Monday, 17 September 2012

'Unusual Edibles'


'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'.

12 comments:

  1. I'll watch with interest to see what you make of Allium Cernuum. I'm really unadventurous when it comes to growing edibles, I should really devote a bed on the allotment to trying new things.

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    1. I'm not that adventurous either Jo - but having eaten chive flowers I think that these alliums will taste similar as well as look good :)

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  2. I got the Thrifty Forager for Christmas but still haven't read it - I just feel that my tastes are quite conservative as are my beloveds, and it would be a waste of space growing stuff we aren't likely to eat. I would have liked to hear Alys speak though - she is such an inspiration.

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    1. I think that you would enjoy the book Elaine - some of the plants covered are more traditional although I must admit many did not appeal to me :)

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  3. even if it weren't edible I'd like the Caucasian spinach - attractive leaves and has a real presence. I like the sound of nodding onion - must look lovely in a breeze.

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    1. The Caucasian spinach looks as if it would be a most attractive climber Laura and I have a prefect shady spot in mind for it - that is if I manage to track one down.

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    2. there is a company in notts called "cool temperate". theyve got a few plants for sale...about six quid and they do ppst stuff out

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  4. This all sounds really good... especially the first allium. (I love edible flowers!) It will be interesting to hear how they taste next year!

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  5. Sounds like a fascinating talk. I'd love to hear Alys speak she is very inspirational. I'm trying to be a bit more adventurous. I think it helps a lot if you have some recipes with these new ingredients. In my own experience I get all enthusiastic about some new exotic ingredient but because I'm not sure what to do with it I end up never eating it.

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  6. I went to a similar talk in April at The Organic Garden at Holt Farm - inspirational. I'd recommend her 'Edible Garden' too where she talks about making a garden that's beautiful as well as edible.

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  7. I've been wondering about 'Petit Posy' myself, and the alliums sound interesting, but it's the Caucasian Spinach that has fired my imagination. Typical, that it would be hard to get hold of! Will track your experiences with interest. I keep thinking perennial veg is the way to go, but I am so hooked on things like peas and beans. I still harbour dreams of experimenting with some sort of Forest Gardening type experiment, but then just sowing carrots instead!

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  8. I'm with the others re the spinach, though I like the brussels. Yep, I like brussel sprouts.

    Need to see more of Alys Fowler on back on TV, I always thought she was a good presenter with an interesting take on things.

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All your comments are much appreciated and treasured. I wil try to reply to everyone who leaves a comment, but it may take me a few days, especially when I start spending more time in the garden and at the lottie. I know that you will understand :) I am sure that I will also visit your blog if I have not already done so. If you have any specific questions I will either reply to them here or you can email me at : thegreentapestry@gmail.com

Namasté

- Anna.