The most nutritious perennial vegetables for cold climates

Did you know that many perennial vegetables are much higher than commonly grown vegetables in the nutrients that can address deficiencies affecting over 2 billion people? These deficiencies don’t only affect people in the Global South – but also people in the US and Europe, who don’t or can’t afford to eat enough vegetables. Researchers estimate that we would need to grow three times as many fruits and vegetables as we do today in order to meet the world’s nutritional needs. That’s why the perennial crops that are especially high in these nutrients are so important.


That’s the summary of a paper I published last year in a respected scientific journal. We pulled together data on nutrition from over a hundred sources. But there were so many gaps – many of my favourite vegetables had never been tested, or only had one or two nutrients tested. Well now it’s time for the next phase. Working with a team from Sweden, and in my new role as Director of the Perennial Agriculture Institute, I’m raising funds to do the (rather expensive) testing of some of our most promising cold-climate vegetables. And we could use your help! If you are interested, please visit our campaign page and contribute (NB this campaign is now closed).  We’re testing Hablitzia, Linden leaf, Hosta shoots, and Scorzonera leaf – all delicious, easy to grow, and lacking in data.

Tender leaves of coppiced linden. Image provided by author.


Caucasian Spinach
Caucasian spinach is among the best hardy perennial vegetables for eating raw. Image provided by author.

Here’s my list of the most nutritious perennial vegetables for cold climates based on my 2020 article. These are the ones that are highest in the nutrients most needed to address “industrial diet deficiencies,” which include fibre, calcium, magnesium, and antioxidants including vitamins A, C and E. I hope our new project will allow us to add a few more to the list.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The cooked shoots are extremely high in Vitamin C and very high in Vitamin A and calcium. In fact milkweed is eight times higher in Vitamin C than oranges!

Many other parts are edible including the edible broccolis. Do not consume raw, as it contains some heart toxins. Researchers are currently working on determining how much cooked milkweed is safe to eat

common milkweed
common milkweed. Image provided by author.


Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium). Edible shoots very high in magnesium and Vitamin C, high in fibre and calcium.

Edible-leaf mulberry (Morus alba). Not all mulberries have tasty leaves, but some varieties do. They are very high in fiber, calcium, magnesium, and Vitamins A and C.

edible-leaf mulberry coppice block. Image provided by author.

Bladder campion (Silene vulgaris). The young leaves of this common weed, which is cultivated as a vegetable in Italy, are very high in fibre and Vitamins A and C.

Chinese toon (Toona sinensis). The leaves of this tree, which taste like chicken soup, are the second most nutritious vegetable in the world according to my research. Extremely high in vitamins A and E, very high in calcium and Vitamin C.

Chinese toon coppiced at Paradise Lot. Image provided by author.

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). Cooked shoots are a popular wild vegetable. Extremely high in Vitamin E, very high in calcium and Vitamin C, high in Vitamin E.

Stinging Nettle
stinging nettle. Image provided by author.

Grape leaf (Vitis vinifera). Worth eating for nutrition and not just because stuffed grape leaves are delicious. Extremely high in fiber, very high in calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin A, and high in Vitamin E.

Grape Leaf
Grape Leaf. Image provided by author.

Thanks for reading and do consider making a contribution to support this important research project (NB funding was achieved) And don’t forget to eat your vegetables!

Eric Toensmeier

Eric Toensmeier is the award-winning author of Paradise Lot and Perennial Vegetables, and the co-author of Edible Forest Gardens. He is an appointed lecturer at Yale University, a Senior Biosequestration Fellow with Project Drawdown, and an international trainer. Eric presents in English, Spanish, and botanical Latin throughout the Americas and beyond. He has studied useful perennial plants and their roles in agroforestry systems for over two decades. Eric has owned a seed company, managed an urban farm that leased parcels to Hispanic and refugee growers, and provided planning and business trainings to farmers. He is the author of The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agricultural Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security released in February 2016.


  1. There’s a picture of Linden but I don’t see it mentioned here or in the paper. I have an established tree. Could you share the nutritional you found in the other plants that didn’t make the top?

  2. Oh nvm I now see Linden has yet to be tested. I shouldn’t read and comment when I’m so tired 😁

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