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Home > Begonian > Volume 43 (May 1976, pages 127 - 128)

by Patrick J. Worley

During a recent telephone conversation Pat Burdick and I discussed the safety of begonias as houseplants. There are, I believe, no poisonous begonias. In fact during the second world war the British ate their begonias as food during the hard times.

We talked of the pickles made from the rhizomes of the Indian Begonia picta and Pat related to me this short but fascinating tale ... "When the natives of New Guinea are out foraging for food in the jungles they are always on the look out for their favorite leaf. When they see it they run to it and shout 'Delicious' as they devour it leaf, stem and root."

This has caused me no end of laughter imagining those natives shouting "Delicious" in perfect English in the middle of the untracked jungles of New Guinea.

Logically this begonia is called B. deliciosa, which I have, so extending myself via the extra long telephone cord into the plant room, I immediately plucked a choice leaf, ate of it and pronounced it "Delicious!" I decided then and there to sample each and every begonia leaf I had to determine which were of superior eating quality, because, as far as I know no one has bred begonias for gustatory qualities.

I don't mean to make light of this task, and I consider it part of my explorations of every aspect of Begoniaceae

Here are a select few as a guide to your own palate.

B. deliciosa -- sweet sour in taste, very pleasant and refreshing should be good with a vinaigrette dressing in a mixed salad bowl.

B. 'Margaritae' -- just sour, tasty when sliced like coleslaw and tucked in a bun next to a wiener. Elegant!

B. 'Raspberry Parfait' -- does not live up to its name. Most of the hairy leaved begonias are unpleasant in texture, unless you enjoy just nibbling on a wool blanket now and then.

B. cubensis -- bitter!

B. epipsila -- sour and thickish not too bad, good in irish type stew if cut in large chunks.

B. Rex Cultorum -- all very tangy, makes a beautiful garnishment when placed whole on white bread with creamed cheese (especially an open faced sandwich.)

B. subvillosa (syn. leptotricha) -- very good, almost rivals B. deliciosa in flavor but otherwise less sweetish.

In general the taste of the begonias I sampled ranged from sweet-sour to bitter, most tasting pretty much the same. I would recommend not partaking too heavily of the joys of eating begonias as I did notice a slight laxative effect. Bon Appetit!

Ed. Note: After I read this, I double checked at the library and came across one reference to B. gracilis in a book about poisonous plants. It was listed as having emetic properties. The original source was a report of a study done at Kew Gardens. L. H. Bailey (1922) reported that the stalks of some species are used as the leaf stalks of rhubarb are used. He wrote: "The rhizomes of many species particularly those from South America, are bitter and astringent and are employed locally. for certain fevers and syphilis. Some species contain purgative principles. The sour sap of one of the Asiatic species is said to be used for cleaning weapons."

The San Diego Poison Information Center Microfilm Index shows all begonias non-toxic and had recorded no cases of harmful effects. The only cautionary word was a warning to avoid eating plants which had been sprayed with insecticides, especially, systemic insecticides.

So go ahead and eat them. Doesn't a salad of B. 'Cleopatra' sound romantic? P.B.

Reprinted from the Minnesota Begonia Review

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