How to Care for Edible Orchids

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Admittedly, I have a tough time finding house plants that are safe around my cats. Because, for the most part, my cats are well behaved and prefer to bite eachother rather than the plants (playful bites, not PETA bites), but occasionaly my three-legger, Pitters, has a hanerkin’ for something green.

Recently, I bought a 3- or 4-foot yucca cane plant to put in my bedroom window–something that could go well in an ecclectic “folkloric” room. I found out after I bought it, and went through the hundred battles necessary to transport it in my car, “Yuccas are bad for cats.” 

Great. Well, the quick fix for my cats has always been to mist the plant leaves and sprinkle with either cinnamon or cayenne pepper.  It works for me, and it very well may work for you, but like I said, my cats are well trained.

If your cats are simply insatiable, but you’d still like to have a nice houseplant, there’s good news–buy an orchid!

My dining room, which has effectively become a conservatory!

Orchids are classified safe by the ASPCA, and in some cultures, orchids are used in dishes. The vanilla bean plant is an example of a comestible orchid (but isn’t normally eaten directly).

The root-like parts of an orchid, called tubers, are composed of a starchy substance called Bassorin.  This substance, being a part of a type of gum (no, not dental ones) called tragacanth, is insoluable in water, but swells when wet.  The short version is, it likes water – it likes being moist – but it can drown.

Bassorin is one of the primary ingredients of the old-world hot drink, saloop – or salep – the olden-days version of Starbucks coffee. Because the starchy substance is so highly nutritious, the drink was used as a backup ration for sailing-ship crewmen centuries ago, and it is still used in some herbal folk remedies. The starchy, gooey material can be used for the treatment of stomach problems – coating the GI tract in a manner similar to the more common Slippery Elm Bark.  Apparently orchid tubers were even used in some spells and potions to promote love. Funny that, so many years later, it’s a different part of the plant that’s the present.

Anyway that’s the good news–the bad news is that, of all the plants I’ve ever had the orchid is the only thing I’ve ever killed. I’ve heard so many rumors about ways to raise and care for orchids–crazy things like watering the orchid in the shower, setting ice cubes on the moss to water the plant slowly and soaking the orchid in a pot of water. Like with any internet search, two sources provide suggestions that are in complete opposition.

But, for the most part, it seems that the orchid has basic needs: it needs to be moist, not soggy; it needs to have bright, indirect light; it needs a lot of humidity (which can be provided by putting the pot over a tray of water filled with pebbles); and it requires a quick draining potting medium. However, your orchid probably will not need to be repotted, as they prefer being root-bound, so buy a decorative outer potter instead, setting your orchid and its native pot inside.

Orchids are not big fans of soil, because, natively, they do not grow in soil. Their roots grow air-exposed, climbing the bark of a tree or near other porous materials that can provide water. If you do need to repot your orchid, some retailers have specific media that should be used.

To water, take the native pot to the sink and water completely, letting it drain over night. Do not get the flowers wet. Return the orchid to your decorative potter and repeat whenever the growing medium is nearly, but not completely dry. When the orchid is flowering, it will need more attention, and this can last up to 12 weeks. Even if the flowers have fallen, the plant isn’t necessarily dead. In this stage, it is important to give your orchid light, food, and patience, constantly watching for new stalks to grow from the base.

By the way, it’s been several weeks, and the flowers are still continuing to grow (I have 16 flowers now!). The cats have left it alone (I bought them some cat grass), and I’m almost counting down the days until I kill it (and, yes, a PETA kinda kill).

Have any of you had the luck of the orchid? Any suggestions for me?

Mother Earth Living
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