Leaf of the Day: The Good Jicama..if just a little toxic

Hmmmm…This is really not the sign you want to be confronted with when entering a vegetable garden, is it!

How can this be? The pods look every bit as inviting and edible as a runner bean at least. But here, growing in the Leu Gardens vegetable plot, in a big untidy heap of pods and leaves, is the Jicama, Pachyrhizus erosus.
The sign well is deserved, especially in this public garden, because just as it says, all aerial parts of this plant are poisonous. So I cannot really add this to my “eat you way round the garden” list and definitely not “eat your models” list, unless I was drawing the root, which I have to say doesn’t look too inspiring.

Image from the Root and Tuber Crops Section of the International Society for Horticultural Science. here

Jicama is a tropical vine which given the right conditions and a sturdy support can clamber a good 20 feet. A member of the Fabaceae (pea) family, it is native to Central America, where it is also known as Yam Bean or Mexican Turnip. Its botanical name “Pachyrhizus” means “thick root” and the colloquial name Jicama, from Nahuatlan Indian xicama, means “edible storage root.” Other descriptions include ” a dusty old stone”or “an inert looking blob”but these splendid edible roots can weigh up to fifty pounds, although those you may see at the supermarket are more likely to be 3 or 4 pounds. On balance I think it probably has a bit more about it than the average potato.
Its taste seems to be difficult to describe, somewhere between an apple and a potato, or a bit like a water chestnut. It can be eaten raw, boiled, mashed, fried or sauteed etc. Raw, it is crisp, slightly sweet, can be added to salads and used for dips….and it is the slimmers friend being very low in calories. I can’t understand why it is not at the front of every veggie display.

In its native Mexico Jicama is a staple food, added to many dishes and sold on the street as a snack, livened up with a squeeze of lime or a dash of chili.
It is also one of the 4 foods included in the Dia de los Muertos festivities, celebrated in November, the others traditionally being sugar cane, tangerines and peanuts.

photo by lacasa from Travelpod website here

It is the time when the beautiful and thoughtful altars are made as homage to the dead. Bowls of fruits are offered as nourishment and placed amongst other mementos, symbols and flowers as offerings, to aid the dead in their journey to visit the living. The Jicama is also celebrated in the form of the delightfully delicate papel picado dolls.

I think this is a wonderful festival, celebration and remembrance all rolled into one, reflecting the Mexicans robust way of dealing with death.
“The Mexican…..is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love. True, there is perhaps as much fear in his attitude as in that of others, but a least death is not hidden away….” Octavio Paz 1914-1998

However if the death had been caused by Jicama poisoning you might not be so ready to include it in the plate of vegetables, but that is more likely to occur if you are a fish or an insect. The seeds of the Jicama contain Rotenone, a fish and insect poison. The Native Americans used the crushed seeds in their, perhaps less than sporting, fish-stunning, fishing technique, scattering the seeds on the waters surface and gathering up the immobilized creatures when the Rotenone has taken effect. Similar to the soapberry stunning I wrote about here in Soapberry, The Dark Side.
It is also used as an insecticide. Ant was noticeably absent from the drawing table this afternoon having been scampering about earlier. Yes, Ant is still with me, despite more attempts to encourage him to find a new life elsewhere.

The leaves are big, very big, I found a smallish one to sketch but this takes up the whole page of my 14 x17 inch sketchbook. I opened up a pod to draw, (not licking my fingers..) Its two sides were elegantly symmetrical with the tiny unripe seeds anchored like little shiny pearls in their spacious compartments, held in green chambered security, quite beautiful. As I was drawing, the pod sides began to twist and curl as they dried out. An hour on, it would have been more pleasing to draw .. but such is life.

Jicama Leaf and Pod