Botanical name: Anethum graveolens

How to grow it:

Dill is an annual herb that likes full sun and good drainage. In my area (sub-tropical) it struggles in summer – bolting to seed early but likes all other parts of the year.

Grows fine in pots –  provide plenty of liquid fertiliser and a good layer of mulch.

Propagated usually by seed, and will readily self-seed if you allow it to flower.

In the kitchen: 

Dill has quite a unique flavour which is difficult to compare to other herbs. It’s very common in European cooking and in some parts of asia. Both the leaves and seeds are used.

Is fantastic in any egg dish, on fish, with cheese, potatoes, lamb and even sprinkled in salads – try it in coleslaw. It’s the main flavouring ingredient in Dill pickles.

Seeds are also used in cooking and to make a calming tea which is soothing to the digestive system.


Sweet Basil

Sweet Basil

Botanical name: Ocimum basilicum

Some other names: Basil, St Joseph’s wort

How to grow it:

Sweet Basil basil can be a biennial in warmer areas though is probably better planted as an annual. The bush can get quite large and leaves become a less tender if the plant isn’t regularly pruned and flowers removed.

Prefers full sun but will handle a little shade, moist, well drained soil. Doesn’t handle drought or frost well – keep it well watered for best results.

Great plant to grow in a pot – you can move it to shelter it in the cooler months and get a longer harvest.

Propogation is generally by seed, though I prefer to buy seedlings in spring. If you allow a plant to go to seed, you’ll find it popping up all around your garden.


Sweet basil contains vitamins A, B & C and volatile oils that have many herbal actions. High in calcium, magnesium, zinc & copper.

Regular consumption of basil is thought to strengthen your immune system.

In the kitchen

As most every cook knows, basil has a special synergy with garlic & tomatoes and is therefore essential in many italian dishes, though can be used much more widely.

Use it in eggs dishes, soups, casseroles, salads and rice dishes. Best added towards the end of cooking to preserve the flavour.

Also makes a delicious and nutritious tea – combines well with many other tea herbs.


Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica

Stinging Nettle

Botanical name: Urtica dioica

How to grow it: Stinging nettle is considered a weed around much of the world and so it’s safe to say it’s very easy to grow in a wide climatic range. In fact the main challenge is to keep it contained as it will spread via underground runners as well as seed. Consider using barriers or growing in pots or containers- particularly if you’re growing for the first time.

I’ve found it will grow in very poor soils with virtually no care, but also responds well to regular watering and fertilising. Best to grow in an out of the way position as the stings can be painful – especially for children or the unsuspecting.

Propogation is by division of underground runners or from tip cuttings.

Will do well in pots and responds well to regular harvesting.

Nutrition: You may well ask – why on earth would you intentionally grow a weed like that?

Stinging nettle is a nutritional powerhouse containing vitamins A,B,C,D,E & K and high levels of Iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese and many other trace elements.

Medicinal uses are too many for this space – I would consider Nettle one of the best general tonic herbs you can take. It’s very high in chlorophyl which is good for your blood & for your body’s ability to cleanse itself. Also thought to be very good for your digestive system.

Bizarrely, the Nettle sting has been traditionally used for pain relief – the sting is thought to be good in attracting circulation to your pain areas, though some will say the pain of the sting just diverts your attention! (I haven’t tried this yet)

Using it in the Kitchen: Obviously you wouldn’t eat Nettles raw, but as soon as you apply heat the stings are neutralised – that means you can add it to any cooked dishes – often soups and long cooked meals like casseroles. I usually throw it in to dishes stems and all & just remove the hard stems prior to serving.

If you want to include Nettle in your diet, consider using the leaves in your herbal teas. They can be added to almost any tea combination and you’ll know you’re supercharging your tea’s nutrients.

Nettle is a brilliant survival food for it’s hardiness and amazing nutrition.





Botanical name: Rosmarinus officinalis

Some other names: Romero, Rosemarine, Mary’s mantle

How to grow it:

Rosemary is an easy to grow perennial shrub to about 1 m, which will grow larger if given the right conditions.

Likes full sun and well drained soil – think mediterranean conditions where it grows naturally in rocky soils.

Great plant to grow in a pot – handles a bit of drought so is easy care for most people.

Propogation is generally by hardwood cuttings, though can also be grown from seed.


Rosemary contains vitamins A, B & C and volatile oils that have many herbal actions. High in calcium, Iron, potassium & magnesium though it’s difficult to consume a great deal of the herb.

Often referred to as the memory herb – thought to improve memory. Just rub a sprig and take a deep breath of the aroma to assist with studying or other concentration activities.

In the kitchen

Rosemary only needs to be used sparingly to impart a fine flavour to cooked foods. Combine with garlic and olive oil to make a baste for roast meats and vegetables, casseroles, sauces and breads. Well worth having a plant near your kitchen.

Also makes a delicious and nutritious tea.



Botanical name: Plantago major and lanceolata

How to grow it: There’s two main varieties of Plantain – broad leafed & narrow leafed and they’re both very common weeds around the world. I usually have both to give me choices when harvesting.

Narrow-Leafed Plantain – same qualities as the broad-leafed variety.

If you have dandelions growing wild in your garden, there’s a very good chance plantain is growing too – they both like the same conditions and are extremely hardy.

Plantain is perennial and survives the toughest conditions – roadsides, cracks in pavement etc. but does respond very well to a sunny, well drained position – 1 plant may be all that’s needed for a regular supply of leaves.

Propogating is by seed only – which you can collect from the flower spikes as soon as they turn brown. Wouldn’t recommend allowing it to self seed as you’ll have it everywhere and be forever weeding it out.

Good plant for pots and containers

Nutrition: High in vitamins A,C & K, calcium, iron, silica and many other minerals which make it a great addition to your diet.

Medicinally, Plantain can be used as a poultice on open wounds to aid blood clotting & healing. I think it’s most valuable use is as a general tonic for the digestive system where it performs healing & cleansing actions that can work wonders for disease.

Using it in the kitchen: Very young leaves can be used in salads and older leaves in cooked dishes, but I don’t find it particularly palatable.

I prefer to use it in my morning smoothie knowing what a good job it’s doing in maintaining my digestive system, and it can be taken as tea with your other favourite herbs.

The seeds are also edible and nutritious – I sometimes add them to my smoothies too.


Plantain is an awesome survival plant as it’s so hardy and provides us with really high nutrition. You can generally find Plantain without even having a garden – most people know it as a weed and would be happy for you to harvest/remove it.




Botanical name: Petroselinum crispum

How to grow it:

Parsley is a biennial herb to about 50cm. There are two very common cultivars – Curly leaf & Flat leaf which have very similar properties. The Flat leaf variety may grow a little larger and faster and handle slightly warmer conditions.

Prefers full sun but will handle a little shade, moist, well drained soil. Doesn’t like conditions that are too wet or hot – so maybe a semi-shade position in the heat of summer. Grows really well in pots with regular liquid fertiliser.

Regular harvesting of outside leaves & snipping off the flower buds will keep the plant healthy and abundant.

Propogation is generally by seed, though I prefer to buy seedlings in spring or autumn. In the second year it will readily self seed and you’ll get lots of new plants.

Flat leaf parsley


Parsley is high in vitamins A, B, C & K.  Also high in calcium, Iron, Potassium & zinc.

Consume plenty of parsley to clean your blood & strengthen your immune system.

In the kitchen

Parsley is used around the world both fresh and cooked and it’s nutrition is well known.

Add to soups, casseroles, stir fries, omelettes for it’s mild celery flavour and to salads or to garnish just about anything. What would life be like without Tabbouleh?


Kaffir lime

Kaffir lime

Botanical name: Citrus hystrix

Some other names: Wild lime, makrut lime, Mauritius papeda

How to grow it:

Kaffir lime is a tree to 5m with unique “double” leaves that are incredibly aromatic. Likes full sun and good drainage – plenty of water in the drier months. A hardy plant once established.

Great for growing in pots- in cooler areas the pot can be brought into shelter in winter.

Can be propagated by cuttings, but for many it would worth buying a grafted variety which seem to grow more rapidly.

In the Kitchen:

The leaves are the main parts used in asian cooking, but the rind, zest & juice and pulp of the fruit are all edible too.

Crush leaves in your hand & add to soups and curries. Deveined and chopped finely they can be added to salads and dressings. Essential ingredient in many curry and laksa pastes.

Throw a leaf per person in any pot of tea for a taste sensation.

Curry Leaf tree

Curry Leaf tree

Botanical name: Murraya koenigii

How to grow it:

Curry Leaf tree grows up to 5m but can be kept pruned to a smaller size. Likes full sun and good drainage – can handle part shade positions too. It’s an attractive tree that is worthy of a spot in ornamental gardens.

Can be grown in a large pot – roots will need to be pruned every 2-3 years to keep the foliage healthy.

Propogation is by stem or sucker cuttings. Also from seed, but must be very fresh.

In the kitchen:

Most noted for use in curries. Best flavour comes from frying it with garlic, ginger and onions.

An aromatic and warming oil can be made by cold infusing leaves in sesame oil.

Bay tree

Bay tree

Botanical name: Laurus nobilis

Some other names: Sweet Laurel, Sweet Bay, Noble Laurel, True Laurel

How to grow it:

Slow growing tree to 10m. Likes full sun and good drainage, but is hardy to a wide range of conditions.

Excellent plant for a large pot as roots grow much slower than a lot of trees and require pruning or potting up less often.

Propogation is from cuttings, but this can be difficult – best to find an established seedling or bush unless you’re an expert.

In the kitchen:

Fresh leaves are by far the best – straight from the plant into the pot. Dried leaves are also useful but have a noticeably different (and less pungent) aroma.

Usually at the start of cooking, bay leaves are added to all manner of casseroles, indian curries, soups and stocks, boiled vegetables, boiled and roasted meats – even desserts!

Can also be added to herbal teas and left in kitchen cupboards are said to repel cockroaches.



Botanical name: Thymus vulgaris

How to grow it:

Thyme is a low growing perennial bush that prefers warm, well drained conditions. If it likes it’s conditions it can spread over quite a large area making it a useful ground cover. Prefers full sun

Grows really well in pots and is great to have near the kitchen if there’s a sunny spot.

Propagation can be by seed or division – cuttings strike readily if kept moist.

In the Kitchen:

Thyme is a strongly flavoured herb so be careful not to overdo it. Mixes well with lots of other herbs – parsley, oregano, basil, rosemary, sage etc. so if you get a patch going, feel free to experiment.

Goes well with all meat and cooked dishes – on it’s own or in combination, even sprinkled over salads for it’s pungent sweet flavour.

I like to mix leaves with butter and garlic and keep it in the fridge for use with vegetables and bread.

Makes a tonic herbal tea to boost your immune system and ward of colds and flu.

Sawtooth coriander

Sawtooth coriander

Botanical name: Eryngium foetidum

Some other names: Thai coriander, Mexican cilantro,  perennial coriander

How to grow it:

Sawtooth coriander is a low growing perennial to about 40cm that grows well in summer when regular coriander is difficult.

It’s leaves are spikey and it’s flowers even more so. To get good results with Sawtooth you’ll need to snip off the flower heads regularly which encourages leaf growth.

Likes full sun but also does well in semishade. Keep well watered – it does well in the wet season.

Grows well in pots if you can keep the water and fertiliser up to them.

Propogation is by seed or plant division. If flowers are left to grow, they’ll self seed readily giving you a good patch.


In the kitchen

The leaves are spikey and so need to be chopped finely for use as a garnish.

The aroma of sawtooth coriander is a little stronger, but very similar to regular annual coriander and so can be used in all the same dishes for flavour.

Something I really enjoy about it is that it’s flavour holds well in cooking – unlike it’s annual cousin. That makes it really useful for curries and mexican/cajun dishes. Works well in fresh salsas too.

Sambung Gynura procumbens


Botanical name: Gynura procumbens

Some other names: Longevity spinach, Sambung Nyawa, Leaf ginseng

How to grow it: Sambung is one of those really easy perennial plants that tolerates a wide range of soil types and grows well in sun or shade. It will do better in moist & fertile soils producing larger and more succulent leaf.

Grows all year round in warm climates, and will die back in winter in the cooler climates – generally will reshoot in spring.

Spreads rampantly in it’s growing season – one plant can provide an enormous amount of fresh leaf. Fortunately it’s really easy to cut back and control and is quite an attractive plant.

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.

One of the better plants for container growing- you can really get a good supply of leaves going if you keep the water & fertiliser up to it

Medicinal value: There’s not a lot of scientific information around for Sambung though it is being researched for for it’s medicinal value. Being widely known as “life extender” and “Longevity spinach” gives a clue to it’s value, and traditionally it’s been used fresh or as tea for diabetes, cancer, prostate health, and arthritis. Just 3 leaves a day is thought to prolong life.

Using it in the kitchen: Fresh leaves make a tasty addition to salads, sandwiches, juices or smoothies.

Also used as spinach, in stir fries or omelettes. I like to add it to stocks to increase flavour and minerals.

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.




Botanical name: Salvia officinalis

Some other names: garden sage, common sage, culinary sage

How to grow it:

Sage is a perennial bush to 60cm that likes dry conditions. Can struggle with sub/tropical rains but doesn’t mind the heat.

Plant it in full sun with good drainage – if you find the right conditions it will last a very long time.

It’s great for a pot- preferably terracotta with a well draining potting mix.

Propagated usually by seed, though you can strike cuttings in a well drained mix.

In the kitchen: 

Sage is a really useful herb in the kitchen though only needs to be used sparingly – it’s quite strong.

Great with any meat, eggs, potatoes – an delicious baste can be made by mixing with olive oil & garlic.

Sage has many medicinal properties and great taste so use it freely.



Botanical name: Origanum vulgare

How to grow it:

Oregano  is a creeping perennial herb that’s super easy to grow and makes a great ground cover. It’s ideal conditions are hot, sunny and dry but I’ve found it does well just about anywhere. Unless your climate is cold – then you may have to treat it as a spring planted annual.

Does well in pots with a more prostrate plant like Rosemary or Bay Leaf – no mulching needed if you get Oregano established.

Really easy to propagate – just divide out some rooted cuttings from an established plant, replant, water in for a few days and mostly your oregano will take off without any further help.

In the Kitchen:

Oregano is a great flavouring herb use fresh or dried and in combinations with other herbs.

Common in mediterranean cuisine used with meat, red sauces, vegetables. Dried leaves sprinkled over salads.

Also makes a delicious, healthy, tonic tea.

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.


Fennel Foeniculum vulgare


Botanical name: Foeniculum vulgare

How to grow it: Fennel is a very hardy perennial that prefers full sun, but seems to cope in partly shady conditions too.

Plants respond well to good drainage and regular watering, but handle periods of drought well too.

I grow mostly Florence fennel as it produces a bulbous vegetable and a little bit of Bronze fennel for it’s appearance. Both varieties produce good seed and plenty of leaf growth. The flowers preceding seeds attract wasps into the garden which helps keep pest levels down.

If you ever let a Fennel plant self seed, you’ll find it comes up everywhere in the following season – it’s up to you whether that’s good or bad – I just remove the ones I don’t want like a weed. To avoid rampant self seeding – cut the flower heads of early before they set seed.

You can grow fennel in pots, but I’ve found it can get straggly – the plant has a long tap root which doesn’t like being contained.

Nutrition: Great source of vitamins A,B,C & E, protein, calcium, iron, magnesium & manganese. Fennel has too many medicinal uses to list here, but it is a great tonic to your digestive system, promotes calmness and can improve libido.


Using it in the kitchen: Fennel is one of those unique plants in that every part of the plant can be eaten and is used widely. Generally speaking, all parts of the plant have a mild anise flavour.

Firstly the young leaves can be eaten in salads, in egg dishes and as a garnish.

The stems and base can be used as a fresh or cooked vegetable. I like to grow Florence Fennel for it’s thick base which I love to slow roast with garlic and olive oil. Can also be grated into salads, chopped into soups & sliced thinly into stir fries.

The bulbous roots of Florence Fennel

The seeds are used in curries and slow cooked meals, and can be chewed to suppress appetite or reduce sugar cravings.

The roots are delicious too as a roasted or steamed vegetable similar to parsnip


Fennel is a great survival plant as it self seeds easily and is hardy to most conditions.


Taro Colocasia esculenta


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.


Yam Dioscorea species


Botanical Name: Dioscorea species

Some common cultivars: alata, bulbifera, cayenensis, dumetorum, esculenta, opposita, rotundata, trifida.

How to grow it: There are many varieties of Yam and they are widely cultivated in mainly tropical areas of the world. Yam is a perennial tuber that will wind & twine throughout your garden if left unchecked. It forms large tubers that are usually harvested at the time the plant dies back/slows down for winter. The tubers can get massive and the foliage while you wait for them is gorgeous.

It does well in my sub-tropical climate, though most varieties thrive in the wet tropical areas of the world. There are varieties that will grow in cooler climates too – try chinese yam (D. opposita) Will grow in full sun to partial shade and due to it’s tuber system, is quite drought hardy – growth really picks up when regular rain comes.

Will respond well to fertilising & mulching, and for best results, will prefer a deep, loose soil. It will tend to grow anywhere it’s planted however.

I’ve never tried Yams in pots – they’d make a particularly attractive pot plant due to the foliage, but I’m sure growth would be somehow stunted given the room needed underground for the tubers.

Any piece of root or tuber seems to sprout, and so the plant’s very easy to propogate. Usually it will regrow after harvesting and you’ll get further crops the following year. You can also take tip cuttings early in the growing season.

A warning about Yam – some varieties might become invasive in some climates. They have caused major problems in some parts of America. It would be wise to consider this for the variety you’d like to plant in your area, as well as considering where you plant it and how you’ll prevent it becoming invasive.

Nutrition: Tubers are high in carbohydrates & potassium, also good levels of Vitamins A, & C, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium.

Using it in the kitchen: Some varieties of Yam produce airborne bulblils that are known as air potatoes. i’ve grown them but have never got around to eating them. Some people swear by them as a tasty food, while others are not so sure. Just make sure the variety you’re growing is edible raw, or they will require boiling to remove toxic substances.

Flesh of the purple winged yam

The tubers can be huge and need to be peeled before eating or cooking. Some varieties need cooking and other don’t – I usually cook them.

Very similar in texture to potato, with slightly more flavour, they can be used in the same way – in curries, casseroles, soups, boiled, baked, or cooked as chips.

They’ll keep for ages in the same conditions as sweet potato – cool, dark & dry.

Yam is a great survival plant for it’s hardiness & perennial supply of large tubers.

Yacon Polymnia sonchifolia


Botanical Name: Polymnia sonchifolia

Some other names: Peruvian ground apple, Apple of the earth

How to grow it:

Yacon is a perrenial tuber to 2 metres that has very attractive above-ground foliage. Every year at the beginning of winter, the foliage dies back and this is the best time to dig up what I’ve always found to be a massive supply of sweet tasting tubers. If the smaller roots are left in the ground, the plant will resprout again in spring and you’ll get crops year after year.

It does well in my sub-tropical climate, but will do just as well in cooler climates. Will grow in full sun to partial shade and due to it’s tuber system, is quite drought hardy.

Will respond well to fertilising & mulching, and for best results, will prefer a deep, loose soil. It will still produce well in any well-drained soil but it doesn’t like boggy conditions.

It will also do very well in big pots, but needs to be needs to be started again every year or it will become potbound very quickly.

Any root, tuber or sucker seems to resprout, but if your soil freezes in winter, you would be well advised to keep some roots in the fridge for replanting in spring.

Due to the attractive foliage and strong root system, plant will do well amongst other ornamental plants, or I tend to plant it out of the way in areas that I don’t water – it seems quite happy without any care.


Vitamins A, B, & C, potassium, calcium, magnesium & iron.

Yacon derives it’s sweetness from inulin – a sugar that’s indigestible by humans. That makes it suitable for diabetic and low calorie diets.

Using it in the kitchen:

Every year when the foliage dies back we end up with a glut of the tubers. I like to give some of the crop away as a novelty, and my kids like them peeled and eaten raw. They have a sweet and slightly earthy taste – delicious!

Eat Yacon tubers fresh or baked.

They’ll keep pretty well in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks.

They can be peeled and chopped into green salads and fruit salads and are great in the juicer with other vegetables.

They can also be baked with the skins on (the skin peels away easily after cooking) or added to soups, casseroles or curries.

In spring, the young shoots & foliage can be added to stir fries, curries & soups.

Although we don’t eat them all year round, smaller tubers could probably be dug up at any time making Yacon a great survival food – it requires basically no care and in all but the coldest climates will keep producing every year.

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.


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)



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.

warrigal greens tetragonia tetragonioides

Warrigal greens

Botanical Name: Tetragonia tetragonioides

Some other names: NZ spinach, Sea spinach, Botany Bay spinach, Cook’s cabbage.

How to grow it:

Warrigal greens is a low growing perrenial which is very hardy & produces good spinach leaf crops in the warmest of weather It’s also very salt tolerant and can be grown close to the beach – in fact I’ve often spotted it growing on sand dunes at my local beaches.

It doesn’t tolerate frost, so may needed to be planted as a annual in cooler climates, but in frost free climates it will grow all year round.

It will handle full sun or shade equally well and prefers free draining soils, but it still grows in my subtropical climate’s wet season. Will hang in there with less plant growth in drought periods.

It responds well to fertilising and mulching – the leaves will get much bigger if well fed. Can tend to get a bit invasive if it’s happy, but it is also very easy to remove.

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. Warrigal spinach also flowers & sets seed late in summer, and if left to, will self seed rapidly.

Grows well in pots – regular pruning prevents the plant spilling over & setting seeds in nearby pots.

I like to have a couple of patches growing in different conditions, and pick from the best one.


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

Using it in the kitchen:

Warrigal greens leaves are thought to be relatively high in oxalates, which means if you’re going to be eating a lot of them, they should be blanched & rinsed in cold water. If you go to this trouble, the leaves can be used in salads or cold dishes – very nice.

I tend to eat it without blanching in combination with lots of other leaves, and use it mostly in stir fries & omelettes – at the last minute as they wilt very readily. Could also be added to soups, curries & casseroles for it’s nutrition rather than adding any body or flavour to the meal.

warrigal greens tetragonia tetragonioides
Warrigal greens – should be cooked first

A great survival food for it’s hardiness & regular supply of nutritious leaves – especially in summer when many other “spinach” plants are struggling.

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.


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.

Turmeric Curcuma longa


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.


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.

Tree spinach Abelmoschus manihot

Tree spinach

Botanical Name: Abelmoschus manihot

Some other names: Tree lettuce, Hibiscus Spinach, Slipper Cabbage, Aibika, Ibika

How to grow it:

Tree spinach is a perennial shrub that grows to about 2 metres. Does best in full sun with a well drained soil, but I’ve found it does well in a wide range of conditions including drought.

In cooler areas you might have to treat it as an annual as it is frost tender, but in warmer areas it will grow all year round.

Grows well in large pots but does need good moisture and feeding in its growing season.

Propogates fairly easily by tip or stem cuttings. I find the easiest way is to cut 10-20cm stems, snip off all the leaves & put them in pots or the ground on a rainy day.

There are many different varieties of tree spinach and it may be a bit of work to obtain it in your locality, but it’s well worth the effort!

Spinach tree Abelmoschus manihot
A second variety of Tree Spinach growing in my garden


Tree spinach is extremely nutritious being very high in protein, and also high in vitamins A, B & C, and calcium, potassium, iron & magnesium. It’s high mucilage content is great for detoxifying the body. Eat it regularly and often!

Using it in the kitchen:

The young raw leaves are tasty and kind of crunchy – use them freely in salads & sandwiches.

Older leaves can be added to hot dishes like quiches, soups & casseroles at any time – the high mucilage will help thicken the meal. If using in stir fries, omelettes or as a cooked vegetable, only cook for a minute or so or you might find they become slimy.

Spinach tree Abelmoschus manihot
Cook Spinach tree leaves quickly

Tree spinach is one of the better survival foods due to it’s hardiness & regular supply of nutritious greens which can be used in almost any type of meal.

tahitian spinach xanthosoma brasiliense

Tahitian spinach

Botanical Name: Xanthosoma brasiliense

Some other names: Celery stem Taro, Tannier Spinach, Tahitian Taro

How to grow it:

Tahitian spinach is a perrenial clumper which comes from the same family of plants as the widely grown ornamental “Elephant Ears”. It will grow to 1-2 metres, and like it’s cousin, is very ornamental with huge leaves & stems.

It’s favorite conditions would be moist conditions in the tropics, though it will grow in any frost free conditions. Great in a boggy situation or on the edge of ponds.

In colder climates, you could grow it inside in a pot until conditions warm up. Prefers some sunlight, but will handle light shade well too.

It does well in large pots – I grow some in my greenhouse where it loves the warmer moist conditions.

Addition of manure, compost, worm juice or seaweed will help produce massive leaves & stems, but it requires very little care – seems to respond better to watering than feeding.

Propogation is easy once you have one patch established – you can either thin the patch out by taking the larger stems roots and all, or you’ll find lots of small side suckers to start new plants

tahitian spinach xanthosoma brasiliense
Propagation of Tahitian spinach by root division


Contains vitamins A, B, & C with protein, iron, calcium, potassium. Excellent source of fibre.

Using it in the kitchen:

Some sources say that the leaves can be eaten fresh, but I don’t find them particularly palatable. If you were to use them, I’d try only the youngest leaves sparingly.

The leaves and stems can be cooked into curries, soups, stir fries & casseroles where they’ll tend to take on the flavour of the dish. The stems provide a nice texture not unlike celery.

You could also use the leaves cut finely into quiches & omelettes.

tahitian spinach xanthosoma brasiliense
Leaf & stem cut down & prepared for cooking


In my garden, Tahitian spinach serves mostly as a survival food. I’ll occasionally use it in soups for a bit of variety, but it’s more important to us when severe wet season weather hits & destroys many other vegetable plants – that’s when it tends to thrive!

sweet potato Ipomoea batatas

Sweet Potato

Botanical Name: Ipomoea batatas

Some other names: Kumara, Yam, Kamote

How to grow it:

Sweet Potato is a sprawling perennial vine that will spread over a large area if left unchecked. For best tuber production, it’s probably best treated as an annual where the soil can be prepared with fresh manure each season – otherwise the crops in the second year of production will be much smaller.

Prefers full sun, but will happily ramble into part shade areas and still produce tubers.

Essentially Sweet potato is a sub-tropical/tropical crop, but is worth trying in cooler areas after all chance of frost has passed.

For best results, a well drained deep soil is preferred and plenty of water in it’s growing season, but in my climate (summer rain/winter drought) it grows in just about any soil conditions – the tubers will be smaller in inferior soils, but leaf production is still good.

Propogation is usually by tubers, which can be cut into pieces with at least one eye for growing. It also can be propogated by tip cuttings which strike well in warmer weather.

Not really suited well to pots, unless you’re growing just for the leaves and tips, in which case they’d grow quite well I’d think.


Leaves and shoots are a good source of vitamins A, B & C and protein.

Tubers are high in carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A & C, iron and calcium. Considered amongst the most nutritious vegetables available to us.

Using it in the kitchen:

There’s many different varieties of sweet potato and even more methods of cooking them from around the world.

sweet potato Ipomoea batatas
Delicious and nutritious harvest of Sweet potato

In my home we mostly bake them in small chunks, and eat them hot, or add them to salads after they’ve cooled. We also add them to soups, curries, and casseroles. They don’t take as long to cook as most root vegetables. They can also be steamed/boiled or mashed with other root vegetables.

In western culture, it’s often overlooked that the growing tips and young leaves make a tasty & nutritious spinach. Delicious added to stir fries, soups or even omelettes. Would be one of the most reliable sources of greens outside the coldest part of winter.

Sweet potato is a terrific survival food if it grows well in your area just by allowing it to perennialise – it’s actually hard to get rid of once it’s established.

Other uses:

All parts of sweet potato make nutritious animal fodder.

Above ground parts can be used as mulch, and the plant serves very well as a living mulch around and under fruit trees or any orchard.


Botanical Name: Oxalis tuberosa

Some other names: Oka, New Zealand Yam, Papa roja, Apilla, Hibia

How to grow it:

Oca is a hardy perennial to about 40cm which is grown mostly for it’s underground tubers. The plant dies back in winter and yields good crops of small pink tubers

Will do best in full sun and in well drained, fertile soils, but the plant’s quite hardy & will give reasonable crops in poor soils too..

Oca prefers a temperate climate for the best crops, but will grow in cooler subtropical areas too. I’ve found in my humid subtropical climate, the above ground parts wilt and will die if air temperatures are sustained above about 30 degrees. I wouldn’t bother with it in tropical areas unless you can find a locally adapted species.

It’s fairly drought tolerant though will need some decent water at some point in it’s growing season. Prefers full sun.

You propogate this plant with some of the harvested tubers the next spring. I’ve not tried it, but I’m sure tip cuttings early in the season would work too.

Would probably grow well in pots if a new pot is planted every spring.


High in Carbohydrates, calcium, iron, phosphorous, and vitamins A & B. Leaves are high in vitamin C and thought to be high in antioxidants.

Using it in the kitchen:

Leaves of the plant are pretty sour, but nutritious. You could add them sparingly to salads. They could be cooked into curries, stir fries & casseroles.

The edible tubers are harvested once all the foliage dies down. Store them sealed in plastic bags in the fridge

Tubers don’t need peeling and can be eaten fresh, or chopped and added to salads. They can also be cooked like potatoes – try them baked with your next roast. Add them whole or chopped to curries, casseroles or soups.

Oca tubers – use just like potato

Oca are a great survival plant, particularly in temperate zones as they are easy to grow and yield good crops.

Multiplier leeks allium porrum

Multiplier leeks

Botanical Name: Allium porrum

How to grow it:

The problem with “normal” bienniel leek varieties is the long time to harvest – usually 6 months or more. In the tropics/subtropics this is further complicated by the fact that the wet season can either damage or completely destroy your crop.

If you face either of these problems, try multiplier leeks. You’ll be unlikely to grow them to the same size as you see in the supermarket, but they are very tasty, and if you can get used to the smaller size, you can have leeks  just about all year round – they do get ratty or even die down in the hottest months

As far as I can tell, multiplier leeks will grow in any climate & any soil type. They are super hardy and generally super-productive. The only job to attend to is to pull them up and separate them every few months so they can grow to a decent size. If you don’t you’ll still get tons of leeks they’ll just be smaller.

When multiplier leeks get crowded, pull them up,separate them and replant a few inches apart.
One leek turns into many!

As leeks are one of my favorite vegetables, I have them dotted all over my garden. I’m happy eating them once they’re about 10mm in thickness, but they are better when they reach 20+mm.


Vitamins A, B, & C, calcium, potassium, phosphorpus, Iron, silica & protein – virtually the same properties as all plants in the onion family.

Using it in the kitchen:

Use them the same as you would for normal leeks – in curries, soups and casseroles, but due to the fact they’re tender & mild, they’ll also go well in omelletes & stir fries – just cook them a little bit.

Multipliers Leeks are an excellent survival food as you get all the benefits of the onion family, stems are available all year round and the plant is virtually unkillable!.

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.

Malabar spinach fruits containing the seed.


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.

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!

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.


Botanical Name: Cymbopogon citratus

Some other names: Citronella grass, sweet rush, fever grass, camel’s hay

How to grow it:

Lemongrass is a perennial clumping grass to about 1 metre. It is harvested for the green leaves & white tender bases used extensively in Asian cooking.

It originates from a tropical climate and so it will do best in subtropical and tropical climates, but with some frost protection, will grow in cooler areas too. Loves heat and water, so you’ll do much better if you can create that sort of microclimate.

Will do OK in poor soils, but can be amazingly fast growing if given moist, well drained, fertile soil. Responds very well to mulching and high nitrogen fertilisers.

Propogation is by separating the “bulbs” at the base of the plant. Any piece with some roots attached will strike easily. For a large amount of plants, try putting a spade through the centre of your existing patch, dig half the clump up, remove the soil & carefully separate the roots. You’ll get lots of small & large pieces for replanting.

Lemongrass is easy to propagate by division

Will also do well in pots – keep them mulched, watered and fertilised. Pots could be a very good option in cooler areas as the plant could be moved to a protected position in winter.

Nutrition:Stalks contain Vitamins A, B, & C, iron, chromium, calcium and potassium.

An herbal tea made from the leaves is thought to be good for fever, digestive problems, and is even thought to have anti-cancer properties. Research is continuing.

Using it in the kitchen:

If you enjoy asian cooking, then it should be almost compulsory for you to have lemongrass in your own garden. The distinctive flavour of fresh lemongrass from your own garden cannot be compared to any preserved product, or even fresh product more than a couple of days out of the garden.

Prepare by cutting the stalks off at the base & again where the white parts meet the green parts. Peel off a couple of outer layers to reveal the white tender inner parts of the stalk

Use it with garlic, chilli and/or ginger for a wide range of soups, curries & stir fries.

When cooking soups, I don’t bother cutting the stalks off – I just tie the whole cut plant in a knot, and submerge the lower parts into the broth. You can then just remove prior to serving – the flavour would have all transferred to the soup.

Lemongrass stalks prepared for use in cooking

You can also use the green parts of the leaves and/or the stalks for making tea – try it with some of your other tea herbs.

Other uses

Lemongrass makes a great source of mulch. Regularly cut the green parts back for mulching garden beds or adding to compost – you can harvest many times a year.

Also a great plant for erosion control and for creating natural barriers for weeds and small animals.

In my book, Lemongrass qualifies as a survival food as it’s so hardy & easy to grow and is great for flavouring food. I’d also use the tea for fever in a survival situation and it’s a useful source of garden mulch.

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 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.

Freshly harvested Kang Kong leaf & stem

jerusalem artichoke helianthus tuberosus

Jerusalem artichoke

Botanical Name: Helianthus tuberosus

Some other names: Sunchoke, Sunroot, Topinambour

How to grow it:

Jerusalem artichoke is a hardy perennial to over 2m which is grown for it’s roots. During the growing season there is a showy display of sunflower-like yellow flowers. Note that the plant is nothing like an artichoke, and for that matter doesn’t come from Jerusalum either!

Will do best in full sun and in well drained, fertile soils, but I’ve received reasonable crops in poor soils too.

It’s ideal climate is temperate, where given the right soil conditions, can spread quite rapidly and become somewhat of a pest. In the tropics and subtropics it’s a little more temperamental – the root quality seems to deteriorate year by year and it may be best grown as an annual

It’s an excellent plant for drought conditions and needs very little fertiliser. It’s one of those plants you can put in “out of the way” and it will continue to produce year after year.

Propogation is by root division in spring – simply dig up some roots and put them in their new position. As the plant has high potassium needs, it’s worth sprinkling some wood ash around the planting area. Comfrey would make an excellent mulch.

Would probably grow well in pots if a new pot is planted every spring.


High in potassium and iron and also contains calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and vitamins A, B, & C.

Using it in the kitchen:

The edible tubers are harvested once all the foliage dies down. It’s best to harvest only what you intend to use, as they don’t keep very well. Any tubers left in the ground will resprout in spring.

Tubers can be scrubbed and grated raw into salads – they have slight nutty flavour.

They can also be cooked like potatoes and have a similar texture. Try them in soups, casseroles & curries or on their own as a baked or boiled vegetable.

Jerusalum artichoke tubers cleaned and ready for baking or boiling.

Jerusalem artichokes are a great survival plant, particularly in temperate zones as they regrow every season with very little care.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

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!

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!!

drumstick tree Moringa oleifera

Drumstick Tree

Botanical Name: Moringa oleifera

Some other names: Horseradish Tree, Moringa, Ben oil tree, Benzolive

How to grow it: Drumstick tree is a leguminous tree to 10 m which originates in Asia but is grown around the world in subtropical/tropical climates.

It is very hardy – particularly to drought and grows in a wide range of soil types. Does far better in full sun.

It is tender to frost, so may need to be planted every year in cooler climates. Except in tropical areas, expect the plant to die down in winter & re shoot in spring.

Will also do OK in pots, but you’ll need to repot it every year or so, trimming the roots, or you can just grow new ones from seed every spring.

Small Drumstick Tree in a container for harvesting leaves


Propogation is by seed or limb cutting – just cut a 1-2m limb off when the plant goes dormant in winter & put it upright into the ground. Once the weather warms up the limb will shoot and you’re on your way to another tree.

Nutrition: Advocates of the Drumstick Tree claim that it has 7 times the Vitamin C in oranges, 4 times the calcium in milk, 4 times the Vitamin A in carrots, 2 times the protein in milk, and 3 times the potassium in bananas! I’m not sure how accurate those claims are, but science does confirm this is one of the most nutritious plants on the planet and a potential treatment for many, many human ailments.

Using it in the kitchen:

The raw leaves aren’t especially tasty (nor are they disagreeable), but given their extraordinary nutrition, they could be added to salads & sandwiches with other greens on a regular basis.

They can be added to cooked dishes the same you would any spinach, but remember you’ll probably destroy the vitamin C content – so perhaps adding them at the last minute would be best.

The young seedpods can be cooked like green beans – the flavour’s quite simliar actually, and the dried beans can be cooked into stews and casseroles or fried or roasted like nuts.

If you search the plant on the internet, you’ll find many other uses in many cultures. A truly versatile and hardy plant and surely one of the best survival plants available to us!

coco yam Xanthosoma sagittifolium

Coco yam

Botanical Name: Xanthosoma sagittifolium

Some other names: Arrowleaf elephant’s ear, Malanga, Taro kang kong

How to grow it: Coco yam is a perrenial clumper to about 1.5m which in many ways is similar to Taro – except the leaf is more arrow shaped, and connects to the stalk at the base of the leaf – not from the centre as in Taro. It is grown extensively in tropical areas of the world as a food plant

Though it does best in the tropics, it will also do well in cooler areas provided there’s no heavy frost. In cooler areas, it will die back & reshoot in spring. Grows well in sun or shade.

Unlike Taro, it prefers soil that drains – stagnating or dying in boggy situations. Deeper, more fertile soils will produce bigger tubers. Regular watering is still essential for healthy plants.

For best growth, mulch & fertilise well. The leaves can get very large & attractive – an excellent ornamental plant.

In colder climates, you could grow it inside in a pot until conditions warm up. Prefers some sunlight, but will handle light shade well too.

It does well in large pots – I grow some in my greenhouse where it loves the warmer moist conditions.

Propogation once you have one patch established is as simple as replanting roots or suckers that will come up all around the main plant. If you harvest the main plant, the area around it will quickly reproduce new shoots.

Will do very well in pots, though harvest of tubers will be much smaller than a ground grown one. Great looking pot plant though.

Nutrition: Leaves are high in protein & contain vitamins A, B, & C, calcium & potassium. Good source of fibre.

Tubers are rich in easily digestible carbohydrates, and also contain good amounts of Vitamins A & C, protein, magnesium, potassium & phosphorous.

Using it in the kitchen:

All parts of Coco yam need to be well cooked before eating as they are toxic raw. The toxins are destroyed by cooking. Corms should be peeled first.

The leaves and stems can be cooked into curries, soups & casseroles for their high protein content. The stems also add an interesting texture & they will tend to take on the flavour of the dish.

Corms can be added to all the same hot dishes and are excellent as a roast or boiled vegetable or cut into chips.

Coco yam tubers from 1 small plant.

Coco Yam is a great survival food as all parts are eaten, and it’s very hardy as long as you live in a warmer climate. Makes an excellent ornamental that can be harvested in times of need.


Botanical Name: Sechium edule

Some other names: Chayote, Alligator pear, vegetable pear, christophene, citrayota

How to grow it: Choko is a sprawling, hardy perennial vine to several metres that will happily climb fences, trellises & other vegetation. It is usually grown for it’s fruit, but all parts of the plant are edible making it a very useful plant.

It’s grown very successfully in the sub-tropics/tropics where it’s warm season growth can be quite massive – invasive if it isn’t given the room. In cooler climates, it will die back in cooler weather and won’t tolerate heavy frosts. May need to be treated as an annual in these climates.

It’s fairly hardy overall, but will do much better in moist well drained soils. It’s roots might rot in heavier soils. Needs full sun for best results.

The easiest way to propogate Choko is to bury a fruit in the ground in spring. It strikes very easily as you’ll notice from any fruit that falls to ground – they’ll start growing with almost 100% success. Tip cuttings in spring also work well.

Not a great plant for pots – unless you want growing tips and tendrils for your stir-fries. Plant 2-3 fruits in a pot and cover with mulch. Then harvest the shoots & tendrils very regularly to keep the plants under control.

Nutrition: Choko is an excellent source of Vitamin C, and has good levels of Vitamin B, zinc, copper, manganese, and potassium.

Using it in the kitchen:

Choko is an amazing food plant. Most people are aware that fruits can be eaten, which in season are abundant. Try eating the smaller fruits chopped in salads and stirfries. Larger fruits are great quartereed and baked, as well as added to curries, soups, and casseroles.

What people aren’t so aware of is that the plant is a bountiful source of shoots and tendrils which are highly nutritious in salads and stir fries or even sandwiches. Any shoots that snap off will be tender and added at the last minute, have a great texture in stir fries.

Tubers can also be harvested in the dormant season and used the same as yam or potatoes.

Seeds have a nutty flavour and can be eaten fresh or roasted.

Full size choko fruit

Other uses

Chokos are a great plant to grow over the chooks run to provide shade, protection and a regular supply of fresh greens.

The prolific leaf growth can be cut back several times during the growing season and used as mulch – this will encourage growth of new shoots for use in cooking.

Choko is an excellent survival plant as it’s easy to grow, prolific, and the entire plant can be used as food.

chinese artichoke Stachys affinis

Chinese artichoke

Botanical Name: Stachys affinis

Some other names: crosne, chorogi, knotroot

How to grow it: Chinese artichoke is a low growing perennial that will sprawl over a large area if allowed. It has a lush green foliage that dies back in winter at which time the harvest is ready.

Will survive in full sun, but prefers a moist, shady position. Loose soil would be an advantage, but they seem to crop pretty well in all types of soils. Copes well with drought, but produces better with a regular water supply.

Think carefully about where you will plant it as it can easily overrun an area & spread way further than what you might imagine. It can then be quite hard to control. I’ve learnt this lesson the hard way & now put them in contained areas only.

Can be propogated at any time of the year by root cuttings, but the best time would be early spring – ensuring a full growing season for the following winter’s crop. Any piece of root seems to grow.

Chinese artichoke is an ideal plant for pots and will reward you well each season.

Using it in the kitchen:

Chinese artichokes have a mild nutty flavour and are more notable for their appearance & crunchy texture. Quite a novelty for guests!

All that needs to be done is remove the dirt which can be done quite effectively with an old toothbrush. No need to peel them.

Harvest of Chinese artichokes

Once cleaned they can be eaten fresh in salads, or served as a vegetable “dipper” for dips.

I also like to add them to soups, stir fries, casseroles & curries – for their texture as much as anything..

Chinese artichokes are a great survival food for the hardiness of the plant and the novelty of harvest – not so much the nutrition.

chilli tree Capsicum frutescens

Chilli Tree

Botanical Name: Capsicum frutescens

Some other names: Pepper, hot pepper, chili

How to grow it: The Chilli tree is a perennial bush to about two metres that provides generous supplies of consistently flavoured chillies.

I’m unsure of the botanical name for the species I grow (I bought it many years ago at a market stall), but it differs from all other chillies I’ve grown by the fact that it develops into a larger plant & rebounds more strongly in spring. Many of the other chilli varieties I’ve grown tend to struggle with winter & then regrow at less vigour than the first year.

It handles a wide range of conditions – from drought to quite wet (not boggy) but will respond with better fruiting it grown in well drained soils that receive regular water. It prefers heat, but would grow in cooler climates with a shorter fruiting season. In my cool sub-tropical climate it gives fruit for at least 6 months of the year.

Responds well to fertilising and mulching – go easy on high nitrogen fertilisers – you want fruit not leaf!

Propogation works from tip cuttings, but is much easier by seed. Just pick some ripe fruits in late Autumn, dry them out over winter, and plant them when the weather warms up. You’ll get good crops in the first year.

Chilli tree fruit – seeds of the ripe fruit will sprout in warmer weather.

It does well in large pots – You might have to trim it’s roots every 2-3 years for best results.


Nutrition: Fruit is high in protein & contain vitamins A, B, & C, calcium, potassium, iron and zinc.

It has many herbal actions and is considered very good for the circulatory system and the blood. It is thought that regular consumption reduces the risk of heart attack.


Using it in the kitchen:

Chillies can be harvested at anytime they are fully grown, whether they are green, red, or any colour in between.

Anyone who cooks would be familiar with their use, but if you’d like to get more chilli into your diet, try adding them to the omelettes, scrambled eggs, soups, pasta sauces, and basically any dish that could handle a bit of spicing up.

At the end of their season, I harvest all the red ones I can, dry them out, crush them slightly and then put them in a bottle with cold pressed olive oil. After a couple of months this infusion tastes very good (and hot!) and can be added cold at the end of cooking (stirred in after the heat is turned off), or even drizzled onto pizzas for a bit of bite.

I can also vouch for chilli’s ability to ward off & reduce symptoms of colds and flus. Make a strong tea of dried chilli, fresh ginger slices, crushed garlic and lemon juice – add honey if you’d like the tea sweetened.. During the day or days you’re fighting off the cold, dilute this tea with hot water & sip regularly throughout the day. It works!

Chilli tree is a great survival plant as it grows for many years in a wide range of conditions, gives an abundance of fruit which is great for cooking and for your health.


Botanical Name: Manihot esculenta

Some other names: yuca, tapioca, mandico, alpim

How to grow it: Cassava is a short lived perennial bush that can grow to several metres. It’s an attractive plant with lush foliage on red-green stems.

Cassava is grown extensively in the tropics & sub-tropics and will do best in these climates. Will have a shorter growing season in cooler climates and is better treated as a annual – planted when the weather has warmed up.

Likes full sun and a position where the soil drains well. Cassava likes a regular supply of water, but does very well in drought conditions. As long as there is some water in the season, it will continue to produce. I’ve found it will grow well in poor soils as long as it doesn’t get waterlogged.

Propogation is by stem cuttings. In late winter or early spring, cut off a large stem from the dormant plant. Then cut the stem into 15-20cm pieces with at least two nodes on them. Plant them in position or in pots & they’ll strike quite easily when the weather warms up.

Grows OK in pots, but you’ll need big ones if you plan to harvest the tubers

Nutrition: Cassava roots are mainly a source of carbohydrates, but are also high in calcium, phosphorous & vitamin C.

The leaves are high in protein.

Cassava contains varying levels of Hydrocyanic Acid which is poisonous to both humans and animals. Both the leaves & the tubers must be cooked to remove this toxin. There are low toxic varieties, and I know in some cultures the leaves are eaten raw, but I’d recommend cooking at all times.

Using it in the kitchen:

To use Cassava leaves, they must first be boiled in water for 10 minutes, with the water discarded.

Then they can be added to salads, soups, casseroles, and curries.

The tubers can be used just like you would potatoes. They make great chips or roast veges. Remove the skin & rinse in water before use.

Roots of Cassava ready for baking or boiling (peel first).

Cassava makes a great survival food as it’s hardy to drought conditions and both the leaves & roots can be eaten.

Other uses

The large lobed leaves can be harvested regularly during the growing season & make great mulch for the garden.

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


Botanical Name: Canna edulis

Some other names: Achira, Canna Achira, Queensland arrowroot

How to grow it: 

Arrowroot is amongst the most hardy and productive of all edible perennial plants. If you know the ornamental Canna lillies, then you’ll have a good idea about the growth habit of Arrowroot. It will grow to about 2m and produce lush green foliage for all but the coldest months of the year. Prefers full sun, but handles light shade well too.

In the tropics, it will grow all year round without dieback and in colder climates it will die down in winter – resprouting at the first sign of spring. If you experience a winter freeze you may need to treat it as an annual, planting new rhizomes every spring.

Arrowroot will tolerate all water conditions from bog to drought, but will obviously produce more if given a regular water supply.

I’ve never watered mine – it seems quite happy with whatever rainfall nature provides. Of course you can expect higher production in deeper and more fertile soils, but really, they’ll grow just about anywhere.

Propogation is as simple as digging up the tubers and replanting them in their new position. Just make sure each tuber has an eye from which to sprout from – some tubers have several.


Revered mainly for the starch content in the tubers, which can be made into an easy to digest flour or thickener. Also contains protein, potassium, calcium & phosphorous. Not the most potent plant nutrition wise, but a handy addition to stretch out a cooked meal.

Using it in the kitchen:

Young growing tips & unfurled leaves can be used as a cooked vegetable or added to stir-fries for an interesting texture.

Peeled tubers can be grated or diced raw into salads – they have a slightly sweet, crunchy texture.

Most commonly though, the tubers are peeled and used like potatoes – in casseroles, soups and curries or chopped into chips or a roasted vegetable. They tend to take on the flavour of the meal and retain their crunchy texture. I think they’re best cooked a little longer than you would potatoes.

To thicken a meal – especially soups, try grating them.

Arrowroot is a brilliant survival food as they’re incredibly hardy and productive and can be harvested at any time of year. I only use the tubers occasionally, but am well aware that there’s plenty of food in the garden anytime you’ve got some arrowroot in.

Arrowroot tubers cleaned & ready for cooking.

Other uses:

Arrowroot makes a great mulch for your garden & can be cut down to the base several times in any growing season. It’s worthy as a plant in your garden just for this purpose.

Also makes good animal fodder (the leaves are high in protein) and an excellent windbreak or border for your vege patch.

All in all an extremely useful plant.