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Edible Perennials

You would be surprised to learn about the edible perennials that can be grown in Florida and that actually can thrive in the Florida summer heat.  These are not just for foraging but for making actual meals and healthy snacks, and these perennials provide abundant access to nutritious greens, spices and fruit almost year round.   Even perennials have a growing season, please call us for availability.  Here is a list of the edible perennials that we carry in our nursery:

Achira (Canna edulis): A useful plant in that the foliage is suitable as a forage plant for animals and chickens. The roots are edible and are the basis of canna starch, with some processing, or may be prepared and eaten as you would potatoes. It is a flowering edible vegetable and is treated mainly as a perennial, so it grows best over a period of time (3 years and greater).

It is actually a rhizome; this can be eaten either raw or cooked. . The starch is obtained by rasping the rhizome to a pulp, then washing and straining to get rid of the fibers. This starch is very digestible. The very young rhizomes can also be eaten cooked; they are sweet but contain a lot of fiber. The rhizome can be very large, sometimes as long as a person’s forearm. Young shoots can be cooked and eaten as a green vegetable and are quite nutritious, containing at least 10% protein.

Blue Porterweed – (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis): Is the most commonly grown variety in Florida and it is the most cold hardy of all the porterweed varieties.  The other varieties of porter weed include pink, purple and red and they vary in size and growth.  It is also  salt water tolerant.

The Blue Porterweed is a flowering bush that is drought tolerant, attractive and a great butterfly and pollinator attractant.  The native version grows 1-2 feet tall. The exotic version often has darker leaves and can grow to 5 feet tall and wide.

The flowers are edible on the native and Jamaican blue porterweed, but not the other varieties. The taste is that of raw mushroom but takes a few moment   s for the flavor to come through.  Flowers can be eaten raw in salads, the leaves are used to make tea and beer, and the stems are used for flavoring.
Passion fruit and porterweed are companion plants for some butterflies who depend on both plants to complete their life cycle.

Chaya or Tree Spinach (Cnidoscolus chayamansa): Is twice as nutritious as spinach and it is a good source of nutrients including protein, calcium, iron, potassium, and vitamin C. It is a fast growing dense shrub, native to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. It grows to about 6-8 feet tall. Most recommendations say not to harvest until the second year, because the plants are slow to establish before they can grow quickly. Never harvest more than 50% of the leaves, except from stems cut for propagation.

**Leaves must be cooked to release cyanide for no less than 30 seconds and no more than 20 minutes. You can discard or save liquid (liquid can be used as a stock because cyanide has been evaporated). Do not cook in aluminum cookware because of a diarrhea-causing reaction with the cyanide compounds when cooking.  On principle it’s wise to cook all fruits and vegetables in non-aluminum pans because of their high acidity.

Cranberry Hibiscus a.k.a. False Roselle (Hibiscus acetosella): Is a striking and colorful plant with red leaves that resemble a maple leaf. It can be grown as a border or hedge plant – its dramatic purple leaves contrasting nicely with plants that have paler green leaves. This plant is a short-lived perennial shrub in the subtropics and tropics but can be grown as an annual in cooler climates. The leaf color of deep cranberry red is highly ornamental; the flowers are a small, very pretty, rose pink hibiscus-type. Cranberry hibiscus is a hardy plant that thrives when it is warm and wet; it prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade.

Cranberry Hibiscus is a very nutritious vegetable; the leaves are high in vitamins B3 (niacin), B2, A and C. It is high in protein and an excellent source of antioxidants and anthocyanin. The young leaves are known for their pleasantly tart flavor, eaten either raw or cooked. As the leaves contain oxalic acid, cranberry hibiscus should not be eaten in large amounts – e.g. as the only raw green vegetable in a salad, or more than once a week. The leaves retain their color after being cooked, and flowers are used to make teas or other drinks where they contribute color rather than taste.

Greater Galangal a.k.a. Thai Ginger (Alpinia galangal): Is a perennial herb native to Java and popular in Thai cuisine, is similar to ginger (Zingiber officinale) to which it bears a close resemblance. Galangal is more difficult to cut than ginger and it has a stronger flavor. Both plants grow tuberous, branching rhizomes. Greater Galangal is the gala used most often in cookery.

The plant grows from rhizomes in clumps of stiff stalks up to 2 m in height with abundant long leaves that bear red fruit. The rhizome has a sharp, sweet taste and smells like a blend of black pepper and pine needles. The red fruit is used in traditional Chinese medicine and has a flavor similar to cardamom.

Katuk or Sweetleaf (Sauropus androgynus): Is a shrub, indigenous to Southeast Asia and it thrives in tropical climates in lowland rainforests where it grows between 4-6 feet tall. In tropical climates, the plant stays green year round, but in cooler climates, the bush will likely lose leaves in the winter only to regrow in the spring. The shrub blooms in the summer and fall with small, flat, round, yellow to red flowers in the leaf axial followed by a purple fruit with tiny black seeds. It takes two Katuk shrubs to pollinate and produce fruit.  This shrub seems to be remarkably pest free.

It is eaten both raw and cooked. The shrub is cultivated in shaded areas, irrigated frequently and fertilized to produce rapidly growing tender tips that are similar to asparagus. The plant is highly nutritious with about half of its nutrition as protein! As well as being incredibly nutritious, Katuk has medicinal properties, one of which is to stimulate milk production in nursing mothers.  Katuk’s nutritional content is outstanding: 49% protein, 18% fiber, vitamins A, B & C, potassium 2.77% (more than bananas at 1.48%); calcium 2.77% (dried skim milk is less than half that at 1.3%); phosphorus .61% (dried soybeans are at .55%); magnesium .55%; and even enough iron to mention.

**A word of warning, excessive consumption of raw Katuk leaves or juices has led to chronic lung problems. However, it takes quite a lot of raw Katuk to cause any sort of problem and millions of people eat it every day with no ill effects.

Kitchen Ginger (Zingiber officinale): Is also known as Jamaican ginger, it is a tropical perennial originally from Asia, which is grown for its rhizome or underground stem. It takes about nine months to reach maturity. After the flowers appear, the tops begin to die, leaving the ginger rhizomes ready to harvest. Its leaves are simple, smooth and thin, with long narrow blades. Yellow-green flowers with purple tips grow in dense spikes. Ginger plants produce highly branched rhizomes that grow close to the soil surface.
Ginger has been in use since ancient times for its anti-inflammatory, carminative, anti-flatulent, and anti-microbial properties it composes many essential nutrients and vitamins such as pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5) that are required for optimum health. It also contains a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, copper, and magnesium.
Ginger is a mainstay of Asian and Indian cooking and is used grated, ground and slivered. The juice of ginger juice is used to make ginger ale.

Longevity Spinach (Gynura procumbens):  Is a leafy vegetable and in warm climates the plant is perennial, and will provide harvests for many years. The growth habit is spreading, with the floppy stems trailing on the ground. Longevity spinach grows well in full sun or part shade. Growth slows or stops in cold weather, and a hard freeze will kill top growth, but in spring the plant quickly regenerates from the root system.

The leaves and young stems can be eaten raw or cooked. Longevity spinach is an excellent salad green, or the leaves may be used on sandwiches in place of lettuce. Stems can be chopped in soups, stews, or vegetable medleys in the same way you would use celery. Leaves hold their texture after being cooked, making this a good choice for those who don’t like the mucilaginous texture of many other cooked greens.

Longevity spinach has been found to be an extremely alkalizing and miraculous antiviral, anti-inflammatory edible plant. High in antioxidants.  It offers the possibility of remarkable results when it comes to improving overall health and longevity, and aiding in conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. Supposedly, the active daily dose for cholesterol reduction (and many other positive effects) is around one tablespoon of fresh foliage- about 2 to 3 mature leaves.

Moringa (Moringa oleifera): Is popularly known in many countries as a “miracle plant” because of its nutritional and medical properties. Primarily it grows in tropical, subtropical and semi-arid climates. It has been used in traditional Indian medicine for centuries. This plant is overflowing with vitamins A, B, C, D, E and minerals including potassium, calcium, iron, selenium, and magnesium. Moringa leaves are rich in 9 essential amino acids that are not commonly found in plants, and it is extremely rich in proteins. It has been shown to lower serum cholesterol that is known to protect against cardiovascular diseases. It is well known as a stimulant for milk production for breastfeeding mothers. Moringa leaves can be dried at low temperature and made into powder using a mortar and pestle or high-powered blender. Leaves can even be used as fodder for farm animals

Fresh Moringa leaves can be cooked like spinach or any other green leaves, it could be used raw as a salad green mixture. Dry leaves could be sprinkled on any food to improve nutritional value. A 100-g portion of fresh Moringa leaves has 9.3 g protein, 434 mg calcium, 404 mg potassium, 738 of vitamin A, and 164 mg vitamin C. To get the all of the nutrients and minerals from the leaves it is best to use dried.

The root of the Moringa is edible is taste like horseradish, and the seedpods can be eaten when young, or when matured seeds can be eaten raw or roasted. The seeds can be used to purify water up to 96% and can even remove salt from seawater, and can be pressed into an oil that can be used for cooking, perfume, for the hair and body and it does not go rancid.

Moringa oleifera flowers are creamy white with yellow stems. It blooms from April to September. It is edible, mixed into salads or fried in butter and eaten as a snack. Blooms can also be made into a delicious tea.

Okinawa spinach (Gynura crepioides): Is a leafy vegetable and in warm climates the plant is perennial, and will provide harvests for many years. The growth habit is spreading, with the floppy stems trailing on the ground. The colorful leaves are olive-green with a purplish-red underside and a pleasantly pungent flavor. Okinawa spinach grows well in full sun or part shade (prefers shade in Florida heat). Growth slows or stops in cold weather, and a hard freeze will kill top growth, but in spring the plant quickly regenerates from the root system.

The leaves and young stems can be eaten raw or cooked. Okinawa spinach is an excellent salad green, or the leaves may be used on sandwiches in place of lettuce. Stems can be chopped in soups, stews, or vegetable medleys in the same way you would use celery. Leaves hold their color and texture well when cooked, making this a good choice for those who don’t like the mucilaginous texture of many other cooked greens.

Okinawa spinach is also grown for medicinal purposes. It is said to lower cholesterol like Longevity Spinach, but this type produces way more Proanthocyanidin than any other variety. It is the Proanthocyanidin content that is currently being investigated for its health benefits. Proanthocyanidin is the same famous health-boosting chemical that is in red and black grape skins, grape seeds, grape juices, and red wine. Supposedly, the active daily dose for cholesterol reduction (and many other positive effects) is around one tablespoon of fresh foliage- about 2 to 3 mature leaves.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa): Is a flowering perennial that belongs to the ginger family. Native to Asia, however, it is believed to be indigenous to India, where it has long been used both as a spice and as a dye. Turmeric is a leafy, stem-less plant with oblong lily-like yellowish leaves that grow from rhizomes.
Turmeric is widely used as a food coloring, as well as being a popular flavoring agent for curries and other South Asian dishes. However, it also has a long history as a medicinal plant, having been used in both Ayurvedic (a form of medical practice native to the Indian subcontinent) and traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Turmeric is commonly used as an anti-inflammatory, particularly for digestive disorders and to promote liver health through the stimulation of bile production. It has been used to treat certain skin diseases, and is also believed to be effective in improving the function of the gallbladder. More generally, turmeric has shown itself to be useful in fighting infection and reducing inflammation. It contains high amounts of antioxidants and has antibacterial, anti-tumor, anti-allergic, antiseptic, and antispasmodic properties.

Waterleaf – a.k.a Ceylon Spinach – (Talinum triangulare):

Rich in vitamins and minerals. Strongly antioxidant, can enhance brain function.
Flexible and fast growing – grows in full sun to mostly shade, poor to good soils, but needs water during drought. Attractive low, slow spreading plant with delicate pink flowers that bloom most of the year.
Can be eaten raw in salads or used as a greens substitute in dishes. Use in moderation as it does have oxalics which can be hard on the body if taken in excess.

Zedoary (Curcuma zedoaria): Is also known as “White Turmeric”. It is part of the ginger family and grows from a rhizome with a thin brown skin and a bright orange, hard interior. Its smell is similar to turmeric and mango. It is sold as a powder or dried and sliced with a gray surface with a yellow to gray-white interior.

It is usually used fresh or pickled. It is used as a dried spice used as an ingredient in curry powder, especially for seafood dishes. It may be pounded with turmeric or ginger to make a spice paste for lamb or chicken curries.

Zedoary is valued for its ability to purify the blood. It is an antiseptic, used as an aid to digestion and to relieve flatulence and colic. It is an antioxidant and is said to help sexual problems in both men and women. It is said to strengthen the uterus muscles and so help in childbirth and to cure male erectile dysfunctions, as well as being an aphrodisiac. White turmeric is also used to stop diseases recurring (it is an anti-periodic), and to treat colds, flatulence, digestive disorders, ulcers, gastrointestinal problems, and will prevent indigestion if taken 30 minutes before a meal. It has also been used to clean and purify the blood and detoxifies the body.  Zedoary helps in cell regeneration and is good for the immune system. It regulates body temperature and is used in cases of fever.

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