Like many a gardener, I’m always on the lookout for new garden plants to grow. That’s part of the fun of a vegetable garden, discovering new flavors. Some of these you may have already heard of, or even grown, but probably not all. You might even have them growing in the yard without knowing that it’s edible. Free food is always good, right?
These garden plants produce a food similar to jicama, but far less fussy to grow. The low-growing plant bears gorgeous blue flowers and bean pods, but you only eat the tubers below ground. Common in the Andes, you might find them listed in seed catalogs as ajipa or yam bean. It’s crunchy, raw or cooked, with a flavor something like peas and celery crossed. Having greater protein and micronutrient density than cassava, the tubers are also is rich in vitamins C and K, and potassium.
Sometimes spelled ‘arracha’, is related to celery and carrots. The plant’s white, yellow, or purple roots have a richer flavor and texture than potatoes. It also has more protein and calcium, along with being a good source of ascorbic acid and P-carotene. In the Andes, they use roasted or boiled roots in sweet and savory recipes. The young stems are also eaten in salads and as a cooked vegetable. Not common among North American garden plants, the harvest has a 1-week shelf life.
Phaseolus v. angularis
Fiberous, protein-packed beans from the Himalays. Usually red, they have many health benefits and work well in soups, salads, chilis and even vegetable burgers. The main ingredient in anko, a Japanese bean paste, they are potassium and iron-rich antioxidant uptake assistant that fight diabetes and heart disease.
A true winter squash from Peru that though popular in North America in the past, fell out of fashion. The huge fruits (10-pound avg.) have a 6-month shelf life, far better than acorn and butternut! A good source of iron, fiber, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and some Bs. Prolific bearing garden plant.
A popular garden plant in Asia and southern Europe, Chinese mallow has both culinary and medicinal value. Eat the young leaves raw in salads, older leaves cooked, and added to soups they act like a thickener similar to okra. The edible seeds offer a source for mucilage, polysaccharides and flavonoids that provide a mild anti-inflammatory along with other health benefits.
Used like spinach, this ancient garden plant has delicious young leaves and flowers. Delicious raw in salads or cooked, the plant is rich in vitamins A and C. A nutrient accumulator; chop down older growth for a soil boosting mulch (after removing the seeds). You might find seed available locally, it’s also known as Lamb’s Quarters, a native of Europe that has spread around the world as a weed. A weed!? Not all great food crops are mainstream cultivated.
Got a shady spot that stays moist? Not the normal spot for vegetable garden plants, but Mitsu-ba (Japanese parsley) will love it there. It’s a perennial hardy to USDA zone 5, so 1 sowing can give you years of harvests. Some say it’s like large-leaf parsley that tastes like it crossed with celery. And though the herb makes a lovely garnish, it’s more of a vegetable in Japanese cuisine. It is high in vitamins A and K, a natural immunity booster that prevents colds and relaxes tired muscles. The black-leaf version will have extra health perks. As you know, dark purple or blue pigment signals extra phytonutrients.
Sometimes spelled olloco, this fat-free tuber that looks like a potato hails from South America. The crispy texture roots of this garden plant are rich in vitamin C, calcium, carotene, and protein. It grows something like oca, but with a much smaller happy zone in North America. Live within 5 miles of the Pacific, Atlantic, or a Great Lake? You probably have the right climate for this dual greens and root crop.
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