'Unusual Edibles' was the title of a talk that I recently enjoyed at this year's Southport Flower Show. The speaker was Alys Fowler, gardening writer and television presenter, who started her talk by informing us that there are some 15,000 edible species of plants. I worked out that it might take a lifetime to get through them all especially as some do not appear in the supemarket shelves. I scribbled furiously throughout resulting in a list of plants that I would like to introduce into the garden or the allotment at some point in the future including ~
Allium cernuum ~ also known as the nodding onion or lady's leek. The bulbs need full sun. Tasting of onions they can be used like spring or bunching onions. Chandelier like flower heads carry nodding pink flowers which are also edible. I have lingered over this particular allium in various catalogues before now completely unaware of their edible qualities. I think that I have been put off by the words "will seed around in the right conditions". This year I am putting caution to the wind and have already ordered some bulbs. They will look perfectly at home in a flower border and I think that they will be planted somewhere in the garden.
Allium victorialis ~ also known as the alpine leek ~ both bulbs and leaves are edible - the leaves having a strong onion flavour whilst the bulbs are apparently more reminiscent of garlic. It needs to be planted in full sun. An extra bonus is that the spherical greenish cream flower heads attract bees and hoverflies. The leaves are fairly broad and from the photos I have seen are similar to the foliage of lily - of - the - valley. Again these would be happy in a flower border.
Brussels /Flower Sprout 'Petit Posy' ~ this is a fairly new introduction which is a cross between brussel sprouts and curly kale and is more attractive than either of them. Easily grown from seed it produces open frilly florets instead of closed buttons. A fairly ornamental plant in its appearance 'Petit Posy' will look good amidst the flowers and can be grown both for foliage and food value.
Daubentons kale ~ this is a non flowering evergreen perennial kale, which has a 5 -12 year life span. There are two forms - one having pale green leaves whilst the other has attractive variegated foliage. It is not possible to grow from seed but can can be propagated from cuttings which take about 3 months to root. This appeals to me not only because it is perennial but because it also appears to make a fairly substantial clump of foliage.
Hablitzia tamnoides ~ also known as Caucasian spinach or Nordic spinach. From what I can gather the young shoots are eaten in spring. This a shade loving, deciduous scrambling perennial which originates from the Caucasian mountains. It was bought to Scandanavia in the 1870s where it was planted as an ornamental to cover pergolas and porches. The plant bears heart shaped leaves and produces small green flowers. Plants are normally propagated by seed or by careful division of the roots. Alys advised that it has only just been introduced over here and that it could prove hard to get hold of for some time. I'm on the case.
More information about the majority of these edibles as well as much more food for thought can be found in Alys's excellent book 'The Thrifty Forager'.