What could be better than edible treats that come back every year for your culinary pleasure? This week we are going through a list of edible perennial favorites to make your property more sustainable. You may even already have a few of these in your garden. There also may be a few perennial edibles that you’ll want to try this spring! These selections are suited for the Northern gardens of New England.
Sometimes considered a challenge to grow, asparagus can be a reliable plant for years to come. If you have the garden space, try putting in an asparagus bed. Asparagus can be a bit of an investment at first. You must obtain the plants, prepare the bed and then wait some three years to harvest. Choose a sunny spot in the garden. You will probably want 25-50 plants. These deep rooted plants need well drained soil. The asparagus will cast shade so situate your bed so it will not shade your vegetable garden.
Give this perennial a good start from the beginning. Remove all grass and roots from the area. Asparagus can be a heavy feeder so mix plenty of compost into the new garden bed. Purchase plants locally in spring from a nursery or mail order them. Make sure you do thorough research on asparagus growing before you start. Asparagus is a spring delicacy worth waiting for!
The pungent flavor of horseradish root is a favorite for flavoring recipes and making horseradish sauce. Be cautious where you plant this tenacious root. It spreads easily and is all but impossible to remove from a garden. Believe me, I know! Tender, young leaves are edible and used as a green. The root can be selectively dug and used in many recipes.
Several members of the onion family will come back every year. Most gardeners are familiar with chives. Chives send their onion flavored green shoots up every spring to be used in so many ways. Their spiky purple flowers feed the bees and add color to the spring garden. Use chives in salads, in baked dishes and as a garnish. When cared for, a bunch of chives can last forever. If you don’t remove the flowers before they set seeds, they will grow everywhere. Chives have a place in almost every garden!
Garlic chives sport a flatter green leaf. They have a garlicky flavor that is fabulous in just about anything you put them in. They have delicate white flowers that bloom later in the summer. Now that I grow garlic chives, I’m not sure that I could go without them.
Egyptian walking onions are a new addition to my garden. With their small bulbs and top-setting bulb-lets, these members of the onion family will provide years of tiny onions. They are also called ‘tree onion’ or ‘top-setting onion’. They appear to ‘walk’ when they topple over and set seed in the ground again. It can be a slow process but they are very worthy of a spot in your garden. Once established, these little bulbs can be used in place of shallots or anywhere you want onion flavor. I’m still waiting for our walking onions to get established.
Do you have room for blueberries, elderberries, raspberries or strawberries? A small bed of a few blueberry bushes could provide your family with fresh breakfast berries. Small fruits are terrific to make so many luscious desserts with. A raspberry bed would be a nice perennial addition to your list of homegrown edibles. Have you been dreaming of a strawberry bed of your own? Why not plant a border of alpine strawberries. They are tasty and beautiful in a flower bed. There are so many ways to add edibles to your existing landscape. Look around to see where you might be able to put in an extra bed.
Ever heard of lovage? It is a lovely, towering herb that rises from the ground every year. This plant has a comforting celery scent and flavor. Once planted, lovage will be hard to get rid of, so make sure you really love lovage! The first time I encountered this showy perennial, I could only think of chicken soup! This plant can be started from seed or from one purchased plant. Stems can be used like celery and the leaves are great in soups or stews.
A native to North America, Jerusalem artichokes can just keep going. Prized for their golden yellow flowers in late summer and for the starchy root down below the soil. Other names for the plant are sunchoke, earth apple and sunroot. If you want a showy late summer flower and some backup survival food, plant a clump of yummy Jerusalem artichokes!
Rhubarb may be an obvious choice for the perennial edibles list. You either love it or hate it. Rhubarb has long been a staple on Northern farms. This reliable plant can be used in jams, jellies, pies and other countless desserts. Rhubarb will bring you endless years of free food. It requires little attention. Just a sunny, well drained spot and maybe a yearly application of manure. Remove any seed heads for a longer harvest period. Using rhubarb is so versatile, you are only limited to your imagination!
Few greens come back yearly in Northern climates. There are a few that’s could provide reliable eating. Dandelion greens appeal to some. We have seeds for sea kale, sorrel and salad burnet. I’m anxious to try these in our garden. Claytonia or ‘miner’s lettuce’ is not a perennial but can return for years in a cold frame because it sets seeds readily.
Planting some perennial edibles on your land can be a great investment. There are even more than I mentioned here. You might even get some free plants from friends. Planting edibles can be a very budget friendly way to add homegrown goodness to your diet! Ask around, someone may be willing to give you a few of these plants from their own garden plot!