January 2016: Edible botany

Cover of The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, 2013

January 2016

Edible botany


“Suddenly we weren’t in a liquor store anymore. We were in a fantastical greenhouse, the world’s most exotic botanical garden, the sort of strange and overgrown conservatory we only encounter in our dreams.”
~Amy Stewart, The Drunken Botanist


What does your lunch look like? A sandwich, soup, maybe a salad. Next time you sit down to a meal, stop and take a look at the composition of the food on your plate. A lot of it is actually plant based! The salad is the most obvious, as each part of the plant you are eating is visible. But stop! What about all the rest of it, and the chair you’re sitting on, and all the things you use in a day? Plants provide much of what we eat, drink, and use on a daily basis, often in hidden form. Come to The Morton Arboretum to learn about the history and uses of plants, and discover what plants are lurking in your life and diet! Attend one of our classes or stop by the Sterling Morton Library to pick up some of our books on the subject. In her 2013 book, The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks, Amy Stewart explores the botany and history of all the plants that go into what we drink, perhaps without even realizing what we are drinking is derived from plants in the first place. This book explores plants with rich history and specific characteristics that have led them to be used in some of, as Stewart says, the world’s great drinks.



“Around the world, it seems, there is not a tree or shrub or delicate wildflower that has not been harvested, brewed, and bottled. Every advance in botanical exploration or horticultural science brought with it a corresponding uptick in the quality of our spirituous liquors. Drunken botanists? Given the role they play in creating the world’s great drinks, it’s a wonder there are any sober botanists at all. With this book, I hope to offer a plant’s-eye perspective on booze and to supply a little history, a little horticulture, and even some agricultural advice for those of you who want to grow your own. I begin with the plants we actually turn into alcohol, such as grapes and apples, barley and rice, sugarcane and corn. Any of them can, with the help of yeast, be transformed into molecules of intoxicating ethyl alcohol. But that’s only the beginning. A great gin or a fine French liqueur is flavored with innumerable herbs, seeds, and fruit, some of them added during distillation and some just before bottling. And once a bottle gets to the bar, a third round of plants are called into service: mixers like mint, lemon, and - if the party’s at my house - fresh jalapeno. I structured the book around this journey from mash tub and still, to bottle, to glass.”
~Amy Stewart, The Drunken Botanist, p. xii-xiii

At the Arb

Gourmet Botany: Lunching and Learning 2016 - Explore the botany of your favorite culinary indulgences! Melissa Custic of the Arboretum’s Community Trees Program will introduce us to the science and plants behind chocolate, coffee,  and other favorite foods that come from trees and woody plants and discuss how the natural history and human use of these plants have shaped society today.
Whiskey Dinner - Enjoy a delicious whiskey-inspired dinner paired with two whiskeys neat and two whiskey cocktails. Live music will be provided by Ron Steta. Learn more about trees and their relationship to whiskey, the distilling process and flavor profiles for four whiskey distilleries. All guests receive a souvenir tasting glass to take home with them.


Library resources

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart, 2013
Chilies to Chocolate: Food the Americas Gave the World by Nelson Foster and Linda S. Cordell, 1992
Plants that Feed and Serve Us by Else Hvass, 1973
Plants and Man: The Story of Our Basic Food by H. L. Edlin, 1969
Plants Consumed by Man by B. Brouk, 1975
Plants For People by Anna Lewington, 1990
Folklore and Odysseys of Food and Medicinal Plants by Ernst and Johanna Lehner, 1962
All Good Things Around Us by Pamela Michael, 1980


Reader’s advisory

If you are interested in learning more about the plants we eat, check out our books on edible wild plants, or perhaps our books on plant, tree, and flower folklore are more for you!