato, often simmered or fried with butter or olive oil and garlic.  The entire topic can be confusing to gardeners seriously considering growing them as a staple in their subtropical garden. Here are conclusions I reached 8-9 years ago after very consciously obsessing for several months on the topic that seem valid and that work for me as a gardener and urban farmer.

1. "Taro" can be one of MANY cultivars of Colocasia esculenta that generally need QUITE wet soils. The
    leaves can be boiled twice and used as
    as a green. Look up recipes for Thai Taro Leaf/Coconut milk soups! Varieties include "eddo" and "lila".

2."Malanga" can one of many cultivars of Xanthosoma

A way of differentiating the two genus that I was taught back then seems valid and verifiable:

Taro leaves present a continuous curving edge at the back of  each leaf where it joins the stalk.

Malanga leaves have a cleft at the back of the leaf where it joins the stalk. I gather that malanga leaves are not usually eaten. Malanga seems to prefer damp but well-drained soil vs. the swampy soils most taros want.

Malanga leaf and tuber

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