Common edible plants

Last update: 18 September 2020

Here is a brief summary of commonly available (i.e. I saw them in local markets) fruits, vegetables and fungi*. Sessile organisms, in order to stay alive and reproduce successfully, must invest in defenses against predation that aren’t based in mobility. In terrestrial plants these chiefly constitute a variety of toxins and antinutrients that decrease the feed value of the organism. Some animal species also use these strategies, but that is comparatively very rare, whereas in plants it is very common. The vast majority of plants are completely inedible or frankly toxic to humans, but we’ve managed to domesticate a small number of species and improve their nutritional and toxicological profiles. Not all plants are made equal, however, and neither is individual sensitivity to various problematic defense substances uniformly distributed in the human population. Hence this resource, to help in choosing the least offensive foods.

Contents of polyunsaturated fatty acids, caloric value and amount of sugars are also considered, as they are not neutral to human health. Beyond the scope of this article are preparation measures to neutralize or reduce the amount of antinutrients and toxins present in foods, as they tend to be very item-specific. Since this topic is a lot less studied than I would have liked, I make more educated guesses than I would like. If anything, I would advise erring on the side of caution, rather than taking my opinion here that something is safe – there are more types of toxins out there, not summarized here (for instance, I skipped tannins and protease inhibitors, as I don’t think I can even make educated guesses about them). As always, please let me know (contact details easily found elsewhere), if you think I made an error of fact or omission here.

* I am aware Fungi are a separate kingdom, but from an edibility perspective, they share many properties of vegetables. Furthermore, I am using the botanical definition rather than the culinary one, as to what constitutes a vegetable and what a fruit, for the same reason. Grains, seeds, beans and nuts are a separate topic, and are not considered here.

A. bisporus
Citrus fruits
P. ostreatus
Legend: LEC – lectins, GOI – goitrogens, OXA – oxalates, PHY – phytate, GAL – glycoalkaloids, AGA – agaritine, PUF – polyunsaturated fatty acids, CAL – caloric density, SUG – simple sugars. Green – unlikely to be a problem, yellow – potentially problematic, red – likely problematic.


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