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Author Topic: Edible Conifers and other Gymnosperms  (Read 342 times)

Caesar

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Edible Conifers and other Gymnosperms
« on: August 11, 2017, 03:31:15 AM »
Hi all. I was checking out a lot of info about the Conifer family tree, and found that a surprising number of species produced food, both in temperate regions and in the tropics. Moreover, this topic seemed somewhat neglected, so I decided to make this thread to discuss it. Here we go...


Nuts:

Seemingly the most well-known coniferous food, even this category has some poorly-known species.

Pines - Different species are harvested in different regions, with approximately 17 species bearing large, worthwhile nuts. Few of them are commercially harvested, but they include the following:

Three Eurasian species, the Stone Pine (Pinus pinea), Korean Pine (P. koraiensis), and Chilgoza Pine (P. gerardiana), and three species of Pinyon Pines (P. edulis, P. monophylla, P. cembroides). Another Pinyon bears the largest nuts in the genus (2-3 cm long), P. maximartinezii, not currently harvested on a commercial basis due to its rarity (it's locally harvested, though). The Armand or Chinese White Pine (P. armandii) is to be avoided, as it is the source of Pine Mouth Syndrome.

Araucariads - A family with three surviving genera, Araucaria, Agathis and Wollemia. Everything I found indicated that most - if not every - species in this family is likely to have edible seeds (at least, in the sense that they are non-toxic and digestible). That said, several bear seeds too small to be worthwhile, and of the remainder, most are dioecious, take a long time to reach seed-bearing age and/or are inconsistent bearers (a good crop one year followed by several poor crops, or even empty years).

Wollemia's seeds are small, not really much of a nut. Of the genus Agathis, I've only seen one species explicitly referred to as edible: Agathis montana, having been consumed by the natives of New Caledonia. The source of this claim seems to have disappeared from the net, as I haven't been able to find the website again since last I saw it a few years ago. I did keep a highly modified screenshot of the relevant paragraph for reference purposes, so I'll post it here:



The genus Araucaria has two lineages, one with the single section Eutacta, and another with the three sections Araucaria, Bunya and Intermedia. I suspect most of Eutacta to bear edible seeds, but the only one I could explicitly confirm is Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii). The other lineage bears three well-known starchy nuts in two sections: Bunya Nut (A. bidwillii, sect. Bunya; monoecious), and Monkey Puzzle & Paraná Pine (A. araucana & A. angustifolia respectively, sect. Araucaria; both dioecious). Because the species in the third section (Intermedia), A. hunsteinii, is so closely related, I expected to find that it would make a good crop (with the advantage of being monoecious). No such explicit confirmation turned up in my searches, but I did find that the dimensions of the cone and the nuts were similar to its relatives, being 10x6 inches and 1.5 inches respectively ( http://conifersociety.org/conifers/conifer/araucaria/hunsteinii/ ). Because of this, I would consider A. hunsteinii a likely strong candidate for tropical production of Araucaria Nuts.

Nutmeg Yews - Not closely related to the true Yews, despite the name, Torreya fargesii 's seed can be pressed for oil, and the seeds of T. nucifera, T. californica and T. grandis are edible as nuts.


Fruits:

Species where the cone scales develop into soft, sweet fruit-like tissue.

Yews - Taxus spp. As I've stated in another thread, a mild-flavored edible treat on a lethally toxic tree. Don't try it, not worth it. Nothing to see here, move along.

Strawberry Pine (Microcachrys tetragona) - A small dioecious creeping conifer from Tasmania with strawberry or raspberry-like fruit.

New Zealand Conifer Berries - Collected and consumed by the Maori, sometimes in quantity. The species include Kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides), Rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum), Tōtara (Podocarpus totara), Mataī (Prumnopitys taxifolia) and Miro (P. ferruginea).

Chilean Plum Yew (Prumnopitys andina) - Bears tasty grape-like fruit.

Podocarpus spp. - Despite their online reputation, only a few species have toxic berries; most have edible berries to varying degrees (It should be noted that the pollen is cytotoxic, and produces symptoms resembling those of chemotherapy if inhaled in quantity over time). Green Deane suggests that reports of toxicity in Podocarpus macrophyllus come from eating too many berries without removing the core (which is stem matter, likely to be somewhat toxic even if the pulp isn't) ( http://www.eattheweeds.com/podocarpus-your-own-hedge-fund-2/ ). Other species I could confirm as edible (and without the reports of toxicity that P. macrophyllus has) include P. elatus, P. drouynianus, P. spinulosus and P. costalis.

California Juniper (Juniperus californica) - One of the few Juniper berries that can be eaten in their raw state, as they are sweeter, less resinous and not bitter. Juniper fruit used as a spice come from J. communis, J. phoenicea, and possibly J. deppeana and J. drupacea.


Fruit-Nut Combos:

As the title suggests, these are fleshy/fruity-coned species whose seeds can also be consumed as nuts.

Plum Yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonii) - While most subspecies are poorly-flavored, several bear agreeable fruit described as "A plum dipped in pine sap". http://earthadvocatesresearchfarm.com/2013/14available-4.html

Podocarpus dispermus - Unlike most of its relatives, even the seed of this species is reportedly edible, when roasted. http://www.wettropics.gov.au/rainforest_explorer/Resources/Documents/factsheets/bushTuckerOfTheWetTropics.pdf

Afrocarpus falcatus & A. gracilior - Insipid to astringent pulp with a resinous nut. Seemingly not the best-tasting edible, but I'd try it. http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/t/1073211/


Tips and Needle Teas:

These are species whose needles can be harvested to make tea. Fresh young growing tips can be harvested and consumed as-is (a vegetable of sorts), or used for tea, syrup and other confections. Included in this category are species from the genera Pinus, Picea, Abies, Tsuga and Pseudotsuga.

Note: Do not confuse coniferous Hemlock (Tsuga) with Poison Hemlock (Conium, Cicuta, Oenanthe crocata). Perhaps it should go without saying, but I'm saying it anyway. Stay safe, and don't sample wild plants lightly.


Other Gymnosperms:

Ginkgo is often consumed as a nut in Asia, but care should be taken not to overindulge, due to the presence of Ginkgotoxin.

Cycads - No. No matter what you've heard, no species of cycad is edible. Several have been used historically as food, but the cost is neurological damage. Every species in the order has a symbiotic relationship with Cyanobacteria that produce BMAA toxin, absorbed by the plant and concentrated (but not limited) in the seeds. Processing the starch (even from the stem) doesn't get rid of all the toxin. Play it safe... If you want Sago, look for the true Sago Palm (Metroxylon sagu), not a cycad.

Ephedra - Often used medicinally (tread cautiously, there are side effects). The fruit of some species are regarded as edible, tasting mildly sweet.

Gnetum - I would regard this as the only truly edible non-coniferous gymnosperm. Several species in the genus are edible, with G. gnemom bearing edible nuts, and G. africanum having edible nuts, leaves and even roots.


And that is all I could find on the matter of edible gymnosperms.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2017, 11:34:49 AM by Caesar »

Tropheus76

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Re: Edible Conifers and other Gymnosperms
« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2017, 01:58:47 PM »
Cool info. I sourced a Chilean Plum Yew earlier and another Brazilian edible pine tree last week. Figured I would give them a try. Never realized there were so many edible pines out there. I figure I have a while til they fruit heheh.

Jose Spain

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Re: Edible Conifers and other Gymnosperms
« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2017, 05:25:58 PM »
Here in Spain there is a traditional and important market for piñones (nuts from Pinus pinea), they are part of several dishes and by far the most expensive nuts you can buy here, much more than almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, pecans or cashews. Their taste is really unique and when carefully roasted (to don't burn them) can make a dish of pasta or a stew go into an another league. Due to the high demand, supermarkets started few years ago to sell piñones from China, most likely from one of the species that you mentioned in the post, they are cheaper and not as tasty and aromatic as Mediterranean ones, but still worth to use them in the kitchen. The oil of the pine nuts is quite unstable, so they become rancid relatively quickly in comparison with nuts from dicotyledons.

Pinus pinea is a fast growing, very hard tree, resisting extreme heat and cold without any problem and thriving impressively well in dry, sandy soils. I planted 5 nuts few years ago and they are growing like 2 feet per year, without any fertilisation and bearing 4 months without rain. A good choice for California for sure. High pH is not a problem for them either.

Pinus pinea makes a huge, wide tree though, so a lot of space should be available if somebody would consider having a pino piñonero in his plot, it's not a tree for a backyard.
« Last Edit: August 11, 2017, 05:34:27 PM by Jose Spain »
Jose

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Re: Edible Conifers and other Gymnosperms
« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2017, 06:24:42 PM »
Great info, thanks for posting :)

Bunya and hoop pines are common here. I can see 8 hoop pines from my computer room window right now haha (they are one of the street trees here) I know lots of people that eat bunya pine seeds but didn't even know hoop pine seeds were edible.

We also have Kauri pines (Agathus) though no idea what species, robusta maybe?

Edit: After some reading, they are indeed Agathus robusta
« Last Edit: August 11, 2017, 06:31:35 PM by Ulfr »

Mike T

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Re: Edible Conifers and other Gymnosperms
« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2017, 06:43:12 PM »
There are 4 Agathus in my district and robusta is one. They are huge and aboriginal people ate the seeds as they did bunyas. Local aboriginal people also ate various cycad seeds after leaching the crashed seeds in running water. My local area native Podocarpus and Prumnopitys have edible fruits.

Caesar

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Re: Edible Conifers and other Gymnosperms
« Reply #5 on: August 13, 2017, 11:34:19 AM »
Cool info. I sourced a Chilean Plum Yew earlier and another Brazilian edible pine tree last week. Figured I would give them a try. Never realized there were so many edible pines out there. I figure I have a while til they fruit heheh.

Did you get individuals or several each? I think both are dioecious, so you'll need a male and female each to get fruit.


Here in Spain there is a traditional and important market for piñones (nuts from Pinus pinea), they are part of several dishes and by far the most expensive nuts you can buy here, much more than almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, pecans or cashews. Their taste is really unique and when carefully roasted (to don't burn them) can make a dish of pasta or a stew go into an another league. Due to the high demand, supermarkets started few years ago to sell piñones from China, most likely from one of the species that you mentioned in the post, they are cheaper and not as tasty and aromatic as Mediterranean ones, but still worth to use them in the kitchen. The oil of the pine nuts is quite unstable, so they become rancid relatively quickly in comparison with nuts from dicotyledons.

Pinus pinea is a fast growing, very hard tree, resisting extreme heat and cold without any problem and thriving impressively well in dry, sandy soils. I planted 5 nuts few years ago and they are growing like 2 feet per year, without any fertilisation and bearing 4 months without rain. A good choice for California for sure. High pH is not a problem for them either.

Pinus pinea makes a huge, wide tree though, so a lot of space should be available if somebody would consider having a pino piñonero in his plot, it's not a tree for a backyard.

It sounds like a very attractive tree. And I like the idea that some of these might be tastier than others. How do the flavor nuances compare to other pine nuts? You said they're more aromatic?

I'd like to have a couple some day, but I'm not sure how well they'd do for me here in PR. They can take heat, but I've read that some species of Pine Nut drop in productivity if they only get heat without a cold period. I hope that's not the case with this species.


Great info, thanks for posting :)

Bunya and hoop pines are common here. I can see 8 hoop pines from my computer room window right now haha (they are one of the street trees here) I know lots of people that eat bunya pine seeds but didn't even know hoop pine seeds were edible.

We also have Kauri pines (Agathus) though no idea what species, robusta maybe?

Edit: After some reading, they are indeed Agathus robusta

Have you tasted the Hoop Pine seeds? How do they compare to Bunyas? How do the Bunyas taste for that matter? I've read comparisons to pine nuts and potatoes, among other things.


There are 4 Agathus in my district and robusta is one. They are huge and aboriginal people ate the seeds as they did bunyas. Local aboriginal people also ate various cycad seeds after leaching the crashed seeds in running water. My local area native Podocarpus and Prumnopitys have edible fruits.

Have you tasted Podocarpus? What are they like? Also, how would one harvest Agathis nuts? Do the actual cones drop off? I thought they disintegrated on the tree.

I keep asking for taste 'cause I have no direct experience in the matter.  :P

Jose Spain

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Re: Edible Conifers and other Gymnosperms
« Reply #6 on: August 14, 2017, 05:24:32 AM »
Quote
It sounds like a very attractive tree. And I like the idea that some of these might be tastier than others. How do the flavor nuances compare to other pine nuts? You said they're more aromatic?

I'd like to have a couple some day, but I'm not sure how well they'd do for me here in PR. They can take heat, but I've read that some species of Pine Nut drop in productivity if they only get heat without a cold period. I hope that's not the case with this species.

I just can compare Spanish pine nuts with Chinese ones, I never tasted other kinds. The Chinese one are less tasty and don't have the strong aroma of Pinus pinea nuts. Spanish piñones are quite expensive (70-120$ per Kilo), Chinese are cheaper but still more expensive than other nuts (~40$ Kilo). I'd like to taste other kind of pine nuts to compare but so far I din't find them here. BTW, another species with edible pine nuts is the Siberian pine Pinus sibirica, its pine nuts are the most popular in Russia.

Regarding your question about growing it Puerto Rico I have my doubts. Here in Spain the pine is typical of Mediterranean coasts, so it produces in locations without any frost, but I don't know how it would do in tropics though, because is not only about cold but also about sunlight hours in winter.
Jose

Paulish

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Re: Edible Conifers and other Gymnosperms
« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2017, 04:38:26 PM »
Interesting and informative thread, thanks for sharing. I've been looking into pine pollen as well and wondering if anyone has information or experience with which pines are best for pollen harvest. A brief search shows masson/horsetail pine as the most common source. I would tend to imagine something that can might provide a good source of pollen along with another edible component like pine nuts would be ideal but wondering if substantial differences in pollen production and nutrient densities exist.

 

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