Dahlia bulbs produce the most amazing array of dahlia flowers in a huge variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. They also make gorgeous cut flowers. Dahlias are herbaceous perennials, but most people grow them as annuals, often digging the tuberous roots out of the ground and storing them during winter. But, did you know that you can eat dahlia tubers?
You won’t find them alongside potatoes, yams, Jerusalem artichokes, and other edible tubers that you eat, but dahlia tubers are just as delicious. Long before gardeners in European countries started growing dahlias for their spectacularly beautiful flowers, the ancient Aztecs cultivated dahlias for their starchy, sweet tubers.
Are Dahlia Tubers Safe to Eat?
The question, Are dahlia tubers edible, is an interesting one.
Yes, dahlias are safe to eat, and not just tubers. You can eat the petals of dahlia flowers too.
Apart from eating the tubers, the tubers of the plant have medicinal properties. For example, tuber skins have natural antibiotic properties, and in the past, these were used to treat many illnesses.
Like Jerusalem artichokes, these fleshy tubers are rich in inulin, which is effective for treating high blood fats, including cholesterol and triglycerides. Inulin is also used for weight loss and constipation.
One caveat is that unless you grow your dahlias using 100% organic methods, it’s not a good idea to eat the tubers or petals.
Fertilizers and other toxic plant treatments can be absorbed into the plant and may make you sick. These include insecticides that are used to get rid of pesky Japanese beetles that feed on dahlia blooms.
According to the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, dahlias grown for human consumption are usually grown (or should be grown) from seed in rich, organic soil conditions. This ensures that they are clean and safe to eat. Even so, both tubers and petals should be washed before being eaten.
The Slow Food Foundation was founded in Italy in 2003 and is now active in more than 100 countries globally. They promote a model of agriculture that respects the land and the local culture of a country and is in harmony with the environment.
Which Dahlia tubers CAN you eat?
There are 35 species and more than 50,000 varieties of dahlia. While they may all be edible, there is no hard evidence that they are.
Washington State-based plant breeder Bill Whitson has experimented for years, growing many different dahlia types. He says he has tasted almost 300 different varieties.
Overall, even though not all old heirloom varieties taste good, he has found that most have “good edible qualities.” Overall, he recommends eating dahlia tubers that are similar in size to regular boiling potatoes.
How to prepare Dahlia Tubers for eating?
These plant tubers may be eaten raw or cooked in the same way as other tubers, like potatoes and sweet potatoes.
If cooking them, it’s important to peel them first because the skin tends to be bitter. Boiling is a tried and tested preparation method.
Traditional dishes include fried dahlia tubers, salad with dahlia petals, tuber soup, and dahlia tuber atole, a traditional Mexican beverage.
If you use them in salads or soups, those with experience eating dahlia tubers recommend chopping or shredding them and steaming them lightly. You can also grate them as you do carrots and use them in cakes or stir fry.
Additionally, you can use the cooking water to make various drinks including tea, coffee, and fruit drinks.
What does Dahlia taste like?
Since there are so many species and varieties of dahlia, it isn’t surprising to discover that different types have different flavors.
The Slow Food Foundation describes the taste of dahlia tubers as “a mixture of celery, artichoke, and jicama.”
An article in The Irish Times, written by a dahlia devotee, Fionnuala Fallon, emphasizes how different flavors can be to one another. Comparing those that she tasted, she says one tasted like water chestnut and another like beetroot. Some had a celery or carrot taste, while others tasted a bit like sweet potatoes or Jerusalem artichokes.
Other people say that some of the sweetest and most flavorsome dahlia tubers taste of quince or spicy apple.
Some sources say that when the tubers have been stored for a while, some of the inulin is converted to fructose. This will make them sweeter.
Dr. William Woys Weaver has a doctorate in ethnographic food studies. In an article in Mother Earth News, he says he has found heirlooms to be more flavorsome than modern hybrids with big, fluffy flower heads.
Benefits of Eating Dahlia Tubers
We’ve already mentioned the medicinal properties of dahlia tubers. They are also an excellent source of vitamin B6, potassium, and riboflavin.
They also appear to be a good source of manganese and copper. But, as Weaver points out, the soil conditions that plants grow in and the variety you eat can make a big difference.
Risks of Eating Dahlia Tubers
We’ve mentioned the fact that dahlia tubers are an invaluable source of carbohydrate inulin. But inulin is indigestible and it can cause significant gas, and also stomach cramps.
So, even if your first taste of these plant tubers is delicious, start off eating just a little. If you don’t have a bad reaction, you’re good to go.
Most people don’t have problems, so don’t be too stressed.
Not on most people’s dinner menu, dahlia tubers are, by all accounts, absolutely delicious. That said, because there are so many different species, not all have necessarily been used as food.
Dahlia flowers, like nasturtiums, honeysuckle, marigold, pansy, and many other pretty flowers, are also edible.
But that doesn’t mean you can buy these plants from your local garden center or nursery and start munching or cooking straight away. A major warning is that these plants are commonly sprayed with fungicides and insecticides that are toxic to humans.
So, if you decide to try eating the flowers or tubers of dahlias, please follow our guide.