Taro Colocasia esculenta

Taro

Botanical name: Colocasia esculenta

How to grow it: Taro is a perennial tuber, and depending on variety can grow leaves up to 3m high. It’s a very attractive plant which can easily be confused with the ornamental Elephant ears – in fact it can be pretty hard to tell the difference.

Grown all around the world in the subtropics and tropics, will grow happily in any decent soil, but thrives in shallow water and mud. Loves the heat and full sun and will produce masses of edible tubers & leaves every year if it’s conditions are met. I’d still try it outside of the tropics, but tuber production will be smaller & plants will remain dormant for longer.

Propogation is by division of tubers which are usually dug in autumn/winter, but you can generally find propagation material all year round.

Not a great plant for pots as plants like some space for their tubers to develop.

Using it in the kitchen: All parts of Taro are edible, but poisonous until cooked thoroughly. If you ever experience a tingly feeling in your mouth whilst eating it, then it hasn’t been cooked sufficiently.

Tubers should be soaked in water for an hour before cooking, and green parts should be well cooked in water – preferably changing the water once.

Tubers can be used like potatoes – I like them boiled then roasted but theres a multitude of ways to use them – they are a staple food in many parts of the world.

The green parts are nutritious and tasty – they can be eaten as a green vegetable or added to soups, casseroles etc.

 

Taro is an awesome survival plant as it has such attractive foliage that can be planted amongst ornamentals and can be turned to at any time for food.

 

water pepper Polygonum hydropiper

Water pepper

Botanical Name: Polygonum hydropiper

Some other names: Tade, Marshpepper knotweed, Smart weed

How to grow it:

Water pepper is a hardy annual plant to about 60cm that is considered a weed of waterways in many parts of the world. It’s attractive foliage varies from deep red to green.

It will grow well in boggy conditions or shallow water, but will do better for leaf production in moist, fertile soils. Prefers sun, but handles shade well too.

Being an annual plant, it will set seed & die in winter, but in my subtropical climate it seems to be available all year round by self seeding.

Propogation is by seed, cuttings or root division. It seems that either insects or birds like the seed as it comes up all over my garden, but not in an invasive way – it’s very easy to remove by hand

water pepper Polygonum hydropiper
Water pepper plant setting seed

Will also do well in pots – keep them mulched, watered and fertilised for a regular supply of leaves.

Nutrition:

High in protein & potassium and other vitamin & minerals. Many herbal actions.

Using it in the kitchen:

Water pepper doesn’t have a great deal of flavour – perhaps a hint of horseradish, but what you’ll realise as soon as you try some is that it’s hot – a peppery kind of hot.

If you like the heat, add leaves freely to salads and sandwiches and if you don’t, tear them up and add them to salads sparingly. The red tinge on the leaves will add interest.

water pepper Polygonum hydropiper
Water pepper leaves – peppery hot.

I tend to use them for their health giving benefits, and I don’t mind a bit of bite in fresh salads.

water chestnut Eleocharis dulcis

Water chestnut

Botanical Name: Eleocharis dulcis

Some other names: Chinese water chestnut, Somwang, Apulid

How to grow it:

Water chestnut is a perennial sedge plant grown in swampy conditions for it’s tasty corms which are harvested in winter/ early spring. It has long, hollow leaves out of the water.

It grows best in the subtropics/tropics but will still do OK in cooler areas provided there’s over 6 months of warm weather. Does not tolerate significant frosts.

I grow mine in an old bathtub with about 30 cm of soil covered by about 10cm of water and it produces big crops every year. Likes full sun in a warm position of your garden.

To plant, prepare your soil in advance of spring with some old manure or compost and plant corms (2-3 per square metre) in the soil when wet – not flooded. Once the shoots grow to above the level of your container, you can fill with water & the plant will take off without any other help. For bigger corms, it’s important to harvest all of the crop each year, perhaps leaving just a few in your container for the following year. The plant will grow like a perennial, without any help, but without thinning, the corms will get progressively smaller as each year goes by – not good as they are finnicky to prepare for eating.

Nutrition:

Corms are a good source of carbohydrates with vitamin B, potassium, manganese & copper.

Using it in the kitchen:

Harvested corms need to be peeled, removing the dark brown skins, First, cut off the top & base then peel the remaining brown skin with a knife.

Once peeled, the corms can be eaten fresh in hand, or chopped & added to salads. They have a slightly sweet, nutty taste and have a crunchy texture.

Cooked, they retain this crunchy texture and can be added to stir fries, curries, soups & casseroles. Very popular in asian cooking.

Since you’ll normally have a glut of corms at harvest time, it’s a good idea to freeze them. The best way to do this is to boil them for a few minutes, drain & cool. I like to freeze them on trays & then store them in freezer bags all separated – that way you can grab a few at a time for adding to dishes for the rest of the year.

water chestnut Eleocharis dulcis
Water chestnuts peeled and ready for adding to salads, stirfries or soups.

A good survival food as they are so easy to grow, and they will perennialise if not harvested every year.

Water celery Oenanthe Javanica

Water Celery

Botanical Name: Oenanthe Javanica

Some other names: Water dropwort, Water Parsley, Chinese Celery

How to grow it: Water Celery is another of those “hard to kill” plants – once you’ve found a good position for it, it will grow year after year with virtually no care. Grows equally well in sun or part shade.

In warmer areas it will grow all year round while it’s kept moist & in colder areas it will rebound quickly after frost. The biggest problem is will spread rapidly via its roots and become invasive – but then it’s very easy to remove & thus control.

Water celery, as it’s name suggests, needs moisture to grow prolifically. Bog areas and ponds are ideal, but it will grow almost anywhere while it gets water – it might get stringy or stop growing when conditions are dry.

I find it grows well without addition of fertilizer – perhaps an occasional foliar spray is all that’s needed.

Propogation is dead easy – just pull up some plants roots and all (shown below) & place them in their new spot with an initial watering, and you’ll never have to worry about them again.

Water celery will grow well in closed containers like buckets & styrofoam boxes. I prefer to put drainage holes about 50mm below the level of the soil so that the soil surface actually dries out. This way you can harvest the stems right down to soil level without the stagnant water. If you grow this way, I suggest regular thinning of the roots – the plant will become potboud very quickly. Great plant for the greenhouse – it will love the water & heat.

Water celery Oenanthe Javanica
Water celery grows well in closed containers (no drainage)

 

Nutrition:

Leaves & stems a good source of protein with vitamins A, B, & C, iron, calcium, phosphorous & potassium. Cooked white roots are a source of carbohydrate.

 

Using it in the kitchen:

Water celery is so versatile and nutritious I use it in almost every meal.

The green leafy parts have a celery like flavour that goes great in salads and on sandwiches. Tender green stems cut finely can also add a bit of texture and unusual flavour to salads.Harvest and chop the leaf & stems & add to stir fries, soups, curries & casseroles. The stems will tend to keep their texture after cooking.

Water celery Oenanthe Javanica
Water Celery straight from the garden & prepared for a stir fry

The white roots can also be chopped & added to cooked dishes.

Avoid picking the older, taller stems as they can become a bit stringy – not unlike celery.

A fantastic survival food – I can’t recall a time when water celery wasn’t available for picking. For this reason, I’ve never thought to try preserving it for lean times.

vietnamese mint persicaria odorata

Vietnamese mint

Botanical Name: Persicaria odorata

Some other names: Vietnamese coriander, Laksa leaves, Hot mint, Vietnamese cilantro, Rau ram

How to grow it:

Vietnamese mint is of those “hard to kill” plants – it will grow anywhere, and if it likes it’s spot will become invasive. It is easy to remove though and quite a pretty plant.

In warmer areas it will grow all year round and in colder areas it will rebound quickly after frost. I find the summer heat will cause it to lose some vigour, so suggest planting in a shady position that gets a bit of morning sun.

Vietnamese mint will grow in shallow water or bog situations, and in fact it’s more likely to get invasive with unlimited access to water. You could try it in a closed container to prevent it spreading.

I find it grows well without addition of fertilizer – perhaps an occasional foliar spray is all that’s needed.

Propogation is very simple – just root some cuttings in water. Once they’ve rooted, plant them in the garden & keep watered for a few days. You could skip all this by just putting cuttings in the ground as rain is expected – they so easily strike.

vietnamese mint persicaria odorata
Vietnamese mint stems root easily in water

Great plant for the greenhouse – it will love the water & heat. Will also grow great in pots – just keep it well watered.

Nutrition:

Leaves high in protein & potassium and other vitamin & minerals. Many herbal actions.

 

Using it in the kitchen:

How you use Vietnamese mint depends on how much you like the flavour. If you don’t like coriander – then forget it – you won’t like vietnamese mint. It has a strong flavour similar to coriander – but hot. The leaves can be eaten in combination with other greens in a salad or on a sandwich.

If on the other hand you do like coriander, you’ll most likely enjoy these leaves added to oriental dishes at the end of cooking. They can be a real bonus for your cooking as they’ll grow in the heat whereas coriander usually won’t – all year coriander if you like!

As one of it’s common names suggest, these leaves are great in a laksa or hot soup – added at the end like a garnish.

vietnamese mint persicaria odorata
Vietnamese mint – remove the stems before use

A good survival food as the the plant is so hardy and the leaves so useful in asian cooking.

Mukuna wenna Alternanthera versicolor

Mukuna wenna

Botanical Name: Alternanthera versicolor

How to grow it:

Mukuna Wenna is extremely easy to grow and will handle almost any conditions. Like many other plants described here, it can tend to become a weed.

It’s a spreading perennial plant to about 40cm that seems to handle sun or shade equally well. If you have cold winters it may die back and reshoot, but elsewhere it will grow all year round.

Definitely more vigorous in wet or boggy soils, but it’s also quite drought tolerant. In drier conditions it may tend to get “stalky” and bolt to seed, but you’ll always have usuable leaf for harvesting.

Regular fertilising will help it grow, but I’ve found it needs very little care of any kind.

Makes a decorative ground cover in garden beds and under trees and will grow very well in pots & even hanging baskets.

It’s very easy to propogate, simply pull some stems and roots up from an established plant, replant in it’s new position & water in once. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cutting that won’t strike. Same goes for tip cuttings if your plant isn’t well established.

Nutrition:

I can’t find any nutritional information on Mukuna Wenna, but given that it’s a valued herb in eastern medicine, it would be safe to say it’s rich in vitamins & minerals. I think that the rich red colour of the leaves must offer something to our nutrition that isn’t available in greens.

Using it in the kitchen:

Leaves are pretty bland really – I find them best used with other leaves for variety & nutrition.

The purple leaves are really striking & appetising in a green salad, and for this reason I use them a lot.

Leaves can also be added to stir fries, soups, curries & casseroles for extra colour & nutrition.

An excellent survival food as leaves are available all year round and the plant is so hardy.

Lebanese cress Botanical Name: Apium nodiflorum

Lebanese cress

Botanical Name: Apium nodiflorum

Some other names: Stonecress, Fools Watercress.

How to grow it:

Lebanese Cress is what I would classify as a “hard-to-kill plant – once you have it, you’ll most likely always have it. It’s a rapidly spreading perennial ground cover that likes wet conditions, but will handle periods of drought. Grows in full sun, but prefers some shade especially at the hottest times of the year.

In warmer areas I find it prefers the wet season & cooler weather – it will still grow strongly in the heat (provided it gets water), but the leaves may be tougher & less palatable especially in full sun. In cooler climates it will go dormant or even die back in the winter so your best harvest times will be spring & autumn.

Lebanese Cress likes moist conditions best of all and so will grow well in bogs or anywhere it gets a permanent water supply. if there’s a problem with it, it can be invasive though it’s fairly easy to remove if necessary.

It does respond well to fertiliser, especially foliar sprays & worm juice.

lebanese-cress-apium-nodiflorum-2
Did I mention that Lebanese Cress can be invasive?

Propogation is very simple – just pull up some plants roots and all & replant them into their new position or pots, water them in and they’ll be on their way with very little care.

lebanese-cress-apium-nodiflorum-3
Propagation by division of roots

I’d suggest you start 2-3 different patches with different sun/shade/water conditions expecting you’ll have tender leaves in one of the patches at most times of the year.

Nutrition:

Leaves a good source of protein with vitamins A, B, & C, iron, calcium, phosphorous & potassium.

Using it in the kitchen:

The leaves of lebanese cress have a refreshing flavour that is like a cross between carrots & celery. Delicious!

Use them frequently in salads and sandwiches. I like them chopped up & added to coleslaws.

lebanese-cress-apium-nodiflorum-4

It would be well worth having some growing right near the kitchen in a large pot so it can be picked for a quick sandwich or salad on those rainy days when it’s hard to get in the garden.

A great survival food for it’s hardiness & uninterrupted supply of nutritious leaves.

kang kong Ipomoea aquatica

Kang kong

Botanical Name: Ipomoea Aquatica

Some other names: Water Spinach, Swamp Cabbage, Ong Choy, Chinese Watercress and many other local names throughout Asia.

How to grow it:

Kang Kong is a terrifically hardy perernnial that will grow anywhere at anytime it’s growing conditions are met – that is, when it’s hot & wet. It grows like mad in these conditions, and will meander or die back when it’s cold and/or dry. Seems just as happy in sun or shade.

In the tropics, it will grow all year if it has regular water, but is best planted as the wet season begins and will require no maintenance. If there’s a problem with it, it can get out of control – a great reason to harvest it regularly.

In cooler areas, it will die back in winter and reshoot in spring. In cold areas it’s growing season might be quite short.

Given it’s water requirements, it does best in a boggy area or on the edges of ponds. It’s just as happy in shallow water as it is in wet mud. It does well in a shadehouse or hothouse and it’s growing period might be extended due to the extra warmth.

Kang Kong will certainly benefit from the addition of manure, compost, worm juice or seaweed, but will also do pretty well without any maintenance at all. Once I put a cutting in a vase of water to root, and it grew & produced leaves for months without any help at all – quite amazing!

Very easy to propogate from stem or tip cuttings – they’ll readily shoot in water or just put them in the ground on a rainy day or when rain is imminent. The plant will start flowering as the weather cools down and seeds can soon be collected for planting in the following seaason.

I’ve had great success growing Kang Kong in closed containers – simply fill any closed container (20 litre bucket, pots with no drainage, styrofoam boxes etc) with soil leaving 5-10 cms from the top. Fill with water to a level just above the soil, and put your cuttings or seeds in. As soon as the plants start growing you can start harvesting. This growing method can be very productive and is great for drier climates – just add a bit a bit of water when needed – the foliage will reduce much of the water loss.

It’s best to start a new container every spring though – one season is plenty for it to become rootbound and the following year will produce rather straggly leaf & stems.

kang-kong-ipomoea-aquatica-2
Kang Kong happily grows in containers without drainage.

Nutrition: Despite the fact that it requires very little care, Kang Kong is a highly nutritious plant with high levels of protein, calcium, iron, potassium, & vitamins A B & C. A valuable addition to the diet.

Using it in the kitchen:

Young leaves are fairly bland taste-wise and easily substitute for lettuce in green salads. The best thing is they are so prolific when it’s too hot or wet for other salad greens. In season I eat the greens fresh on a daily basis both in salads & sandwiches.

As a spinach, leaves can be used in almost anything – quiches, omelettes, soups, casseroles anything that would benefit from some nutritious greens. I prefer to add them at the last minute as they wilt very quickly, but they also do well in slow, long cooking dishes.

The stems can be chopped finely & used in salads, but are at their best when chopped quite thickly & used in stir fries. Very tender & tasty.

Kang Kong is a brilliant survival food as it’s so nutritious, it grows like mad and keeps coming back every summer.

Other uses:

Kang Kong makes great animal fodder due to it’s high protein content. Just feed it fresh to your livestock and grow it in boggy areas of paddocks.

Due to it’s prodigious growth it could also make good mulch or compost in the garden, but I’d sun dry it for a week first – it will sprout very easily in moist warm conditions.

kang-kong-ipomoea-aquatica-3
Freshly harvested Kang Kong leaf & stem