All flesh is grass, yet today many of us live

our lives so far removed from agriculture that

this oft quoted statement has little real meaning.

David Bellamy in Botanic Man.

One morning, in December, I paid my usual visit to the municipal market to find that what the market people call lambascioni had arrived. These little bulbs look very much like onions but in fact have no onion flavour at all. They are peeled and boiled to make a mush which is eaten with a sauce or with meat. Personally, I found the dish uninteresting but I nevertheless decided to track down exactly what these lambascioni were. How to identify them? Easy. I planted a few of the bulbs in a pot and waited. The bulbs eventually produced flowers of three different species. The tassel hyacinth (muscari comosum), the grape hyacinth (muscari neglectum), and the Roman hyacinth (hyacintus romanus). The tassle hyacinth is called lampagione in Italian, which explains the market peoples use of the name lambascione. We are probably all familiar with these spring flowering garden plants but are we aware that, in the Mediterranean regions, they are regularly eaten as food? Most of them are imported from Turkey but quite a lot are collected locally. I now have a selection of these delightful flowers on my balcony each spring which gives much more satisfaction than any culinary use.

Over the years I have had varied success in growing plants from roots, rhizomes and tubers bought from the vegetable market. One of my favourites, and a beautiful house-plant, is ginger. Ginger, or root ginger, (zingiber officinale), is sold as a rhizome and is now available in most vegetable shops and market stalls. If the rhizome is potted in good compost and kept moist, not wet, the plant soon shows as an elegant, palm-like, slender herb. The leaves smell of ginger and can be used as a mild flavouring agent. Ginger is an annual and eventually dies off after the leaves have changed to a brilliant ginger colour. With luck, when you empty the pot, you will find a new set of rhizomes to replace the ones you originally planted.

Another more familiar rhizome, is the Jerusalem artichoke (helianthus tuberosus), known in Italian as topinambur. If these are planted and cared for in your garden they will reward you with magnificent yellow blooms and, naturally, a fresh crop of rhizomes. The name Jerusalem artichoke is misleading. The Jerusalem bit comes from the fact that the flowers, like those of sunflowers, follow the sun (girasole), and the artichoke bit from the flavour, which is very much like the flavour of globe artichokes (carciofi).

Taro, or Eddo as it is called in the vegetable market, is a corm which, since it contains about 25 per cent starch, is a food staple in China and many Pacific islands. An indoor plant, it produces very ornate leaves much like those of the arum lily to which it is related.

The sweet, or American potato is now freely available in all the shops and markets in Rome. It is sold as a tuber which may be round or elongated. When potted it quickly produces shoots which climb very vigorously. The mature plant, a member of the convolvulus or Morning Glory family, is very attractive if a little wild, and makes a welcome change from the more usual house-plants.

So by growing these plants we are, perhaps, not so far removed from agriculture as Dr Bellamy suggests. My advice to anyone with an interest in gardening is, if you see a strange root, rhizome, corm or tuber on sale in the market, buy it and try to grow it just for interest. You will probably be well rewarded. There are plenty available especially from the ethnic shops around Piazza Vittorio.

One final story. No doubt we all know about Johnny Appleseed who, in the early years of the 19th century, travelled across the mid-west of the United States planting apple seeds which, when they grew into young trees, were sold to pioneers as they moved west so that they always had a secure source of fresh apples. When I lived at La Storta, north of Rome, we grew an apple tree from seed. The tree was but a few years old when my father, a keen gardener in his later years, visited. When he returned to England he took it with him to Plymouth. It flourished and eventually produced beautiful eating apples. My father died at the age of 96 but his wife treasured the tree until recently, at the age of 92, she reluctantly moved into a home for the aged. Before she left home, her weekly gardener asked if he might remove the tree to his own grounds. I wonder how long it will be before we see Rome Beauties which is what my father called the apples on sale to the public in the markets of Devon.

Useful terms:

Tuber; swollen underground part of a stem or root.

Rhizome; a swollen stem, mostly or completely underground.

Corm; the base of a stem swollen by reserve materials into

a bulbous shape.

Reference book; The New Oxford Book of Food Plants, by Vaughan and Geissler, OUP

Over the years I have had varied success in growing plants from roots, rhizomes and tubers bought from the vegetable market. One of my favourites, and a beautiful house-plant, is ginger. Ginger, or root ginger, (zingiber officinale), is sold as a rhizome and is now available in most vegetable shops and market stalls. If the rhizome is potted in good compost and kept moist, not wet, the plant soon shows as an elegant, palm-like, slender herb. The leaves smell of ginger and can be used as a mild flavouring agent. Ginger is an annual and eventually dies off after the leaves have changed to a brilliant ginger colour. With luck, when you empty the pot, you will find a new set of rhizomes to replace the ones you originally planted.

Another more familiar rhizome, is the Jerusalem artichoke (helianthus tuberosus), known in Italian as topinambur. If these are planted and cared for in your garden they will reward you with magnificent yellow blooms and, naturally, a fresh crop of rhizomes. The name Jerusalem artichoke is misleading. The Jerusalem bit comes from the fact that the flowers, like those of sunflowers, follow the sun (girasole), and the artichoke bit from the flavour, which is very much like the flavour of globe artichokes (carciofi).

Taro, or Eddo as it is called in the vegetable market, is a corm which, since it contains about 25 per cent starch, is a food staple in China and many Pacific islands. An indoor plant, it produces very ornate leaves much like those of the arum lily to which it is related.

The sweet, or American potato is now freely available in all the shops and markets in Rome. It is sold as a tuber which may be round or elongated. When potted it quickly produces shoots which climb very vigorously. The mature plant, a member of the convolvulus or Morning Glory family, is very attractive if a little wild, and makes a welcome change from the more usual house-plants.

So by growing these plants we are, perhaps, not so far removed from agriculture as Dr Bellamy suggests. My advice to anyone with an interest in gardening is, if you see a strange root, rhizome, corm or tuber on sale in the market, buy it and try to grow it just for interest. You will probably be well rewarded. There are plenty available especially from the ethnic shops around Piazza Vittorio.

One final story. No doubt we all know about Johnny Appleseed who, in the early years of the 19th century, travelled across the mid-west of the United States planting apple seeds which, when they grew into young trees, were sold to pioneers as they moved west so that they always had a secure source of fresh apples. When I lived at La Storta, north of Rome, we grew an apple tree from seed. The tree was but a few years old when my father, a keen gardener in his later years, visited. When he returned to England he took it with him to Plymouth. It flourished and eventually produced beautiful eating apples. My father died at the age of 96 but his wife treasured the tree until recently, at the age of 92, she reluctantly moved into a home for the aged. Before she left home, her weekly gardener asked if he might remove the tree to his own grounds. I wonder how long it will be before we see Rome Beauties which is what my father called the apples on sale to the public in the markets of Devon.

Useful terms:

Tuber; swollen underground part of a stem or root.

Rhizome; a swollen stem, mostly or completely underground.

Corm; the base of a stem swollen by reserve materials into

a bulbous shape.

Reference book; The New Oxford Book of Food Plants, by Vaughan and Geissler, OUP