By Dave Scandurra, Edible Landscapes of Cape Cod
Here at Edible Landscapes, we are big proponents of perennial edible plants. What’s a perennial plant? To put it in the simplest terms, a perennial plant is a plant that lives 3 or more years, often many more. What’s a “perennial vegetable?” For the sake of this blog post, our definition of “vegetable” is a plant that is not only edible, but a plant that you can eat a lot of and has the potential to yield high amounts of food if grown on a more agricultural scale. While there are many edible plants one can nibble on, in this post we are focusing on plants that you can not only nibble on but that you can really feast on in larger quantities… year after year after year! The beauty of a perennial plant is that you only have to plant it once, as opposed to the more common annual vegetables that only live for one year (squashes, lettuce, beans, etc.). This means that perennial vegetables are very appropriate to use in the landscape. Hence, why we love them so much and try to incorporate them into landscape installations whenever we can! Perennial vegetables (and trees, which of course are also perennial) will play a vital role in the future of sustainable farming. Since perennial vegetables only need to be planted once, this greatly reduces the need to till the soil. Tilling the soil releases carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. No-till perennials can help moderate global warming by sequestering atmospheric carbon into long-term storage as above and below ground plant parts. We are excited for a future of regenerative, perennial, bio-regionally produced food!
The following is a list of our top 10 perennial vegetables to grow on here on Cape Cod. There are many, many more perennial vegetables and edible plants that we can grow here. But these 10 plants we are choosing to highlight for the following reasons: they grow great with no “babying,” they need no irrigation once established, they self-propagate, they can produce a significant amount of food, and they are overall very easy plants to grow (yes, I’m talking to you self-proclaimed “brown thumbs” out there). Edible Landscapes’ Nursery currently has all of these plants in stock. If interested in purchasing, please visit our website and contact us here.
Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) Also known as “Sunchoke.” This native perennial is in the sunflower genus. The edible part is the tuber which is ideally dug up just after the winter (which is great timing since there’s not much to eat from the garden right after the snow melts). Must be thoroughly cooked for it to be fully digestible.
Water Celery (Oenanthe javanica) Though generally thought of as an aquatic plant (it sure loves water), this plant does amazingly well even in dry, non-irrigated conditions, once established. Water Celery is best harvested in the Spring and Fall when it is most tender. Basically its a perennial celery but a much smaller form. It’s shallow roots spread vigorously! The leaves and stems can be cooked or eaten raw.
Fuki (Petastites japonica) Fuki is a Japanese perennial vegetable. It spreads vigorously in moist shade. Its leaves can be quite showy and massive (as seen in the picture, big dog for scale). The stems are boiled and peeled and taste a bit like asparagus/celery. It will conquer anything smaller than it in the garden, so give it room… or just eat a lot of it.
Groundnut (Apios americana) Groundnut is native to the Eastern United States. It is a vining plant with edible tubers. It is a legume, in the pea family (Fabaceae). It tends to ramble a bit in the garden. Every year it will show up a few feet further away from where you originally planted it, so give it some room to ramble. Perfect for a naturalized “edible forest garden.
Turkish Rocket (Bunias orientalis) There is no better way to describe this plant than saying it’s a perennial broccoli raab. If you love that bitter, nutty, mustardy flavor of broccoli raab, then this plant is for you! It has a deep taproot and once established is quite drought tolerant. It spreads it’s seeds and can become a weed in the garden. All the more reason to eat it up! If you don’t want it to become a weed, just “dead-head” it after it flowers.
Elephant Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) Bulbs of Elephant Garlic can get HUGE! Though it must be dug to be harvested, its so easy to grow that its worth mentioning. It also flowers beautifully and its flowers get swarmed with bees and other insects. Just dig it up in July, harvest some for eating and divide and replant the rest. Can absolutely hold its own as an ornamental which is a win-win.
Sea Kale (Crambe maritima) Sea Kale, though not in the same genus as the popular kale (brassica), it sure tastes like kale! This entire plant is edible: the roots, shoots, stems, leaves, flowers, even the green seed pods! Its showy white flowers smell just like honey. Sea kale is slow to establish, but once established its there to stay for years of enjoyment
Skirret (Sium sisarum) Skirret is basically a perennial parsnip. It tastes like parsnip and is in the same family (Apiaceae). It loves moist soil but is fine with no irrigation. It can also handle some shade. Dig this plant up in the Fall, break off the starchy roots, then break apart the clump and replant the “crowns” of the plant.
Walking Onion (Allium proliferum) Also known as Tree Onion, Egyptian Onion or Topsetting Onion. This is one of the hardiest plants we grow. In our home gardens, we can harvest scallion/chive-like greens almost all year round, except for when its covered in snow or in the deepest of freezes. The funky onions on top can also be eaten or replanted for more!
Chinese Yam (Dioscorea batatas) Also called Yam Vine or Cinnamon Vine, this plant is prolific. A vining plant, it needs something to climb on, like a trellis or fence. Once established it produces copious amounts of potato-like small aerial tubers. We honestly think they taste better than potatoes.
Edible Landscapes of Cape Cod sprouted in 2013 with the simple mission of helping people grow
food and connect with nature in their yards. Our edible landscapes promote optimal health, sustainability,
and style. Short-term investment yields long-term savings. Our knowledge of plants and local
ecology makes us a great resource. Our passion and careful attention to our clients’ vision truly sets us apart
from conventional companies. We guarantee that you’ll taste the difference.