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Zea mays - L.                
Common Name Sweet Corn, Corn
Family Poaceae or Gramineae
USDA hardiness 8-11
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Not known in the wild.
Range Original habitat is obscure, probably S. America or Mexico.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Half Hardy Moist Soil Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Zea mays is a ANNUAL growing to 2 m (6ft 7in) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 9 and is frost tender. It is in flower from Jul to October, and the seeds ripen from Sep to October. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Wind.Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid and neutral soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.

Zea mays Sweet Corn,  	Corn

Zea mays Sweet Corn,  	Corn
 Cultivated Beds;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Oil;  Oil;  Pollen;  Seed;  Stem.
Edible Uses: Coffee;  Oil;  Oil.

Seed - raw or cooked. Corn is one of the most commonly grown foods in the world. The seed can be eaten raw or cooked before it is fully ripe[1, 2, 33, 34] and there are varieties especially developed for this purpose (the sweet corns) that have very sweet seeds and are delicious[183, K]. The mature seed can be dried and used whole or ground into a flour. It has a very mild flavour and is used especially as a thickening agent in foods such as custards[183]. The starch is often extracted from the grain and used in making confectionery, noodles etc[183]. The dried seed of certain varieties can be heated in an oven when they burst to make 'Popcorn'[183]. The seed can also be sprouted and used in making uncooked breads and cereals[183]. A nutritional analysis is available[218]. The fresh succulent 'silks' (the flowering parts of the cob) can also be eaten[55, 183]. An edible oil is obtained from the seed, it is an all-purpose culinary oil that is frequently used as a food in salads and for cooking purposes[13, 46, 183, 238]. The pollen is used as an ingredient of soups[183]. Rich in protein, it is harvested by tapping the flowering heads over a flat surface such as a bowl. Harvesting the pollen will actually help to improve fertilisation of the seeds[K]. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute[183]. The pith of the stem is chewed like sugar cane and is sometimes made into a syrup[183].
Figures in grams (g) or miligrams (mg) per 100g of food.
Seed (Fresh weight)
  • 361 Calories per 100g
  • Water : 10.6%
  • Protein: 9.4g; Fat: 4.3g; Carbohydrate: 74.4g; Fibre: 1.8g; Ash: 1.3g;
  • Minerals - Calcium: 9mg; Phosphorus: 290mg; Iron: 2.5mg; Magnesium: 0mg; Sodium: 0mg; Potassium: 0mg; Zinc: 0mg;
  • Vitamins - A: 140mg; Thiamine (B1): 0.43mg; Riboflavin (B2): 0.1mg; Niacin: 1.9mg; B6: 0mg; C: 0mg;
  • Reference: [ 218]
  • Notes:
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Cancer;  Cholagogue;  Demulcent;  Diuretic;  Hypoglycaemic;  Hypotensive;  Lithontripic;  Stimulant;  Vasodilator;  Warts.

A decoction of the leaves and roots is used in the treatment of strangury, dysuria and gravel[218]. The corn silks are cholagogue, demulcent, diuretic, lithontripic, mildly stimulant and vasodilator[4, 9, 165, 176, 218]. They also act to reduce blood sugar levels and so are used in the treatment of diabetes mellitus[9, 218] as well as cystitis, gonorrhoea, gout etc[222]. The silks are harvested before pollination occurs and are best used when fresh because they tend to lose their diuretic effect when stored and also become purgative[9]. A decoction of the cob is used in the treatment of nose bleeds and menorrhagia[218]. The seed is diuretic and a mild stimulant[4]. It is a good emollient poultice for ulcers, swellings and rheumatic pains[4], and is widely used in the treatment of cancer, tumours and warts[218]. It contains the cell-proliferant and wound-healing substance allantoin, which is widely used in herbal medicine (especially from the herb comfrey, Symphytum officinale) to speed the healing process[222]. The plant is said to have anticancer properties and is experimentally hypoglycaemic and hypotensive[218].
Other Uses
Adhesive;  Fuel;  Oil;  Oil;  Packing;  Paper.

A glue is made from the starch in the seed[13]. This starch is also used in cosmetics and the manufacture of glucose[61]. A semi-drying oil is obtained from the seed[57]. It has many industrial uses, in the manufacture of linoleum, paints, varnishes, soaps etc[21, 61]. The corn spathes are used in the production of paper, straw hats and small articles such as little baskets[74, 171]. A fibre obtained from the stems and seed husks is used for making paper[189]. They are harvested in late summer after the seed has been harvested, they are cut into usable pieces and soaked in clear water for 24 hours. They are then cooked for 2 hours in soda ash and then beaten in a ball mill for 1½ hours in a ball mill. The fibres make a light greenish cream paper[189]. Be careful not to overcook the fibre otherwise it will produce a sticky pulp that is very hard to form into paper[189]. The dried cobs are used as a fuel[171]. The pith of the stems is used as a packing material[171].
Cultivation details                                         
Requires a warm position a well drained soil and ample moisture in the growing season[16, 33]. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 to 6.8[200]. Requires a rich soil if it is to do well[201]. Corn is widely cultivated for its edible seed, especially in tropical and warm temperate zones of the world[200], there are many named varieties[132]. Unfortunately, the plant is not frost tolerant and so needs to be started off under glass in Britain if a reasonable crop is to be grown. There are five main types:- Sweetcorn is of fairly recent development. It has very sweet, soft-skinned grains that can be eaten raw or cooked before they are fully ripe. Cultivars have been developed that can produce a worthwhile crop even in the more northerly latitudes of Britain if a suitable warm sunny sheltered site is chosen[238, K. Popcorn is a primitive form with hard-skinned grains. When roasted, these grains 'explode' to form the popular snack 'popcorn'[238]. Waxy corn is used mainly in the Far East. It has a tapioca-like starch[238]. Flint corn, which shrinks on drying, can have white, yellow, purple, red or blue-black grains[238]. It is not so sweet and also takes longer to mature so is a problematic crop in Britain. There are many other uses for this plant as detailed below. Dent corn has mostly white to yellow grains. This and Flint corn are widely grown for oils, cornflour, cereals and silage crops. Corn grows well with early potatoes, legumes, dill, cucurbits and sunflowers[18, 20, 201], it dislikes growing with tomatoes[20].
Seed - sow April in individual pots in a greenhouse. Grow on quickly and plant out after the last expected frosts. A direct outdoor sowing, especially of some of the less sweet varieties, can be tried in May.
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Corynocarpus laevigatusNew Zealand Laurel, Karaka nut20
Dacrydium cupressinumRimu, New zealand red pine20
Hebe speciosaNew Zealand hebe00
Kunzea muelleri 11
Kunzea pomifera 10
Laurelia novae-zealandiaePukatea01
Leptospermum scopariumTea Tree, Broom teatree, Manuka, New Zealand Tea Tree30
Phormium tenaxNew Zealand Flax, Coastal Flax, New Zealand Hemp20
Rubus kuntzeanus 30
Solanum aviculareKangaroo Apple, New Zealand nightshade22
Tetragonia tetragonioidesNew Zealand Spinach30
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[9]Launert. E. Edible and Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants in Europe. a drawing of each plant, quite a bit of interesting information.
[13]Triska. Dr. Hamlyn Encyclopaedia of Plants.
Very interesting reading, giving some details of plant uses and quite a lot of folk-lore.
[16]Simons. New Vegetable Growers Handbook.
A good guide to growing vegetables in temperate areas, not entirely organic.
[18]Philbrick H. and Gregg R. B. Companion Plants.
Details of beneficial and antagonistic relationships between neighbouring plants.
[20]Riotte. L. Companion Planting for Successful Gardening.
Fairly good.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[33]Organ. J. Rare Vegetables for Garden and Table.
Unusual vegetables that can be grown outdoors in Britain. A good guide.
[34]Harrison. S. Wallis. M. Masefield. G. The Oxford Book of Food Plants.
Good drawings of some of the more common food plants from around the world. Not much information though.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[55]Harris. B. C. Eat the Weeds.
Interesting reading.
[57]Schery. R. W. Plants for Man.
Fairly readable but not very comprehensive. Deals with plants from around the world.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[74]Komarov. V. L. Flora of the USSR.
An immense (25 or more large volumes) and not yet completed translation of the Russian flora. Full of information on plant uses and habitats but heavy going for casual readers.
[132]Bianchini. F., Corbetta. F. and Pistoia. M. Fruits of the Earth.
Lovely pictures, a very readable book.
[165]Mills. S. Y. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism.
An excellent small herbal.
[171]Hill. A. F. Economic Botany.
Not very comprehensive, but it is quite readable and goes into some a bit of detail about the plants it does cover.
[176]Yeung. Him-Che. Handbook of Chinese Herbs and Formulas.
An excellent Chinese herbal giving information on over 500 species. Rather technical and probably best suited to the more accomplished user of herbs.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[189]Bell. L. A. Plant Fibres for Papermaking.
A good practical section on how to make paper on a small scale plus details of about 75 species (quite a few of them tropical) that can be used.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[201]Allardice.P. A - Z of Companion Planting.
A well produced and very readable book.
[218]Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China
Details of over 1,200 medicinal plants of China and brief details of their uses. Often includes an analysis, or at least a list of constituents. Heavy going if you are not into the subject.
[222]Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America.
A concise book dealing with almost 500 species. A line drawing of each plant is included plus colour photographs of about 100 species. Very good as a field guide, it only gives brief details about the plants medicinal properties.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
MR. RAJIV MILI Mon Sep 8 2008
The morphology of the crop plant has not been described. The inclusion of the morphological features may give a clear concept of the plant. In addition, It will help the student, researchers and the academic community throughout the globe. The new learner may also be benefitted from the same. So, it is our request you to provide the above mentioned information. With regards Rajiv Mili Researcher, GBPIHED, India
Elizabeth H.
j mitchell Fri Aug 22 2008
I have seen the various names for maize as cooked and used for food in africa.Whilst in Kenya as a child in Nakuru, the African folk called the thick sort of Putty consistency food with Meal and water POSHO.To eat with this they collected a wild form of Spinach they called MBOGA.They also used the Maize to make POMBE,their beer.What an amazing and versatilecrop.
Elizabeth H.
Lawler Barnes Sun May 31 2009

Nature Abhors a Garden Nature abhors a Garden for 11/30/08 discusses how Native Americans and Spaniards processed corn with lime to make it edible; the posting for 11.23/08 explores the emotional ties that exist to corn.

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