Monday, October 13, 2008

Native Pant Gardening for Food


Moralea Milne
March 2007

Want to try your hand at a different sort of food gardening? How about growing some of our native plants for food?
Nothing is easier to grow than nodding onions, they multiple like crazy while supplying lovely pink blooms and delicious small onions. They like full sun some occasional watering and a medium rich soil. Onion soup anyone?
All the Montias are edible and great for a salad, Montia perfoliata and M. siberica are aptly called miner’s lettuce. Once you get some plants started they self seed freely (try to stop them!). They grow well at my place in part shade in a compost based soil. However they do equally well at the municipal grounds in poor conditions.
Did you know that goldenrod, shooting star and columbine flowers are edible and can add a certain, “je ne sais quoi” to your salad? (Eat columbine flowers in moderation, they add a touch of beauty and a sweet flavour but do not ingest any other part of the plant, it is toxic). Columbine is another plant that will self seed prolifically once you get a plant started. Grow in part shade, in rich soils with supplemental watering. Goldenrod is easy to grow, preferring full sun and some extra watering, give it plenty of room to move though! As a bonus, goldenrod and others from the aster family supply nectar to many pollinators and butterflies. It is hard to believe that you would grow enough shooting stars to pluck some flowers for a salad but they come easily from seed, prefer part shade and a rich soil, although they take three or four years to flower from seed. Plan ahead for that dinner party!
I have read that all parts of stonecrop are edible and have a slightly cucumber like flavour, however of the few I tried, most were quite bitter, more like a cucumber that has been grown under stress, perhaps the fresh new leaves are better. It is easy to grow if you supply a very gritty soil with a stoney mulch and water sparingly, if at all (watch for the eggs and caterpillars of the Moss’s elfin butterfly, especially in the flowers). Twisted stalk berries are also reputed to have a mild cucumber-like flavour. Grow in part shade in rich conditions and supply ample water.
Use small quantities of alumroot leaves to sharpen the flavour of a bland salad. Alumroot (Heuchera micrantha) is our native species of coralbells and is easy to grow and tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions, it grows fast and large in rich soils.
Fireweed leaves and shoots are full of vitamin c and beta-carotene and can be eaten raw or cooked. The entire young plant can be treated like asparagus (crepes?). Once you get fireweed started it is a reliable self seeder and as an added bonus, the flowers are exquisite. Fireweed needs full sun, some extra watering and lots of room to spread.
Tiny monkeyflower (Mimulus sp) leaves can be incorporated to add a slightly salty taste to foods. Once established, monkeyflowers will self seed with abandon. They like full sun and good drainage.
Elderberry fritters can be made by dipping the flowers of either the red or blue species in a batter and frying. The blue fruit makes an intoxicating elderberry wine. BEWARE! Use only blue fruit, the red is toxic (it might help you to remember: red is dead). Elderberry prefers a slightly moist, nitrogen rich soil, in part shade.
Stinging nettle has long been used as a spinach substitute, and is high in vitamins A, C and D. Use only the young plants and check carefully for butterfly eggs and caterpillars as many species (satyr anglewing, red admirable, Milbert’s tortiseshell and west coast lady) use nettles as a host plant. Grow in full sun to part shade in very rich, moist soils. Even if you don’t eat them, grow them to add habitat for the butterflies, particularly if grown in full sun. They spread, so give them LOTS of room.
If you are fortunate enough to have a pond or some large planters (kid’s swimming pools), grow some cattails. Young cattail shoots can be peeled, then stir fried and are somewhat like bamboo shoots. Apparently the green pollinating flower heads can be treated like corn on the cob. I have read that the pollen can be scraped off, dried and used as a flour. Beware if they are growing in stagnant or polluted water, they will pick up a disagreeable flavour or toxins.
We have some delicious berries in this area. Salal fruit are yummy eaten raw or maybe heated and poured over ice cream? Plant in part shade with some sun for best berry production. Salal plants prefer acidic, humus rich, poor to medium nutrient soils.
Oregon grape makes an excellent and tasty jelly. Try it on a slice of toast, it’s a delicious way to start your day. Tall Oregon grape needs full sun, a medium rich soil and is drought tolerant. Dull Oregon grape has equally tasty berries, however it is a lower growing, shade tolerant, drought adapted plant which prefers a medium rich, coarse soil.
Evergreen blueberries and huckleberries both belong to the same tasty family. Evergreen blueberries need full sun and poor to medium, acidic, well drained soils while huckleberries are shade lovers and appear to need humus rich conditions as well.
Enjoy growing something a little different, amaze your friends, feed your enemies and help supply a little more habitat for our wild neighbours.

GL Tilford, 1997. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West
Klinka, K et al, 1995. Indicator Plants of Coastal British Columbia
Pojar J and A MacKinnon, 1994. Plants of Coastal British Columbia.

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