Are Bulbs Edible: Information About Flower Bulbs You Can Eat

dahlia bulbs
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By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

If you’ve ever considered popping a flower bulb into your mouth, don’t! Although there are types of flower bulbs you can eat, always, always, always check with a professional first. Your local cooperative extension office is a good place to start. The exception, of course, are edible flower bulbs such as onionsgarlic and leeks. These plants in the allium family are safe to eat, and if the plants are allowed to bloom, the flowers are quite eye-catching.

Can You Eat Flower Bulbs?

One of the more common questions we hear is “Are bulbs edible?” When it comes to flowering bulbs, there are indeed a few that may be eaten. Here are some of the types of flower bulbs you can eat – but only if approved by someone knowledgeable in this practice:

  • Grape hyacinth – Some sources indicate that grape hyacinth bulbs may be edible. In fact, Bucknell University relates that an ancient Roman physician double-boiled the bulbs and enjoyed eating them with vinegar, fish sauce and oil. However, just because a Roman physician supposedly ate the bulb doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Again, always check with a professional before you decide to cook up a batch of grape hyacinth bulbs.
  • Tassel hyacinth – Similarly, various sources indicate that Italians enjoy the bulbs of lampascioni, a wild plant also known as tassel hyacinth. The bulbs require repeated soaking and rinsing to remove a mucinous goo that most people find unpleasant. Many modern cooks think the bulbs are made palatable only with generous amounts of wine and olive oil. If you want to experiment with types of edible flower bulbs, you can buy the lampascioni bulbs in jars at certain upscale gourmet markets.
  • Camassia lily – Another edible hyacinth cousin is the blue camas (Camassia quamash), also known as camassia lily. The bulbs from this wildflower grow a little closer to home. In fact, Native American tribes of the American West relied on the bulbs for sustenance. The problem, however, is that harvesting the bulbs kills the plant, and overharvesting may put the blue camas in jeopardy. If you decide to try harvesting blue camas bulbs, remove no more than one-quarter from any stand of wildflowers. Do NOT confuse this plant with the toxic Death camas (Zigadenus venenosus).
  • Dahlia – Most people don’t realize that dahlias are closely related sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes, or that you also can eat dahlia bulbs (corms). Although they are said to be somewhat bland, they have a range of flavors, from spicy apple to celery or carrot, and a crunchy texture similar to water chestnuts.
  • Tulip – Word also has it that tulips are edible, although they are reportedly rather starchy, bland and tasteless. Not to wear out the warning, but don’t try this without checking with a professional first. It isn’t worth the risk. Various sources indicate that tulips bulbs can also be toxic to pets.

Other bulbs that are reportedly toxic to pets (and maybe people) include lilies, crocus, lily of the valley and – hyacinth. Is hyacinth safe to eat? It depends largely on the variety. This is proof why it isn’t a good idea to rely heavily on what you read on the Internet. Even information from reliable academic sources can vary widely.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before ingesting or using ANY plant for purposes other than ornamental, please consult a professional or herbalist for advice.

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