College students jump at the chance of any free meal, but sadly they are few and far between. Usually, we won’t get a free meal unless we go to an info session, a tailgate or head back home. But what if there have been free meals here all along? Yes, perhaps our 34 acre botanical garden is actually home to your next lunch. Not only is it free for Cal students, it’s organic and locally grown too. We at the Clog have ventured into the gardens, tasted what they have to offer and ranked the plants on three criteria — taste, texture and value. Have you ever wandered through the garden and thought to yourself, “What does that plant taste like?” Even if you haven’t, you’re about to find out. Maybe you can even save some cash
Honey flower leaves (Melianthus major)
The name of this one is very deceiving. Its taste doesn’t resemble honey whatsoever. There is no trace of sweetness. In fact, these leaves are overwhelmingly bitter, like a very strong arugula. The texture, however, is not nearly as bad. It has a decent crunch, and it’s soft and easy to chew. The leaves are relatively large, but you’ll still have to gather a lot in order to fill up.
Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa)
Jerusalem, you might be an important cultural and historical hub, but your sage sucks. The taste, like honey flower leaves, is extremely bitter and is followed by a bite similar to black pepper. The texture is just as terrible. The leaves have very little moisture, making it seem like a wad of paper in your mouth. If you thought value might be Jerusalem sage’s saving grace, you’re wrong. You’ll have to eat hundreds of these tiny leaves just to slightly ease your hunger.
Japanese maple leaves (Acer palmatum)
These leaves are nearly tasteless, but what you can taste is not even close to the maple syrup taste we foolishly expected despite knowing nothing about the process of making maple syrup. They taste faintly of sawdust. That isn’t the only reason why we had issues getting these leaves down. They’re tough and fibrous, making chewing a difficult task. As for value, you won’t have any problem collecting these since they’re all over the ground. But you will have a problem eating enough of these thin leaves to feel full.
Devil’s Fig (Solanum hispidum)
Unlike honey flower leaves, the devil’s fig is as accurate a name as you’ll find for a plant. Eating its fruit is like licking the devil’s pitchfork. It immediately and persistently stings your tongue and mouth and doesn’t subside for several minutes. It’s hard to get past the awful taste, but if you can you’ll find a pleasant, jelly-like texture on the inside with the occasional seed. The value of this plant would be decent if it were possible to eat more than a single bite. Would not recommend.
Beautyberries (Callicarpa mollis)
These tiny, purple berries certainly look appealing, but the reality is they are mostly water on the inside and are therefore almost tasteless. The refreshing pop of water once you bite into it is delightful and earns beautyberries high marks on texture. However, they’re the size of a BB gun pellet and don’t grow in large bundles, so even if you spend an hour picking them you’ll probably only have a small handful.
Pineapple-scented sage (Salvia elegans)
This plant is actually the only one that had a sign saying that the leaves and flowers are edible, so it’s no surprise that the taste was decent. It’s slightly sweet like a pineapple, but still carries a hint of bitterness. It has a little bit of crunch and enough moisture to make it easy to chew and swallow. You’ll still have to eat a lot of it to satisfy your hunger, but it’s also the only plant we sampled that tastes good enough to make a full meal out of.
Only in the botanical garden can you sample cuisine from Asia, Central America and the Mediterranean in the same meal. However, that doesn’t mean that meal will taste good, have a nice texture or fill you up. Our conclusion is probably the one you had from the very beginning — this is a bad idea and you should just buy more meal points.
Contact Ryan Melvin at [email protected].