Monday, February 2, 2015

Edible Landscape




Since the early 1900’s Americans began the great migration to the cities, and in doing so gave up their foraging practices. In earlier times people often searched their property and nearby fields and hills for edible food. In some parts of the world this is still a common practice. 

Perhaps the time has come to begin foraging within our ornamental gardens and see what nutritional edibles can be gleamed. Caution: Proper investigation is necessary to verify that the chosen plants are safe to eat.  Consuming the wrong plant can be disastrous.

Here is a short list of some well-known edibles in the United States. Check the internet, especially university websites for a more comprehensive list.

A. Weeds - If you can’t beat them, eat them!
1. Dandelions, Taraxacum officinale -Fresh dandelion leaves can be eaten raw, in salads, added to a stir fry, or boiled and steamed like spinach. They have a bitter taste, but boiling will help take that out. Dandelions also make a great addition to soups and stew. They are high in carotenes, iron, calcium and vitamins A and C. As a detoxifying agent, dandelions aid with liver, urinary and gall bladder disorders, diabetes and high blood pressure. Dandelion root tea is sold in local health food stores. 
2. Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) is also called wild spinach with similar nutritional value to spinach. 
3. Burdock (Arctium Lappa) is a weed rich in potassium, iron and calcium. 
4. Common mallow (malva neglecta) the leaves, stems, and immature seeds are eaten raw or cooked. Mallow is reported to be rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, selenium, and vitamins A and C.
5. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a succulent; the leaves, stems and flowers can be eaten either fresh or cooked. The leaves contain more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant.
Other edible weeds include chickweed, white and red clovers and plantain.

B. Edible Flowers
1. Marigolds are one of the most commonly grown ornamental annuals. When dried and crumbled, the petals of marigolds can substitute for the most expensive spice in the world: saffron. 
2. Roses, both the petals and the rosehips (fruit), are edible. Rose water is often used in scones, cakes, sherbets, salads and icings.  
3. Sunflowers – in addition to the commonly eaten seeds, the petals can be added to soups and stir-fry dishes. The sunflower buds can be steamed and eaten like an artichoke.
4. Daylilies (Hemerocallis sp.) - Some species (especially H. fulva) are cultivated in Asia for their edible flowers. The petals can be eaten raw or more commonly dried and used as a flavoring in soups. The young shoots should be cooked and have a pleasant sweet flavor. Even the roots are edible.
5. Nasturtium, violas, borage and calendula flowers are also edible and frequently used in salads.  

Here is a final thought: some vegetables can be planted as ornamentals in landscape gardening. As shown above, swiss chard with the bright red stems and large leaves of cabbage add a delicious touch to the surroundings.

Photo: University of California Master Gardeners of Sacramento County