As a person who loves to cook with the freshest ingredients possible, the study of plant cultivation (particularly for eating) is of great interest. There is such a great diversity to the edible plants, and with artificial environment creation, almost any of them can be grown almost anywhere. I keep a Aerogarden of herbs here in my kitchen, and being able to add freshly picked basil or oregano or rosemary to a meal is tremendously satisfying. To know that the food you are eating was grown yourself from seed creates such a feeling of self-sufficiency that I recommend everyone have at least a window-side pot of herbs. This page is an introduction to the biology of edible plants (and mushrooms!), their taxonomy, and how best to grow/use them yourself. Non-edible groups are shown in brackets for taxonomic comparison.
The flowering plants are a relatively recent group of organisms, geologically speaking. We can trace their origin back to the Early Cretaceous, roughly 125 million years ago. They all possess the capacity to flower, stamens with two pairs of pollen sacs, reduced male and female gametophytes (reducing time between pollination and fertilization), a closed carpel covering the ovules (which becomes the fruit in many species), and the presence of an endosperm (highly nutritious tissue that aids the plant as a developing embryo and the cotyledons). Due to their ability to inhabit a wider range of ecological niches than other plants, angiosperms have become the dominant form of plant life on Earth, rivaled only by vast coniferous forests of Canada and Russia.
Monocots are characterized by having one cotyledon (seed-leaf) as opposed to two. They comprise the vast majority of agriculture biomass due to the inclusion of all the true grains (Poaceae). They also contain the most diverse family of the plants, the Orchidaceae (orchids) with around 20,000 species.
Family Arecacea (Palms) - These are the palms, used often for landscape and interior decorating, as well as producing coconuts.
Family Alliaceae (Onions) - The onion family includes onions, chives, leeks, scallions, shallots, and garlic; some of my favorite foods.
Family Asparagaceae - Asparagus
Family Iridaceae - Saffron
Family Dioscoreaceae - Yams
This order contains the plants from which most of the world gets its daily nutrition: the grains.
Family Poaceae (Grass) - These are the grasses, and include barley, bamboo, corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, sugarcane, and wheat.
Family Bromeliaceae - Pineapple
Family Musaceae - Bananas
Family Apiaceae (Carrot)- These are the umbellifers: angelica, anise, caraway, carrot, celery, chervil, cilantro, cumin, dill, fennel, lovage, parsley, and parsnip
[Family Araliaceae] - Ivy
Family Asteraceae (Sunflower)- Includes artichoke, cardoon, chicory, endive, escarole, lettuce, radicchio, sunflower (seeds), tarragon
Family Brassicaceae (Cabbage) - Arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, rapini, rutabaga, tat soi, turnip
Family Caricaceae - papaya
Family Capparaceae - capers
Family Amaranthaceae (Beets) - amaranth, beet, chard, spinach, quinoa
Family Polygonaceae - rhubarb, buckwheat, sorrel
Family Cucurbitaceae (Melons) - cucumber, chayote, melon, pumpkin, squash, watermelon
Family Actinidiaceae - kiwi
Family Ericaceae - blueberry, cranberry
Family Ebanaceae - persimmon
Family Fabaceae (Legumes) - beans, fava beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, soybeans
Family Lamiaceae (Mint) - basil, mint, rosemary, sage, marjoram, oregano, thyme
Family Oleaceae - olive, [lilac], [jasmine]
Family Lauraceae - avocado, cinnamon, bay laurel
Family Myrtaceae - guava, clove, allspice
Family Lythraceae - pomegranate
Family Anacardiaceae - mango, cashew, pistachio, [poison ivy], [sumac]
Family Rutaceae (Citrus) - orange, lemon, grapefruit, lime, kumquat, mandarin, tangerine
Family Sapindaceae - maple
Family Solanaceae (Nightshade) - bell pepper, eggplant, potato, tomato, peppers
Family Rosaceae - apple, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, pear, quince, plum, peach, cherry, apricot, almond, nectarine
Family Vitaceae - grape
Family Agaricaceae - field mushroom, button mushroom (portabella, crimini)
Family Tricholomataceae - Shiitake mushroom, oyster mushroom
Family Boletaceae - king bolete mushroom
Family Cantharellaceae - chanterelle mushroom
Family Tuberaceae - truffles