Edible Tulips

Judy Glattstein jglatt@hughes.net
Tue, 30 Oct 2007 12:27:10 PDT
When I was doing research for The American Gardener's World of Bulbs 
(Little, Brown and Co, 1994) a Dutch friend translated the following for 

pg 43 "A pamphlet published January 23, 1945, concerning the food supply 
during the war was written by Rubber Society at Delft, which was trying 
to supply staff members with extra food supplies "in the form of 
Tulipbulbs, food that - if well prepared - is eaten nowadays in great 
quantities in the big cities." Noting that the nutritional value of the 
tulip is 'almost 1.8 times that of potatoes" the pamphlet goes on to 
suggest methods of preparation. The thin brown tunic was removed and the 
bulb sliced in half to permit removal of the inedible immature yellow 
shoots in the center. Eaten raw the bulbs are hard to digest, and 
recipes suggest boiling and mashing, separating the scales and roasting 
into tulip chips, or grinding and drying into a coarse flower to be used 
for making bread and pancakes. Eight bulbs at one meal was considered a 
rather good portion. Gladiolus were also eaten, but never narcissus, 
which are poisonous."

There is also the anecdote from the seventeenth century, "possibly 
apocryphal  about an Antwerp merchant who, mistaking for onions some 
tulip bulbs sent from Constantinople with a consignment of cloth, 
roasted and ate a number of them to great financial loss." ibid.

Concerning introduction of tulips: The information I received from Dutch 
sources at the Leiden Botanic Garden (Carolus Clusius was a professor at 
the University of Leyden commencing in autumn 1593) was that Olgier 
Ghiselin de Busbecq, ambassador from the Emperor Ferdinand I to the 
court of Suleiman the Magnificent brought seeds and probably also bulbs 
back to Vienna in the mid-sixteenth century. De Busbecq sent "a large 
quantity" of tulip seed to Clusius in 1573, de Busbecq being due to 
leave for France the following year. The seed was apparently somewhat 
shriveled, and Cluisus didn't get around to sowing it until 1575. 
Germination was, however, excellent and beginning in 1580 the tulips 
began to flower with red, white. yellow, and purple flowers, even some 
with mixed colors. This is apparently also the first mention of tulips 
"breaking." Interestingly, I have been unable to find any mention of 
susceptibility of wild tulips to lily mottle virus. Apparently only 
cultivated tulips are affected by the virus resulting in parti-colored 

And now I shall go outdoors and plant some tulips.

Judy in autumnally chilly New Jersey

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