Betel leaf Piper sarmentosum

Betel leaf

Botanical name: Piper sarmentosum

How to grow it: Betel leaf is very easy to grow in warmer climates and if kept well watered is lush & attractive. Prefers a shaded position and so makes an ideal understorey plant. I’ve found that it burns easily in full sun & and the leaves aren’t as as tender.

Needs plenty of room as it will sprawl over a large area if allowed. Will slow right down in the cooler months.

Easy to propagate by root division or tip cuttings – spring & Autumn are your best times. In wet season you could easily take a rooted cutting and plant it out just before rain is expected.

Not really suited to container growing it needs quite a bit of space to spread.

Using it in the kitchen: Betel leaf is used in the classic asian dish Miang Kham where a variety of different fresh and cooked foods are wrapped in the leaves as a snack or starter.

When tender they can also be added to salads, soups and curries.

I’ve also seen them arranged on a plate and topped with food – a quite spectacular way to present dishes.

Great survival plant as an established plant requires very little care & the leaves are versatile in cooking.

 

Surinam spinach Talinum triangulare

Surinam Spinach

Botanical name: Talinum triangulare

Some other names: Waterleaf, Surinam purslane, Ceylon spinach

How to grow it: Naturally grows in the tropics, but has a fairly wide climate range. Certainly grows well in my cooler sub-tropical climate. Copes well with dry periods but responds well to water – the leaves have a more tender flavour in rainy season

Surinam spinach is perennial and dies down in the cooler months. It’s frost tender –  so may need to be treated as an annual in cooler climates.

Handles sun OK, but definitely likes the shade better. Great understory plant for trees.

Propagates really easily from stem cuttings as soon as danger of frost has passed. Once you have it established, it will self-seed quite easily but I wouldn’t consider it invasive as the seedlings are so easy to remove.

Awesome plant for pots – will tolerate quite a bit of neglect and doesn’t get too rootbound. You might need to move it to a protected position for cold winters.

Nutrients: A rich source of protein,  vitamin C, vitamin E, Omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, potassium, & β-carotene,. Surinam  spinach is also widely used in traditional medicine

 

Using it in the kitchen: 

Fresh leaves make a tasty addition to salads, sandwiches, juices or smoothies. The pink flowers are edible and can be used in salads.

Also used as spinach, in stir fries or omelettes. Wilts really well when added at the last minute to cooked dishes.

Not a bad plant to have in a pot right near the back door – if you like it you’ll want to use it often.

 

Great survival plant as it’s a hardy perennial, self seeds easily & is so versatile in the kitchen.

 

Okinawa spinach Gynura bicolor

Okinawa Spinach

Botanical name: Gynura bicolor

How to grow it: Okinawa spinach is simple to grow and makes an attractive, sprawling plant which would be at home amongst your ornamental plants.

Grows all year round in warm climates, and will die back in winter in the cooler climates – generally will reshoot in spring. It’s better suited t the tropics/subtropics.

Will handle a bit of shade, but thrives in full sun with plenty of water

Really simple to propagate – any piece of stem seems to strike, and if you allow it to spread, you can usually find a rooted piece of stem to replant.

Great for container growing- looks like an ornamental and produces plenty of leaf for the kitchen.

Medicinal value: Okinawa spinach is rich in protein, iron, potassium, calcium, vitamin A and has many uses in traditional medicine.

Using it in the kitchen: Fresh leaves make a tasty addition to salads, sandwiches, juices or smoothies. The purple underside of leaves can be quite appetizing.

Also used as spinach, in stir fries or omelettes. I particularly enjoy the growing tips added at the last minute to stir fries.

Really versatile vegetable – I tend to throw a few leaves into just about any dish that requires some greenery.

 

Easily qualifies as a survival plant as it’s so easy to grow and incorporate into your diet.

 

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.

Turmeric Curcuma longa

Turmeric

Botanical Name: Curcuma longa

How to grow it: Turmeric is a hardy perennial plant to about 1 metre that is grown for it’s underground rhizomes and used extensively in cooking and in medicine.

It grows well in sun or shade – tuber growth is better in full sun. It does best in humid sub-tropical to tropical climates but could probably be planted every spring in cooler areas. Will not tolerate frost.

Likes a lot of water, but doesn’t grow tubers if it’s too waterlogged. The looser & deeper the dirt, the bigger tubers you’ll grow. Best time to harvest is when the leaves die down for winter, but I’ll ferret for tubers at any time of year. Basically I just let them grow as a patch & harvest what I want, when required.

Propogation is by root division in spring – simply dig up some roots and put them in their new position. In warm areas, you can plant them right up until summer & still get good crops. You’ll regularly see turmeric tubers at markets and organic shops nowadays – just grab a few pieces and put them in the ground in warmer weather.

Turmeric Curcuma longa
Turmeric plant dug up for dividing.

Will do well in pots for a year or two until it becomes potbound & you have to dig it all up & start again.

Nutrition:

High in potassium, calcium, iron & chromium, and vitamins A & C. Many beneficial herbal actions.

Turmeric is thought to be very good for digestive complaints and as an anti-inflammatory. It is also claimed to be helpful with cancer, alzheimers, and arthritis and is being investigated by medical science as we speak.

Using it in the kitchen:

Turmeric is used as a spice in cooking and as a colouring agent. Most of us are accustomed to using it as a powder, but you can also use freshly harvested tubers. Slice them thinly into stir fries, curries & soups or any meat or vegetable dishes. It goes well in the vegetable juicer to add colour and flavour to your favourite juice.

Turmeric Curcuma longa
Turmeric is a very versatile & healthy spice.

I suspect that turmeric is one of those “super-herbs” that keep us healthy through many actions, and so try and add it to cooking whenever I can.

Stores fairly well in a cool dry spot in the pantry, or can be sliced thinly, dried and reconstituted in water as required (or just added to hot dishes as is).

Turmeric is a great survival food for it’s hardiness, it’s long harvesting time, it’s usefulness in cooking & for it’s health benefits.

salad mallow Corchorus olitorius

Salad Mallow

Botanical Name: Corchorus olitorius

Some other names: Egyptian spinach, Tossa jute, Jew’s Mallow

How to grow it:

Salad Mallow is an annual shrub-like plant that will grow to 2 metres in Summer/Autumn. In the sub-tropics/tropics, it is at it’s best in wet season and is outstanding for producing lots of leaves when other greens are struggling with the rain.

It thrives in all soil types even boggy conditions, and does better in full sun, but will still produce in partial shade. Being an annual, it will die down in winter and need to be resown the following spring.

Will do very well in pots if well watered, mulched & fed – a great plant to have near the kitchen for a big supply of tasty salad leaves.

Propogation is by seed in spring, and for years I painsakingly saved as much seed as I could as this is one of my favorite plants. After a while though, I realised that the plant self-seeds very easily – in fact it seemed to come up all over the place like a weed as soon as the rains came. So now I don’t bother saving seed – I just let it come up wherever it wants, whenever it’s ready.

If you only have one plant, it can be propogated easily by tip cuttings.

A great plant for pots – keep a few near the kitchen and look after them & they’ll definitely look after you!

salad mallow Corchorus olitorius
Seed pods of Salad mallow – get them early enough & you can eat them.

Nutrition:

Excellent source of protein, vitamins, A, B, & C, potassium, calcium, phosphorous plus many other minerals. This is one of the most valuable sources of nutrients we can grow in our backyards. If I could choose just one plant for the best combination of nutrition and taste – this would be it!

 

Using it in the kitchen:

The tasty, juicy leaves are great in salads and sandwiches and are often plentiful when other leaf vegetables are struggling with the rain.

salad mallow Corchorus olitorius
Salad mallow leaves – use fresh or lightly cooked.

Can also be added to soups, stews & quiches as can the young seed pods which are used similar to Okra. Make sure you pick the pods young though – as soon as they start getting stringy, no amount of cooking will make them tender.

I also like to use the growing tips in stirfries, omelettes or just on it’s own as a steamed vegetable, which will encourage the plant to branch out & produce even more leaves, tips & seeds pods.

Leaves can be dried when they’re plentiful & added to winter soups & casseroles to provide a protein & nutrient boost – a great survival plant that will reward you year in and year out with very little care.

mushroom plant Rungia Klossii

Mushroom plant

Botanical Name: Rungia Klossii

Some other names: Rungia, Kenkaba, Moku, Tani

How to grow it:

Mushroom plant is a perennial clumping shrub to about 60cm.

It’s fairly hardy overall, but will do much better in moist well drained soils. Prefers a partly shaded position, but will handle full sun too if kept moist. Mulching and fertilising improves leaf production a lot.

In warmer areas it will grow all year round and in colder areas it needs protection from frost

Once established, it’s a very attractive plant and wouldn’t look out of place in an ornamental garden or under trees as a living mulch.

Propogation is by separating the plant from the base or you can just take tip cuttings (shown below) and put them in the ground or in pots. Make sure they are kept well watered.

mushroom-plant-rungia-klossii-2
Mushroom plant tip cuttings

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

Nutrition:

A highly nutritious plant – Vitamins A, B, & C, protein, calcium, iron in particular

Using it in the kitchen:

As it’s name suggests, the plant supposedly has a mild mushroom flavour – I’m not sure I can make that distinction but the leaves are delicious nonetheless.

Freely add the leaves to salads and sanwiches for their flavour & crunchy texture.

Leaves can also be added to stir fries, soups, curries, omelettes & casseroles but only at the last minute if you’re keen to preserve their flavour which is generally lost through cooking.

mushroom-plant-rungia-klossii-3
Freshly harvested Mushroom plant leaves – delicious!

When harvesting, I usually take the 5-10cm stems and pick the leaves off in the kitchen – this encourages leaf production.

A great survival plant as it tolerates shade and gives it’s harvest of leaves for most of the year.

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.

Mitsuba Cryptotaenia japonica

Mitsuba

Botanical Name: Cryptotaenia japonica

Some other names: Japanese Parsley, Honeywort, Japanese Chervil

How to grow it:

Mitsuba is a perennial herb to 50cm that is beyond hardy – it will quickly become a weed if left unchecked. I find it sprouting up all over my garden if allowed to seed. Fortunately it’s also very useful & tasty.

The leaves will be more tender in a shaded position, but it handles full sun well even in the hottest months. As far as I can tell, it handles all soil types.

In warmer areas it will provide leaves & stems all year round, in colder climates it may die back in winter, but will readily sprout as soon as the frost has passed.

It has a decent tap root and so will continue to do OK in dry weather, but keep it watered and it will grow prolifically. It will continue growing when the rainy season hits & I tend to lose many of my other parsleys. Will benefit from the regular addition of fertiliser.

Propogation is by seed which should be easy to obtain. If you allow it to self seed (which it does very easily), the following year you’ll have it coming up all over the place. I tend to cut the seed stalks down to encourage leaf production and extend it’s season. Being perennial it will keep growing indefinitely.

Grows just as well in pots – a few plants in a small pot will provide a surprising amount of greens.

Nutrition:

High in vitamin C & calcium. Also contains vitamin A, B, potassium, iron & protein.

Using it in the kitchen:

Leaves have a mild parsley flavour and would make a good substitute when your other parslies are struggling.

It has much more value used freely as a salad leaf and in sandwiches instead of lettuce. Has a really refreshing taste

The whole plant can also be added to stir fries, soups, curries & casseroles.The stems are particularly good in stir fries -don’t cook them for too long or their flavour will be lost.

mitsuba-cryptotaenia-japonica-3
Freshly harvested Mitsuba plants – leaves for salad, whole plant for cooking

Mitsuba makes a great survival food as it grows so easily in all conditions, and will spread rapidly through self seeding.

basella alba malabar spinach

Malabar spinach

Botanical Name: Basella Alba

Some other names: Ceylon Spinach, Indian Spinach, climbing spinach, Basella

How to grow it: Malabar Spinach is a perennial twining, sprawling vine that is at it’s best in the heat of summer. It does well in full sun, but will produce larger juicier leaves if grown in partial shade.

It will thrive in moist, fertile and well drained soils, tending to develop tough leaves or bolt to seed if conditions are too dry.

When it’s happy, it is a very attractive plant quickly growing up trellises and other plants for most of the warm season. It’s best suited to sub-tropical to tropical conditions where the rain & heat of summer suit it perfectly but will also grow with a shorter season in cooler climates.

Will do well in pots if well watered, mulched & fed – for best results make sure it has a trellis to climb.

I’ve grown two varieties – one with a green stem the other with red. I don’t think there’s much different in terms of flavour or productivity, but the red stems look great!

Malabar Spinach is a very easy plant to propogate, in fact I usually just let it self seed and pick out the surplus seedlings like they’re weeds. If you allow it to go to seed, next spring you’ll find it sprouting up all over the place!.

Collecting seed is easy. In Autumn, the plant develops red berries which I usually let dry on the vine. Just collect them up and replant them the following spring. For better germination, soak them in water overnight the day before planting. If you can’t get the plants locally, you should have no problems getting seeds online.

basella-alba-malabar-spinach-2
Malabar spinach fruits containing the seed.

Nutrition:

Malabar spinach had high levels of vitamins A,B, & C, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, zinc, and decent amounts of Iron and copper. It has good levels of mucilage which is a valuable aid in detoxifying the body.

A highly nutritious plant.

Using it in the kitchen:

The young, juicy leaves make a great addition to salads and sandwiches and are often plentiful when other leaf vegetables are struggling with the hot midsummer sun.

All leaves & shoots can be added to soups, stews & quiches where the mucilagin will help thicken the meal.

basella-alba-malabar-spinach-4
Malabar spinach – both the shoots and leaves are delicious & tender.

Also great in stirfries, omelettes or just on it’s own as a steamed vegetable, but don’t cook it for too long as the mucilage can have the effect of giving it a slimy texture. Usually I add them only at the very last minute.

My personal favourite way to use it is to plant it thickly in tubs in spring, and when it’s growth takes off, pick the young shoots off daily for stirfries & omelettes. Eventually it will get away from you by climbing or sprawling, but usually I can keep it contained for a couple of months this way. The shoots are delicious & tender!

basella-alba-malabar-spinach-3
Malabar Spinach grown in tubs for daily picking of the shoots

Malabar spinach is a great survival food in warmer areas because it so readily self-seeds & has high nutrient value. Once you grow 1 plant successfully you’ll pretty much always have it.

Other info:

The red juice of the berries is used as a non-toxic food dye, and as ink in some countries. My kids have used it for body painting too.

lemon balm lime balm Melissa officinalis

Lemon Balm and Lime Balm

Botanical Name: Melissa officinalis

Some other names: Balm, Bee Balm, Honey plant, Cure all, Melissa

How to grow it:

Lemon Balm is a perennial herb to about 50cm which is so easy to grow it can become invasive. It does well and has a stronger flavour in full sun, but will produce larger, more tender leaves for a longer period if grown in partial shade. I grow it in several patches with varied sunlight and moisture & find that I have it available all year round.

In the subtropics and tropics (where I live) it does better in Autumn to spring, in cooler climates it might die back & resprout in spring.

Will do well in pots if well watered, mulched & fed – again, preferring a partially shaded position.

The simplest way to propogate is by root division- just grab a handful of roots and all from the middle of your patch, separate the pieces and plant directly into the ground. Keep watered for a couple of days and they’ll strike easily. Will also strike well from cuttings or grown from seed.

Nowadays it’s also very easy to obtain in garden outlets or online.

lemon-balm-melissa-officinalis-2
Lemon balm is easily propagated by root division

Nutrition:

Lemon balm contains vitamins A, B & C and volatile oils that have many herbal actions. It is well known to be calming and sedative – just try grabbing a handful of leaves and take a deep breath with the aroma! Also thought to ba a natural antioxidant.

Using it in the kitchen:

The leaves by themselves are not particularly palatable – a little bit chewy for my liking. Combined with other greens though, they go very well in salads & sandwiches and attract many comments from guests in my home. The lemon flavour is very striking & pleasant.

Leaves can also be added to hot dishes, but you’ll need to add a good handful or two to have much impact flavour-wise.

lemon-balm-melissa-officinalis-3
Leaves used fresh in salads or make a soothing tea.

Probably Lemon Balm’s best known use is as a calming herbal tea. Simply grab two handfuls of leaves and stems per cup of boiled water. Allow to steep for several minutes. Personally, I like to add a variety of different leaves to the lemon balm too.

Other info:

Although I’ve written here about lemon balm, I actually prefer Lime Balm for it’s flavour. It’s an identical plant in apearance & uses, but has a refreshing lime flavour instead of lemon. It might be a little harder to obtain in your local area though.

 

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

Horseradish

Botanical Name: Armoracia rusticana

Some other names: Mountain radish

How to grow it:

Horseradish is a very hardy rambling perennial to about 40cm. It is used for it young leaves and large roots in cooking and medicine.

Probably best grown in climates with cold winters, horseradish will still grow in warmer clients but the flavour will be milder. Grows well in sun or shade and is very drought tolerant – grows like mad when it’s wet, and goes almost dormant in the dry.

Deep, well drained soils will produce the biggest tubers, but it will grow well in poor soils too. An ideal plant for underneath fruit trees and amongst your vegetable crops. It is thought to repel many pest and diseases and make a great companion plant.

Propogation is by separation of the roots that can be broken up into pieces & then root quite readily. Once you have a plant established, you can pretty much harvest anytime & the it will resprout from the pieces of root left in the ground. Can spread a metre or two underground in just 1 year if left to.

Will also do quite well in pots if they’re large enough for the plant to develop a decent size root system. Regular harvesting would be essential.

Nutrition:

A highly nutritious plant – Vitamins A, B, & C, potassium, calcium, iron and sulphur in particular.

Eating horseradish regularly is beneficial to your digestion and circulatory systems and for your blood. Can be taken as an expectorant in sinus conditions.

Using it in the kitchen:

Young horseradish leaves can be used fresh in salads, or cooked into stir fries, soups, curries and casseroles.

The roots are best eaten uncooked but need to be preserved in either mayonnaise or vinegar. My favourite method is to chop the roots roughly & further chop them as finely as I can in the food processor. Then dribble mayonnaise or vinegar while the processor’s still running until the mixture has the consistency of a sauce. My family eats the mixture as a delicious condiment, but it could also be considered a great preventative tonic for colds, flu and other viruses.

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Horseradish roots cleaned & ready for  processing into horseradish cream

Horseradish is a great survival food as it’s so easy to grow and use, and provides flavour in cooking and health benefits.

Cynara scolymus globe artichoke

Globe artichoke

Botanical Name: Cynara scolymus

How to grow it:

Globe artichoke is a perennial thistle to about 1.5 metres that it is grown for it’s immature flower buds. It is a very attractive plant for it’s large blue green leaves. if the plant is allowed to flower (that’s not going to happen if you like the buds for food), it has very pretty bright purple flower heads.

It has a fairly wide climactic range, though might need to be grown as an annual in cooler climates. Needs protection from frost. Does well in sun or part shade.

It’s best to give globe artichoke well drained, fertile soil. It will handle some dry periods, but doesn’t like heavy soils or bogs. Mulch and fertilise well.

Get seeds or seedlings for globe artichoke – they’re very easy to start like this and you’ll have access to a greater variety. You can also take root divisions and root cuttings from mature plants, but seeds are easier.

Will grow in pots, but the flowers are somewhat stunted. I think Globe artichoke prefers a bit of room to move.

Nutrition:

A highly nutritious vegetable – high in potassium, calcium and iron and good levels of vitamins A, B, C, magnesium & phosphorous.

Using it in the kitchen:

Young shoots of the plant can be eaten as a vegetable either boiled or steamed on their own, or added to curries & casseroles.

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Thistle like foliage of Globe Artichoke

The delicious part though, is the heart of the flower bud. Often it is trimmed and then boiled or steamed (it is nice to then use the hearts on pizzas!), but I think it’s best prepared as a roasted vegetable.

Don’t worry about trimming it, just put the whole buds on an oven tray, and drizzle some oil (infused with garlic and rosemary is good), and slow roast them for about 1-1.5 hours. Then when you eat it, you’ll get plenty of “meat” from the petals and the heart is deliciously tender.

Globe artichoke is a great survival plant for it’s delicious vegetable and for it’s hardiness. As it’s such a pretty plant, it could easily be grown amongst your ornamental plants for it’s foliage, and then the flower buds can be harvested, or left for a gorgeous flower display.

Ginger

How to grow it:

Ginger is a hardy perennial plant that is grown for it’s underground rhizomes and used in cooking, medicine and as a tea.

In nature, Ginger is an understorey plant, and so I tend to plant it under other trees. In commercial cultivation though, it’s grown usually in full sun and no doubt has higher yields.

The main ingredient needed for ginger is warmth. it will do well planted in spring in both subtropical and tropical areas. In cooler areas, you’ll have a shorter growing season and may suffer from smaller rhizomes – still worth growing if you can.

Although tolerant of drought due to the underground rhizome system, ginger does best in moist, well drained situations where it will produce large crops of swollen rhizomes. Best harvest time is when the foliage dies down for winter, but I just harvest it as needed – the rhizomes are smaller, milder & more tender early in the season, and will be much larger & more pungent later in Autumn & winter.

Propogation is by root division in spring – simply dig up some roots and put them in their new position. In warm areas, you can plant them right up until summer & still get good crops. Just get a piece of root from an organic source, break it up into pieces & plant into position. It strikes very easily.

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Ginger rhizomes dug up for division and replanting.

Will do well in pots for a year or two until it becomes potbound & you have to dig it all up & start again.

Nutrition:

High in potassium, manganese, copper & magnesium, and vitmans A & B. Many beneficial herbal actions.

Ginger is thought to be very good for your digestive & circulatory systems and will reduce nausea from morning sickness & motion sickness. Helps ward off colds & flu. Add a few slices to you tea or on it’s own.

 

Using it in the kitchen:

Ginger is mainly used as a spice in both savoury & sweet dishes.

You can grate, chop, mince or slice it into stirfries, curries, soups usually with some garlic & chilli. I find it has a special synergy with sweet potato & pumpkin – try it in your next pumpkin soup for a flavour treat. Also worth trying grated into your favorite meat marinade.

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Ginger root straight from the garden

I try and add it to food as much as possible for it’s health benefits, but beware – it can have a dominating flavour or actually taste quite hot.

Stores fairly well in a dark dry spot in the pantry, or can be sliced thinly, dried and reconstituted in water as required (or just added to hot dishes as is).

Ginger is a great survival food for it’s hardiness, it’s long harvesting time, it’s usefulness in cooking & for it’s health benefits.

Garden sorrel rumex acetosa

Garden sorrel

Botanical Name: Rumex acetosa

Some other names: Sorrel, Common Sorrel, English Sorrel, Spinach Dock, Narrow Leafed Dock.

How to grow it:

Sorrel is amazingly hardy, growing all year round in frost free climates, and much of the year in colder climates in just about any soil type.

It has deep roots making it quite tolerant to drought, but the leaves can get a bit chewy & sharp. In moist conditions, it will grow prolifically & provide plenty of succulent leaves.

Sorrel is an attractive plant too it would be equally at home in a garden bed with shrubs or flowers as it is in the vege garden. I like to have it in a few spots in the garden (full sun & part shade) & will pick from the one that has the most succulent leaves at the time.

It will also do very well in pots, but needs to be divided regularly as it will become potbound quickly.

Addition of fertiliser will only make Garden sorrel more prolific than it already is, but it seems just as happy when left to pull nutrients deep from the ground with it’s long roots.

Propogation is easy once you have one plant established – just simply dig up the whole plant, divide it into clumps with your spade & replant or put it into pots. Within a couple of weeks it will resprout & you can start eating the leaves immediately.

In my climate (sub-tropics), I’ve never seen garden sorrel seed, but in cooler climates seed can be collected in autumn or the plant just allowed to self-seed. It’s a very common plant – you should find it at most herb nurseries or you can get seeds online.

Nutrition:

Sorrel has high levels of vitamin C along with Vitamin A & B. It also contains calcium, potassium, iron & sulphur. Very nutritious for something so easy to grow!

Using it in the kitchen:

Sorrel leaves have a sour taste that varies in intenisty depending on which leaves you pick. The young leaves growing from the centre of the plant are very mild and the outer leaves can get quite sharp in taste particularly if grown in full sun in the hotter weather. So just pick leaves according to your own taste.

Use young leaves in salads and sandwiches they’ll add a mild flavour and have nice texture.

Older leaves can also be used fresh, but this will be according to your taste. You can also use older leaves in stir fries, soups, quiches, casseroles and omelettes generally in combination with other greens.

Sorrel is an obvious candidate for survival food as it is so hardy & prolific. I’ve never thought about preserving because it’s always available fresh from the garden

Other info:

I occasionally feed it to chickens & add leaves to the compost or mulch, but mostly I just eat it.

Would be good for erosion control or on the edge of gardens as it outcompetes all weeds.

If you like the flavour, try sheep sorrel – it has much smaller leaves and a sharper taste, but is higher in nutrients & has greater medicinal value.

It’s also worth learning about yellow dock – a common weed. In a survival situation it could be used in cooking the same as garden sorrel, but it’s definitely worth preboiling to reduce the sharp taste and oxalates.

Galangal

Botanical Name: Alpinia galanga

How to grow it: Galangal is a hardy perennial plant to 2 metres that is grown for it’s underground rhizomes and used to flavour oriental flavoured dishes.

Grows in full sun to shade, handles annual dry seasons well, but responds well to lots of water.

Grows all year round in the subtropics & tropics, and will die back and resprout in spring in cooler areas. Doesn’t like frost, so in cooler areas use as an understorey plant.

For large and easy to harvest rhizomes, plant in a deep, loose soil.

Propogation is by root division basically anytime it’s warm – simply dig up some roots and put them in their new position. I’ve often struck plants from rhizomes found in fruit and vegetable stores and markets, so keep your eye out.

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Galangal propagation by rhizome division

Will do well in pots for a year or two until it becomes potbound & you have to dig it all up & start again.

Using it in the kitchen:

Galangal is used almost exclusively in asian soups, curries & curry pastes. It has a unique aroma that adds authenticity to these dishes, and in my view, cannot be omitted or replaced. Lucky it’s a gorgeous plant & virtually unkillable!

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Galangal – irreplaceable for asian food fans

Slice it thinly and add it to soups, or chop it finely and add it to stir fries, curries or curry pastes.

It also has a pleasant perfumy aroma that goes well with herbal teas.

Not the most important of survival plants for it’s very limited use, but it’s really easy to grow & looks great. If you love asian food – it actually is a survival plant!!

Comfrey

Botanical Name: symphytum officinale

Some other names: Knitbone, Boneset, Woundwort, Bruisewort

How to grow it: Comfrey is amongst the easiest & most hardy of all plants I know. Once established, it is virtually “unkillable” and it would be wise to carefully consider where to plant it – as it will always be there!

Like many perennials, comfrey will do best in a deep, well drained, fertile soil, but it has a wide tolerance for all conditions. Will tolerate drought, sunlight, lack of sunlight, will outcompete all weeds and can be continually harvested for most of the year.

It has deep roots which will mine nutrients and moisture from deep in the soil. Other than maybe a bit of seaweed spray, I’ve never directly fertilised my comfrey plants and they always seem to thrive.

The best way to propogate is break off a root, further break it down to 2cm pieces, and plant it sideways in the soil. It seems that any piece of root will strike, so one established plant will make many, many new ones.

Will grow very happily in pots, though it won’t reach anywhere near the size & productivity of the ground grown ones.

The comfrey controversy:Comfrey is a very nutrient dense plant with high levels of vitamin A, B, C & E, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium + many more minerals. It also has constituents that lead to a range of herbal actions.

Medical science however, has determined that the plant includes alkaloids that are dangerous to humans – “proven” through laboratory testing in rats. There is very little evidence to suggest that humans or livestock have actually been poisoned by the herb, but nevertheless, it is now banned for internal (mostly) and/or external use in many countries. It is surely ironic that you can buy a pack of cigarettes from the local corner store which has been proven to kill millions, but you cannot use comfrey no matter how beneficial it might be!

In history, it has a long record of use and there are many, many anecdotal accounts of it’s effectiveness in dealing with many different diseases including chronic ones like cancer, arthritis, asthma and digestive disorders. And that’s only by taking it internally. Externally, it’s been used for dealing with broken bones, bruising and even healing open wounds.

So given that authorities have banned it’s use, I can’t recommend that you use the herb, only that you research it’s potential benefits/drawbacks for yourself.

My own experience using Comfrey externally leads me to value the herb medicinally more than any other in my garden. I’ve used it on a variety of complaints in my family and found it to very effective, if not amazing! Open wounds healing in a fraction of the normal time, rashes disappearing overnight, even pain relief and quick healing of sprained ankles etc.

Other uses: Fortunately, even though comfrey is banned in many countries for use as food or medicine, there a still numerous uses for it in the garden.

Due to it’s deep roots, it mines nutrients from deep in the soil that aren’t available to other plants, and the leaves can be harvested very regularly and used as mulch on the garden. Containing good levels of Nitrogen, potassium & phosphorous + trace elements makes it almost a complete plant fertiliser. It can be soaked in water for a week, and then used as a rich liquid fertiliser. Comfrey is a known compost activator, and can be added regularly to the compost to “speed things up”.

If you’re concerned about taking comfrey internally, try chopping it up and giving it to your chickens – then eat the eggs. In fact all livestock will benefit from it’s regular use.

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Freshly harvested Comfrey root

Brazilian spinach Alternanthera sissoo

Brazilian Spinach

Botanical Name: Alternanthera sissoo

Some other names: Sissoo spinach, Samba lettuce

How to grow it: Brazilian spinach is a low growing perennial that will extend over a large area if allowed. It’s very easy to control though through regular harvesting of the tips.

Will survive in full sun, but prefers shade. A good plant for understory situations, or around the house where it won’t get too much sun.

In warmer areas it will provide leaves & stems all year round, in colder climates it may die back in winter, but will normally sprout as soon as the frost has passed. In very cold climates it will need to replanted from seed.

Likes a regular supply of water, but will hold it’s own in drought conditions – leaf production will slow down.

Propogation is by tip cuttings which root easily, or the plant can be divided at the base

Grows really well in pots – just make sure it doesn’t dry out too much or you won’t get much to pick

Tip cuttings take root easily
Tip cuttings take root easily

Nutrition: There’s not much information on Brazilian spinach other than it’s high protein content. It’s likely to be a good source of vitamins and minerals just like most other greens.

Using it in the kitchen:

The most notable thing about the leaves would be the crunchy texture which survives even with a little cooking. Has a milder flavour than most greens like it.

Remove all stems and add it to salads or sandwiches for a bit of crunch.

Leaves can also be added to stir fries, soups, curries & casseroles just like you would any other spinach.

Brazilian spinach is a good survival food as it’s available for most of the year and handles shade better than most plants like it.

A crunchy addition to stir fries and slads
A crunchy addition to stir fries and slads