With some many dual purpose plants out there, why limit yourself to growing food with just one edible part? The garden version of nose-to-tail eating is finding a plant that is edible from top to bottom.
A Few Dual Purpose Plants with Multiple Edible Parts
Not only are beets versatile, but they are very easy to grow. While beets are certainly not an unusual plant, not everyone knows that the entire plant is edible.
Trust me – for every person reading this and thinking “Of course the leaves are edible!” there is another person who tosses the leaves in the compost.
The roots, stems and leaves are all edible. Enjoy tiny beet greens in fresh salads or chop and cook the larger greens. My mother absolutely loves beet greens, preferring them over spinach. She blanches and freezes them.
A few years ago, Mom and I went to buy a bushel of beets. My mother was absolutely horrified to find out that the Mennonite farmer, clearly intending to be helpful, had removed all the greens and tossed them into the compost. They now know to leave the greens on for Mom!
As for the roots, you can eat the tender baby beets, or wait and harvest the mature beets. Beets can be canned or pickled. Special beets known as mangel beets are grown for animal fodder.
Beets grow just about anywhere. They can handle a light frost and prefer cool weather, so do not grow them in the heat of summer. From seed, they are fully mature in about 55 days, depending on variety, but both greens and roots can be eaten long before that.
It is tempting to think that beets can be used as a dye, since that juice of theirs is so gorgeously red. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view!), the colour is known for being very short-lived. Good news if you splash it all over your clothes, but bad news if you’re trying to colour something on purpose!
This plant has been cultivated for thousands of years and yields about the same as rice or maize. Most of us in North America know it as wild “pigweed” – like other amaranth, the leaves and seeds of pigweed are edible. Amaranth can be popped and mixed with various things. It can also make amaranth oil. Instead of a weed, this should be considered a superfood!
Most Asian grocery stores sell it, sometimes under names like baby amaranth, red spinach, yin choi or yin tsoi.
Where does it grow? Well, at least in Canada, pigweed tends to grow right where people don’t want it! Pigweed got its name because it often appears where pigs have disturbed the soil. It seems to grow anywhere zone 5 or warmer.
When my friend L was visiting last year, I pointed out some pigweed and mentioned that I had recently learned it was an edible plant. She looked at me in horror and said that farmers hate it with a passion.
Grain amaranth takes 110-150 days to mature, so it is recommended that the seed be started 6-8 weeks before the last frost unless you have a very long growing season.
What can you do with amaranth leaves? Treat them just like spinach – steam, stir-fry or saute. Or serve them in any salad that calls for spinach. Some people dislike the taste of the stems and remove them, but the stems are certainly edible if you enjoy the taste. Once amaranth leaves are cooked, avoid reheating.
What can you do with amaranth seeds? Unless you’re allergic to seeds, you can add them to cereal, mill them into flour or even pop them.
And, oh, yes, the green leaves with red-purple centers are beautiful.
Roselle is a species of Hibiscus native to West Africa that can be grown as an annual or perennial. It has many uses.
The leaves can be cooked with lentils and dal, or they add sourness to Polynesian Chicken Stew. The sepals are used in the Caribbean to make a cold, sweet drink that is high in vitamin C. In Nigeria, the buds are used to make rosella jam – similar to plum jam but more acidic.
It takes about 90 days to mature. While the mature plants are fairly drought-resistant, and can handle most soil pH, they do need watering if they begin to wilt. 10-20 days after flowering, the ripe outer fleshy casings (calyces) can be harvested, and about 1 1/2 kg of calyces can be harvested per plant, as well plenty of leaves.
In zones 8-11, roselle can be direct seeded. In colder areas, it needs to be started in a heated indoors and transplanted after all danger of frost.
Oh, yes, and it’s pretty enough that people grow it as an ornamental!
I keep trying to try and grow sweet potato. Oh, it should be easy, right? Just order the slips from a seed company.
But I want the delicious heirloom white sweet potatoes that my friend L grows in Ontario, and sweet potatoes do not like the cold. I received a sweet potato in the mail at Christmas, but it had become too cold during the trip, and died. Through arrangements with friends and a complicated passing-the-potato, my sweet potato finally reached Nova Scotia – where my friends unwittingly let it get cold. Sweet potatoes are far more delicate than white potatoes. But I keep trying!
Yes, it will be worth it if I can get that white sweet potato growing here. I absolutely love sweet potato.
Sweet potatoes are a fabulous addition to your garden, even more so because one healthy potato can grow enough slips to fill any respectable patch. Just tuck one sweet potato into a pot of soil, keep it steadily moist and watch the slips grow. Cut them off and stick them into water to grow roots.
Again, sweet potato is not a particularly unusual plant, but did you know that the leaves are edible? Stir fry them – picking the leaves stimulates the plant to grow more. (They also make good winter fodder for animals) The bonus? It makes a beautiful house plant, if you want to keep a sweet potato plant alive indoors all winter.
Sweet potatoes can NOT tolerate frost – either the stored tubers or the plants. Plant the slips at the same time you put out peppers and tomatoes once ALL chance of frost has passed.
From planting, sweet potatoes take 90-120 days to mature. If your season is short, start the slips in a warm house, then transplant the slips into pots in the greenhouse until all danger of frost has passed.
I have goji seeds in my seed box. Had the incredible amount of snow not collapsed my greenhouse, I would be getting ready to start them. I want goji growing on our property!
Goji belongs to the same family as potatoes and tomatoes. They have been called a “superfruit” for their health benefits.
Goji berries can be eaten raw, or juiced. They can be brewed into a tea. Dried goji berries can be used in cereal or muffins like any other dried fruit. The Chinese have traditionally added goji berries to soup. The young shoots and leaves are edible like any other green.
Here is a Chinese recipe for Goji Soup.
Goji will grow anywhere between zone 3 and 10, preferably in slightly acidic soil. They can be grown in a container or as a shrub. Adult plants can be pruned to use as little as four square feet of space. 15 plants can produce as much as 100 pounds of berries per year.0