A batch of lemon balm-lemon verbena syrup reminds Jeanne of the multiple evolutionary origins of lemon flavor.
The citrus lemon itself is only one of many plant species that lends its namesake flavor or fragrance to our food and drinks. Lemon flavor primarily comes from a few terpenoid essential oils: citral (also called geranial, neral, or lemonal), linalool, limonene, geraniol, and citronellal. The production of one or more of these essential oils has independently evolved multiple times in species on widely separated branches of the plant phylogeny (see figure).
Phylogeny of plant taxonomic orders with edibles (click the tree to enlarge). Orders with species with lemony essential oils are highlighted in red. For a refresher on reading this phylogeny, please see our food plant tree of life page.
The three edibles from the order Dipsacales (mâche, elderberry and valerian) inadvertently make their way into Jeanne’s evening.
As I added some dried valerian (Valeriana officinalis) root to my bedtime tea mixture, I realized that in doing so I had inadvertently incorporated the only three common edibles from the order Dipsacales into my evening: elder, mâche, and valerian. These three make the Dipsacales a lonely but interesting and delicious branch of the asterid group of eudicots (see our phylogeny page for phylogenetic contextualization of the asterids):
Orders with edibles in the asterids, Dipsacales in red