Foods in the Sunflower Family – including Lettuce, Artichokes, and Chamomile

by Penny Hammond on December 9, 2009

in Foods,Plant Foods

These plants in the sunflower family (Asteraceae or Compositae – also known as the aster family, the daisy family, or the composite family) are used for food:
Absinthe/Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) – flower buds*, stem
Belgian endive, Curly endive, Chicory, Escarole, Frisee, Radicchio (Chicorium endivia) – leaves
Burdock/Gobo (Articum lappa) – root
Cardoons (Cynara cardunculus) – stems
Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) – flowers (for flavoring only)
Chicory (Chicorium intybus) – leaves*, roots
Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum coronarium) – leaves, flowerss
Dandelion (Taraxacum officianale) – leaves
Jerusalem artichoke / Sunchoke / Topinambur (Helianthus tuberosus) – root
Lettuces (Lactuca sativa) – including romaine/cos, butterhead, and many more – leaves*, stems
Niger seed (Guizotia abyssinica) – seeds
Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) – seed oil
Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) – root
Scorzonera / Black salsify (Scorzonera hispanica) – root
Stevia / Sugar-leaf (Stevia rebaudiana) – leaves (for flavoring only)
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – seeds, seed oil
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) – leaves

The lettuce family doesn’t get used very much in processed foods. Like the carrot family, most of the foods are fairly mild and aren’t ruled out by various health suggestions.

Starting with the top of the plants: The flowers of chamomile are used as a tea or infusion; globe artichokes are immature flower heads and the centers or “hearts” are used as a vegetable; dried safflower flowers are used as a substitute for saffron for coloring foods; and dandelion flowers can be used to make dandelion wine. Sunflower seeds are used for eating and making seed oil, and niger and safflower are also used to make seed oil.

Leaves of different plants in this family are used in various ways. Lettuces are unassertive and are used in all types of salads. Belgian endives / chicory, radicchio, curly endives, escarole, edible chrysanthemums, and dandelion leaves are more bitter and are either used in smaller amounts in salads or cooked to mellow their flavor. Tarragon has fragrant leaves and is used as a herb. Stevia, or sugar-leaf, has very sweet leaves and is used as a sweetener – this is the only food in the family that is regularly processed. Essential oils from the leaves of absinthe/wormwood used to be used to make the liqueur absinthe.

The stalks of cardoons are used in Italian cookery. The roots of burdock/gobo, scorzonera / black salsify, and jerusalem artichokes / sunchokes are used as vegetables in some cooking traditions – they tend to give many people gas because of the type of carbohydrate they contain, an oligosaccharide called inulin. Chichory roots are used to make a coffee substitute, and dandelion roots have also been used for this.

Most food plants in this family originated in Europe and Asia; sunflowers and jerusalem artichokes are indigenous to North America, stevia is indigenous to South America, and niger seeds originated in Ethiopia. Some have been cultivated for thousands of years.

Lettuce is a common ingredient in foods for diets as it is very low in calories and doesn’t contain fat, and is relatively cheap. Weight loss and health diets don’t usually rule out foods in this family, apart from the roots during early stages of low-carbohydrate diets. But people who don’t like to eat greens might avoid lettuce and other foods in this family. People with certain types of IBS avoid the leaves in the family to avoid diarrhea, although as with most leaves the fiber they contain may help regulate bowel movements in other people.

Many of these foods aren’t used widely. Neophobes don’t like to try new or unfamiliar foods, so unless they’ve grown up with them they’re unlikely to want to try to them. Many of the foods here are also expensive, so people on a restricted budget are unlikely to buy them. People who don’t like bitter foods will avoid a lot of the leaves in the family, and people who tend to get gas may avoid the roots.

Resources:
Food Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide Food Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide – Lots of historical and current information on food plant usage, and photos of the plants and the parts used for food.
Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom, with over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom, with over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes – Histories and recipes for plants in different families.

How many foods in this family have you eaten?

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