Food Plants - PerennialMedicinal Plants

Food from Perennial(ising) Plants in Temperate Climate Australia, for January 2013

This is the mid-Summer post for the ongoing research project about perennial plants and self-perpetuating annual plants providing food in temperate climate Australia. The original article introducing this project, stating its aims, and providing participant instructions, can be found here. Growers are sending me information on a month-by-month basis, then this information is collated and published the following month. All previous posts from this series can be found by clicking on my author name (Susan Kwong), just under the post title above.


Grower #1

Grower # 1 — Chris McLeod, Fernglade Farm
Latitude 37.5°S
Broad climate information Cool Temperate with temperature ranges between 0 degrees and 40 degrees Celsius. Rainfall is delivered fairly consistently throughout the year except in drought years when January and February are usually dry. Rainfall in a drought year will still reach about 500mm/year and in a wet year it can be over 1,400mm/year. It is not a particularly windy spot, but at least once a year winds will peak in excess of 100km/h (a tornado went through last Christmas Day).
Brief description of garden/farm

The site is at an elevation of 700m above sea level in a volcanic massif (about 25 kilometres long). The highest point on the mountain range is about 1,020m above sea level and the range is predominantly forested although it has been logged intensively from about 1860.

Fernglade farm is on 22 acres of which about 4 to 6 acres are actively managed. The farm has no fencing and is open to the wildlife of which there is plenty and a lot of the surplus goes towards them. There are about 300 fruit trees in two separate food forests, 14 raised vegetable beds (and areas set aside for self seeded vegetables), 2 hugelkultur beds, a few berry beds, raised beds for potatoes, worm farm, 12 chooks and 60+ medicinal and culinary herbs.

 

Botanical name Allium schoenoprasum
Common name(s) Chives
Parts used for food Leaves, flowers, root
How used Raw, cooked
Notes Chives are virtually a perennial crop. I keep harvesting them by giving the plant a small haircut and it keeps growing back. The bees love the flowers.

 

Botanical name Amaranthus cruentus
Common name(s) Amaranth
Parts used for food Seeds, leaves
How used Seeds – I add the seeds to my home made muesli mix. Leaves – used like spinach.
Notes Amaranth, a self-seeding annual, has been a surprise drought/summer survivor and is just about to spread its seed. Apparently a single plant can have upwards of one million seeds so I can see why it is a staple grain crop. It has required very little water.

 

Botanical name Armoracia rusticana
Common name(s) Horseradish
Parts used for food Root, leaves, seed
How used Fresh, cooked
Notes This plant is a true summer survivor. I have planted them all about the place without any care (or any roots in some cases) and they have thrived.

 

Botanical name Asparagus officinalis
Common name(s) Asparagus
Parts used for food Stem
How used Fresh, cooked
Notes This is not a picture of a pine forest, but the asparagus plants. This has been so successful, that I’m planning on moving all of the crowns to a new and larger raised bed for next season as their permanent home.

 

Botanical name Beta vulgaris
Common name(s) Silver Beet ‘Ruby Red’
Parts used for food Stems, leaves
How used Raw, cooked
Notes The chooks have been enjoying this plant which has now gone to seed, but is still edible. Due to the overall lack of greens I have been adding this plant to our food. Self-seeding.

 

Botanical name Beta vulgaris var. cicla
Common name(s) Perpetual Spinach
Parts used for food Leaves, stems
How used Fresh, cooked
Notes This plant died back in mid Spring but has since thrived in the heat and I’m now harvesting it.

 

Botanical name Citrus limon ‘Eureka’
Common name(s) Lemon ‘Eureka’
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh, cooked, preserved
Notes Lemons don’t come more zingy tasting than a lemon eureka. The fruit is much better eating and juicing over summer than other lemons.

 

Botanical name Citrus limon x reticulata
Common name(s) Lemon ‘Lemonade’
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh
Notes I didn’t believe the hype when I purchased this tree, but the fruit actually really does taste like lemonade and can be eaten straight from the tree.

 

Botanical name Citrus reticulata ‘Imperial’
Common name(s) Mandarin ‘Imperial’
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh, cooked
Notes The tree produced its first fruit this year and home grown mandarins are far superior tasting to the shop purchased fruit which have very little flavour.

 

Botanical name Citrus x meyeri ‘Meyer’
Common name(s) Meyer Lemon
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh, preserved
Notes The Meyer I believe is a cross with an orange so it is less lemony tasting than the Eureka. It is the true winter performer here though. Over summer the Meyer lemons have lost some of their foliage, but are otherwise still producing fruit and coping with the heat.

 

Botanical name Diplotaxis tenuifolia
Common name(s) Perennial Rocket
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Raw, cooked
Notes This is a perennial rocket plant that has fed me right through summer. I can’t remember where I got it from, but it is currently flowering and I’ll try to save the seed. The bees love the flowers of this plant.

 

Botanical name Foeniculum vulgare
Common name(s) Fennel
Parts used for food Leaves, stem, root, seeds
How used Fresh, cooked
Notes I never liked fennel as a child, but now I harvest the fern-like foliage for all sorts of meals. This is a very hardy plant, tolerant of lots of sun and heat, but it must have good compost.

 

Botanical name Fragaria spp.
Common name(s) Strawberry
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh, frozen, preserved
Notes Now that the strawberry bed has been fully enclosed with commercial grade bird netting, I’m starting to harvest strawberries. Everything around here eats strawberries. The harvests have been down on last year, not only because the wombat ate two thirds of the berry plants, but also because being on tank water, I haven’t had any spare water to give them and am slowly running out of water myself.

 

Botanical name Malus domestica ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’
Common name(s) Apple ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh, cooked
Notes This is a very sweet crisp dessert apple which I’ve been only harvesting in the past week. This is the first year of fruit for this tree.

 

Botanical name Malus domestica ‘Discovery’
Common name(s) Apple ‘Discovery’
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh, cooked
Notes This is a very sweet crisp dessert apple which I’ve been only harvesting in the past week. This is the first year of fruit for this tree and the colour of the fruit is quite amazing.

 

Botanical name Malus domestica ‘Rokewood’
Common name(s) Apple ‘Rokewood’
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh
Notes This is a tart cider apple but there are not enough apples on the tree yet to produce any cider. I’m going to be gleaning some wild apples over the next few weeks and experimenting with cider and scrumpy.

 

Botanical name Polygonum odoratum
Common name(s) Vietnamese Coriander, Rau Ram, also known as Vietnamese Mint
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Fresh
Notes

This is my favourite mint bush as it produces edible leaves all year around. I have been dividing this plant and spreading it around the place. It takes a long time to establish and does better in more fertile soils.

In the background of the photo is one of my two tomato beds and I’m hoping that like last year I can produce another 50kg of cherry tomatoes which should start ripening around mid-March depending on the weather. Sun ripened tomatoes are far superior in taste to anything that you can buy in a shop.

 

Botanical name Rheum rhabarbarum
Common name(s) Rhubarb
Parts used for food Stems
How used Cooked
Notes Two rhubarb crowns have died back, but the other three have gone feral. The hotter it gets, the more the plants seem to thrive.

 

Botanical name Rosmarinus officinalis
Common name(s) Rosemary
Parts used for food Leaves, flowers, young shoots
How used Raw, cooked
Notes This is a great summer survivor that needs good drainage to really thrive. It is a great herb and smells beautifully.

 

Botanical name Salvia officinalis + Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’
Common name(s) Sage + Tricolour Sage
Parts used for food Leaves, flowers
How used Raw, cooked
Notes The heat and drought has really favoured the sage bushes here that struggled through the previous wet cool summer. I add these leaves to all sorts of foods and they also have medicinal properties.

 

Botanical name Sanguisorba minor
Common name(s) Salad Burnet
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Raw, tea
Notes My favourite herb. It is undemanding and a prolific self-seeding plant providing fresh greens all year.

 


Grower #4

Grower # 4 — Yvonne – Melbourne
Latitude 37°S
Broad climate information Mediterranean temperate
Brief description of garden/farm Inner city urban garden full of edible plants – the majority perennial – with more than 20 fruit trees,
40 herbs, a constantly updated array of berries (trees, shrubs and vines) and many other edible goodies.

Grower #4 is still obtaining food from Geranium robertianum, Rumex cristatus, R. sanguineus, R. scutatus, Taraxacum officinale, and Urtica dioica.


Grower #5

Grower # 5 — Susan Girard
Latitude -33.714043 Altitude 1017 m
Broad climate information

Rainfall approx. 1,400 millimeters mostly in summer.
Summer daytime temperatures low 20° C, with several days over 30 °C + (more recently!). Night- time temperature in the low teens.

Winter temperatures <10 °C in the daytime with approx 0°C on clear nights and 3 – 4 °C on cloudy nights. Regular frost overnight. There are 1 – 2 settled snowfalls per year.

Brief description of garden/farm South facing site, ¾ acres block, adjoining part of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area (approx ¼ is protected so Zone V). Mandala gardens X 2 – front and back yards, orchard, hothouse; chickens and ducks.

 

Botanical name Allium schoenoprasum
Common name(s) Chives
Parts used for food Leaves and flowers
How used Leaves raw or cooked as flavouring, flowers in tempura, pancake mix
Notes  

 

Botanical name Allium tuberosum
Common name(s) Garlic Chives
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Salads and cooking flavouring
Notes Sets seed well and can be weedy

 

Botanical name Aloysia triphylla
Common name(s) Lemon Verbena
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Tea. Young leaves can be used as a green vegetable.
Notes Possible food flavourings like jelly but I just do tea.

 

Botanical name Barbarea verna
Common name(s) Land Cress
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Salad
Notes Very wet shady spot

 

Botanical name Calendula officinalis
Common name(s) Calendula
Parts used for food Petals
How used Salad
Notes  

 

Botanical name Citrus x meyeri ‘Meyer’
Common name(s) Meyer lemon
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Cooking, dressing, drinks
Notes  

 

Botanical name Diplotaxis tenuifolia
Common name(s) Wild Rocket
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Salad, garnish
Notes  

 

Botanical name Malus domestica ‘Granny Smith’
Common name(s) Granny Smith Apple
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh, stewed and frozen
Notes Thinning of clustered bunches not quite ripe.

 

Botanical name Melissa officinalis
Common name(s) Lemon Balm
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Tea. Can be used raw or cooked to add lemony flavour to salads or cooked foods.
Notes Bee attractant. Seeds readily and can be weedy.

 

Botanical name Monarda didyma
Common name(s) Bee Balm, Wild Bergamot
Parts used for food Leaves, young shoot tips, flowers
How used Shoot tips and leaves – raw or cooked. Leaves chewed as a mouth wash. Flowers raw.
Notes Rhizomatous and can be weedy

 

Botanical name Petroselinum neapolitanum
Common name(s) Flat-leaf Parsley, Italian Parsley
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Salads, garnish and cooking.
Notes Self seeding

 

Botanical name Prunus persica var. nucipersica
Common name(s) Nectarine
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh, cooked, dried
Notes  

 

Botanical name Rheum rhabarbarum
Common name(s) Rhubarb
Parts used for food Stems
How used Sauteed, poached
Notes I have also used the leaves as a pesticide.

 

Botanical name Rosmarinus officinalis
Common name(s) Rosemary
Parts used for food Leaves, stems
How used Leaves on lamb roast, stems as skewers in kebabs
Notes  

 

Botanical name Rumex sanguineus
Common name(s) Red-veined Sorrel, Red-veined Dock
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Salads
Notes  

 

Botanical name Vitis vinifera
Common name(s) Grape -Sultana
Parts used for food Leaves for Dolmades
How used Some used, others dried for later use
Notes This south facing vine was slow to grow this year so that the leaves are still young and flexible. North facing vine the leaves are now a bit old to pick.

As always, I’m feeling very appreciative of these growers for their plant info, and I’m hoping you’re feeling inspired! For anyone else who is growing perennial food plants and/or self-perpetuating annual food plants in temperate climate Australia, and who’d like to contribute plant profiles, you can email me for the proformas — 5555susana [at] gmail [dot] com.

Until next time, happy growing, harvesting and eating! :)

And once again, if anyone wishes to profile a particular plant in more detail, please feel free, we’d love you to. Email:

  • editor (at) permaculturenews.org

6 Comments

  1. An awesome share and an incredible resource for all of we temperatue climate permaculturalists :). Thank you for sharing this valuable information with us all :)

  2. Have I missed them, or in these collections has there been a distinct lack of “staple” foods – grains, starches, etc.? Foods with enough kJ’s that we could live off of them in a crisis…

    I harvested amaranth grains one year – a whole lotta work for maybe a handful of seeds.

  3. I have been wondering the same thing as Greg. We do need more high-calorie foods if we are going to be able to really sustain our families without resorting to grocery stores. Meat is obviously an option, but I would really miss grains if I cut them out altogether. There is no way I know of to keep my growing kids feeling full without them. What other options are there that I haven’t thought of? Are nuts too much work for the amount of calories you get?

  4. Hi narf7,

    Hope you got some of the recent rain and that your place is greening up?

    Hi Greg and Natasha,

    You may have missed the point. The article series is about perennialising edible plants in cool temperate areas, not high calorie options.

    If you are interested in growing your own grains, I recommend a very good book on the subject by Sara Pitzer: “Homegrown Whole Grains”. It is a simple how to book on the entire subject.

    Perhaps you could try growing some of the varieties in the book and write about your experiences here? If you haven’t got much room, how about trying to grow them as sprouts?

    If you are interested in other high calorie perennial crops then you can’t go past nut trees. I grow, walnuts, almonds, macadamias and chestnuts. But there are other high calorie crops too such as avacadoes and olives and these – when established – produce huge surpluses year after year. In cool temperate climates, apples and pears are real givers and the fruit will store for months off the tree – far longer than unprocessed grains will.

    Most of the flour that you purchase has the natural oils removed from the end product so that it stores longer, but in doing so it has far less nutritional value than the original grain.

    Fixating on grains (particularly wheat and rice) is missing out on a world of choices in relation to food crops and if I was being harsh I would suggest that extensively using grains is a lazy cooking option.

    On of the great benefits of perennialising plants is that unlike grains, the soil is left largely undisturbed. Had I ploughed the ground at the start of or during the recent and very extreme summer conditions here, I would have lost a huge portion of the top soil.

    Chris

  5. I think the comment of collecting grain being a whole lot of work for a handful of seeds is very telling. Harvesting grain is hard work and we are so used to it being readily available in huge quantities. I have to admit that the process of collecting the harvest has been the main reason I have not tried it myself. Food for thought that even those of us interested in the topic may not yet be willing or able to put in the work required.

  6. A thought for Greg and Natasha on staples.
    I think we should look past the thought of growing everything ourselves, don’t get locked into the self sufficiency idealism trap.
    Buy grains or bulk carbohydrates from your local area, find an organic or bio-dynamic grain grower and process your own flour and start to wean yourself off grains.
    In a cool temperate climate think meat and potatoes for energy. I think of long storage starches and root crops as being my carbohydrates, like potatoes, pumpkin and carrots.
    As for nuts, I think they are the way of the future, high return energy for very little work, the only catch is the lead-in time, lets get nut trees in everywhere now, and start reaping the reward in ten to twenty years time.
    The Zaytuna farm chefs are masters at feeding people, would they like to give us some ideas about the staples and bulk carbohydrates grown, bought and used there.
    Thanks for the great series Susan.

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