After a day of fast food, I was pining for plants. Rhetorically, I vowed to eat only vegetables the following day. “Broccoli for breakfast! Lettuce for lunch!” And then I stalled. I couldn’t think of a single vegetable beginning with D. Dill and dandelion leaves were not compelling options.
I was in the car at the time, but when I arrived at our destination, our host kindly got out her copy of The Complete Book of Vegetables to search out an answer. (There are several books by that name; I didn’t think at the time to check author and year.) That’s how I first heard of both dasheen and the doodhi gourd.
“Dasheen” is a name for the tubers of the taro plant, members of the Colocasia genus. I know taro; I’d never heard dasheen. The word seems to have originated as a creole version of the French phrase “de Chine”, that is, “from China”. In other words, like the turkey, it is a plant named for its supposed place of origin.
In French, the plant isn’t called “dechine”, however, in the same way that turkey is “dinde” (lit. “from India”); it’s called “taro” or, after its Latin name, “colocase”. Funnily enough, it would be more accurate to call taro “dinde” than it is to call it “dasheen”, since the root’s cultivation originated in India at least 7000 years ago, according to The Oxford Companion to Food. At least “dasheen” is not as wrong as “dinde”, since the turkey bird is from the Americas, an entirely different continent, while taro really has been cultivated in China, from sometime before 100 BCE.
The OED gives the earliest known use of “dasheen” as 1899, when it had long since been established in the Caribbean, as well as in the tropical parts of Central and South America. With the exception of my original source, the other reference sources I consulted all listed “dasheen” under “taro”, rather than vice versa. The name is widely used for the root vegetable in parts of the West Indies.
So: “Broccoli for breakfast, lettuce for lunch, and dasheen for dinner.” The Complete Book of Vegetables alleviated my alliterative lack even if, as a diet, it lacks a great deal.
© S. Worthen 2009