Parasitic Angiosperms

Used for Food ?

Some time ago I presented a talk to a general audience about parasitic plants wherein I showed a slide of an Orobanche-infested field where the parasite seemed to outnumber the host plants. Afterwards, one member of the audience made the suggestion that maybe the farmers should stop trying to grow the crop and eat the parasite! The audience let out a collective laugh, but I have since had time to think about that not so silly suggestion. Indeed, Orobanche is eaten (like asparagus) as discussed in the recent paper by Rubiales (1999). The 2009 paper by Xu and coauthors shows that indeed Cistanche deserticola is cultivated for food and medicine in China.

The table below is my summary of the topic of humans "turning the tables" (literally) on parasitic plants. As a starting point I borrowed information from Kuijt (1969) and received some good information (and leads on references) from Lytton Musselman. Lytton is uniquely qualified to help in this regard because 1) he is an avid botanist and specialist in parasitic plants and 2) he loves to eat!

This list should be considered just a starting point. I will be happy to add additional examples of parasitic plants documented to be used by humans for food - just send me (D. Nickrent) an e-mail message. Bon Appetit!

Parasite Part Used Location Reference
Hachettea Inflorescence New Caledonia Rendle et al. 1921
Langsdorffia Inflorescence Columbia Hooker 1855
Lophophytum Inflorescence Colombia Hooker 1855
Ombrophytum subterraneum Inflorescence



Mauseth, pers. comm.

Asplund 1928

Cuscuta Seeds SW USA

Kuijt 1969

Hunziker 1950

Cynomorium coccineum Inflorescence

Canary Islands

Africa (by Beduins)

Hooker 1855

L. J. Musselman, pers. com.

Hydnora Fruit



Vaccaneo 1934

Story 1958

Jumelle and Perrier de la Bâthie 1912

Prosopanche Fruit South America Cocucci 1965
Pholisma [Ammobroma] Inflorescence SW USA Gray 1854
Lennoa Inflorescence Mexico Dressler and Kuijt 1968
 Various genera (Amyema, Decaisnina, Dendrophthoe) Fruits Australia (by Aborigines)

Cleland 1957

A. Calladine pers. com.

D. M.Watson, pers. com

"Olacaceae" s. lat.      
Erythropalum scandens Leaves Southeast Asia Web page
Ximenia americana Fruit Africa L. J. Musselman, pers. com.
Cansjera leptostachya Fruits SE Asia, Australia Dunlop et al. 1976 Hiepko 1979
Champereia manillana Young leaves and fruits SE Asia Hiepko 1979
Melientha suavis Young shoots, inflorescences, fruit SE Asia Hiepko 1979
Opilia amentacea Fruit N. Australia, Sudan

Hiepko 1982

Worsley 1961

"Santalaceae" s. lat.      
Buckleya Fruit Asia Carvell and Eshbaugh 1982
Geocaulon lividum Fruit Canada L. J. Musselman, pers. com.
Pyrularia Fruit China Mabberley 1997
Santalum Fruit Australia Hewson and George 1984
Boschniakia Shoots N. America Henry 1915
Cistanche Shoots Europe by Taureg

Mabberley 1997

Xu et al. 2009

Orobanche Shoots Europe, Asia Rubiales 1999
Pedicularis Roots British Columbia Szczawinski and Hardy 1962

References Cited

Asplund, E. 1928. Eine neue Balanophoraceen-Gattung aus Bolivien. Sv. Bot. Tidskr. 22: 261-277.

Carvell, W. N., and W. H. Eshbaugh. 1982. A systematic study of the genus Buckleya Santalaceae. Castanea 47: 17-37.

Cleland, J. B. 1957. Mankind 5(4): 149-162.

Cocucci, A. E. 1965. Estudios en el genero Prosopanche Hydnoraceae. I. Revision taxonomica. Kurtziana 2: 53-73.

Dressler, R. L., and J. Kuijt. 1968. A second species of Ammobroma Lennoaceae in Sinaloa, Mexico. Madroño 19: 179-182.

Dunlop, C. R., P. K. Lataz, and J. R. Maconochie. 1976. A botanical survey of Elcho Island, July 1975. Northern Territory Bulletin 1: 1-61.

Gray, A. 1854. Plantae Novae Thurberianae. Mem. Amer. Acad. Arts and Sci., N.S. 5: 297-328.

Henry, J. K. 1915. Flora of southern British Columbia. Gage & Co., Ltd., Toronto.

Hewson, H. J., and A. S. George. 1984. Santalaceae. Pages 29-67 in A. S. George, ed. Flora of Australia. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Hiepko, P. 1979. A revision of Opiliaceae I Genera of the eastern Old World, excluding Opilia. Willdenowia 9: 13-56.

Hiepko, P. 1982. A revision of Opiliaceae II Opilia Roxb. Willdenowia 12: 161-182.

Hooker, J. D. 1855. On the structure and affinities of Balanophoraceae. Trans. Linn. Soc. London 22: 1-68 plus 16 plates.

Hunziker, A. T. 1950. Las Especies de Cuscuta Convolvulaceae de Argentina y Uruguay. Pages 356. Universidad Nacionale de Cordoba, Argentina.

Jumelle, H., and H. Perrier de la Bâthie. 1912. Quelques phanérogames parasites de Madagascar. Rev. Gen. Bot. 24: 321-328.

Kuijt, J. 1969. The Biology of Parasitic Flowering Plants. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Mabberley, D. J. 1997. The Plant Book. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Rendle, A. B., F. G. Baker, and S. L. M. Moore. 1921. A systematic account of the plants collected in New Caledonia and the Isle of Pines by Prof R H Compton, M A, in 1914. Jour. Linn. Soc. London, Bot. 45: 245-417.

Rubiales, D. 1999. Eating broomrape? Pages 195-199 in J. I. Cubero, M. T. Moreno, D. Rubiales, and J. Sillero, eds. Resistance to Orobanche: The state of the art. Junta de Andalucía, Consejería de Agricultura y Pesca, Sevilla, Spain.

Story, R. 1958. Some plants used by the Bushmen in obtaining food and water. Mem. Bot. Survey S. Afr. 30.: 1-115.

Szczawinski, A. F., and G. A. Hardy. 1962. Guide to common edible plants of British Columbia. B. C. Prov. Mus. Handb. No. 20, Victoria, British Columbia.

Vaccaneo, R. 1934. Hydnoraceae Africae. Atti Accad. naz. Lincei Memorie [Kuijt cites as: Mem. R. Acad. dei Lincei, Roma] 5: 413-458.

Worsley, P. 1961. The utilization of natural food resources by an Australian aboriginal tribe. Acta Ethnographica 10: 153-190.

Xu, R., J. Chen, S.-L. Chen, T.-N. Liu, W.-C. Zhu, and J. Xu. 2009. Cistanche deserticola Ma cultivated as a new crop in China. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 56: 137-142.

SIUC / College of Science / Parasitic Plant Connection / Parasitic Plant Food
Last updated: 15-Jan-09 / dln