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Yucca Cactus Buds
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Yucca buds are petite in size measuring approximately two inches in length. Their skin is vibrant green and slightly warty. The body of the bud is ovate in shape and is divided into three chambers which are notable on the exterior by vertical indentations that run from the stem end to the top of the bud. Atop of the bud are the dried remnants of the Yucca’s flower blossom. The interior chambers of the bud contain a creamy white flesh and immature white seeds. Once fully mature and as the buds begin to dry the seeds will turn to black. At this immature stage, the buds are tender and when raw offer a bright, cucumber flavor with nuances of citrus and soap.
Yucca cactus buds are available in the early summer.
There are many different species of Yucca this specific bud comes from the plant classified as Hesperoyucca whipplei (formerly Yucca whipplei) and is an evergreen shrub and a member of the Agavaceae family. The buds are the immature fruits of the Yucca plant. Yucca can grow for 20 years or more before flowering. The season it is going to flower the Yucca produces a long stalk that grows out of the center of the plant. This stalk will eventually be covered in white flowers which later turn into the Yucca buds or fruits. Yucca plants of Hesperoyucca whipplei only flower once in their lifetime and soon after blooming and fruiting the plant begins to die.
Yucca cactus buds have long provided a valuable source of carbohydrates and dietary fiber and helped sustain those living in the desert regions where it grows.
The immature fruits of the Yucca plant are most commonly prepared roasted over an open fire. The buds can also be dried and ground down to make flour. Early Native Americans would boil or roast the buds then mash them to make a paste for use in preparing sun-dried cakes that could be saved for future food uses. Yucca buds can also be eaten raw as is though many people find their flavor more palatable when cooked. Fresh buds should be kept in a dry location and used within a week. For an extended shelf life, the buds can also be dried and saved whole or ground into flour then stored.
The Yucca plant was a much-revered plant amongst Native American tribes. Its buds, flowers, and stalks could be used as a source of sustenance, the roots used to make soap, and the leaf blades to make brooms. The Yucca is a fiber plant, and its leaves were pulled apart into fibers then woven together to make rope, nets, sandals, baskets, blankets, and mats. The process of people gathering together to weave the fibers had meaning beyond the supplies it could produce, it represented a time when families could gather together and talk for hours, with the older generations teaching, the younger about the history and values of the tribe.
Yucca is native to the southwestern United States with different species being native to specific regions. Hesperoyucca grows predominately in the dry and warm desert and chaparral regions of Southern California and Arizona in the United States, and in Baja California, Mexico as well. There are three species of Hesperoyucca; Joshua Tree (Y. brevifolia), banana yucca (Y. baccata), and Mojave yucca (Y. schidigera) however only H. whipplei is found in California. The Yucca has a mutually dependent relationship with the yucca moth, meaning not one organism can survive without the other (a relationship known as “mutualism”). The Yucca plant cannot reproduce seeds without being pollinated by the yucca moth, and the yucca moth caterpillar cannot live without consuming the seeds of the Yucca.