Relation Of Culinary Plants To SGM Plants

For years, one of us (Tom) was under the mistaken impression that the leaf from the very common Bay Leaf Tree in the SGM was the same as the Bay Leaf used for cooking. Worse, Tom undoubtedly often repeated that mistaken information to hiking companions. After all, the leaves are identical in appearance, and when rubbed give off the same odor.

However, much to Tom's surprise, an article in the San Diego Union Tribune (Food Section, 2/7/99) explains clearly that the bay leaf used in cooking is the leaf of Laurus nobilis from the Mediterranean, and that domestic bay leaves are from Umbellularia californica, and "are to be avoided"! When used in cooking, the domestic bay leaves give a "resinous, rather oily flavor to the dish" instead of adding the expected sweet flavor. See the article in the Union-Tribune Archives (search for Umbellularia) for a very complete explanation of the differences.

Tom then asked Jane about whether the horehound plant has anything to do with the candy. She replied:

You can use this horehound to make candy, but it doesn't taste very good. It is difficult to condense it enough to get any flavor other than bitter. I've tried it. The commercial product probably uses oils.

Realizing that further questions were probably inevitable, Jane headed Tom off at the pass by providing this table:

Names of Culinary Plants Compared to Native or Naturalized(*) Plants in SGM

Common NameCulinary PlantNative or Naturalized(*) Plant in SGMSame
Grains, Seeds
BuckwheatPagopyrum spp.Eriogonum fasciculatumno
OatsAvena sativaAvena fatua*no
sometimes called anise
Foeniculum vulgareFoeniculum vulgare*yes
MustardBrassica nigraBrassica nigra*yes
Fruits, Nuts
BlackberryRubus spp.Himalayan* Rubus procerus
California Rubus ursinus
Chokecherry Prunus virginiana var. demissaPrunus virginiana var. demissayes
CurrantRibes spp.golden currant Ribes aureum
chaparral currant Ribes malvaceum
Elderberry Sambucus caeruleaSambucus caeruleayes
GooseberryRibes spp.Ribes speciosumno
Juniper Juniperus spp.Juniperus spp.yes
Pinyon pinePinus monophyllaPinus monophyllayes
Prickly pear, tunaOpuntia spp.Opuntia spp.yes
Rose Rosa sp.Rosa sp.yes
Serviceberry, juneberry Amelanchier sp.Amelanchier sp.yes
Thimbleberry Rubus parviflorusRubus parviflorusyes
WalnutJuglans regiaJuglans californicano
Bay leafLaurus nobilisUmbellularia californicano
Cactus, nopalesOpuntia spp.Opuntia spp.yes
HorehoundMarrubium vulgareMarrubium vulgare*yes
MustardBrassica campestrisBrassica campestris*yes
SageSalvia officinalisCalifornia sagebrush Artemesia californica
White sage Salvia apiana
Black sage Salvia mellifera
TarragonArtemisia dracunculusArtemisia dracunculus; although French tarragon,
the culinary herb, is the same species,
it is a cultivated plant grown from cuttings and
does not set seeds nor grow in the wild;
taste the leaves to tell the difference
WatercressRorippa nasturtium-aquaticumRorippa nasturtium-aquaticum; however,
since the water in which it grows is generally
contaminated by giardia or cryptosporidium,
it is not a good idea to eat ones from the wild

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Copyright © 1999-2005 by Jane Strong and Tom Chester.
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Updated 14 September 2005.