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.



Society Garlic Tulbaghia violacea

Society Garlic

Botanical name: Tulbaghia violacea

How to grow it: Right up there with the easiest of edible plants to grow. Will tolerate almost any conditions – I guess if there was one thing it would be full sun for best production. It may not handle colder climates with heavy frosts.

It’s pretty as an ornamental as it will flower quite prolifically for a large part of the year. Makes a great border plant as once it’s established if forms a rock-solid weed barrier.

Easily propagated by division in spring or autumn. Grows very well in containers, but you may need to thin it every couple of years as it’s liable to get potbound

Medicinal uses: High in vitamins A, B & C, Society garlic is being studied for it’s antiviral properties and potentially for raising testorone levels . Thought to stimulate appetite.

Using it in the kitchen: Up until fairly recently, I would usually choose Garlic chives in preference to Society garlic – thinking that the leaves were more tender & the flavour more subtle. This is true, but I’ve come to love Society garlic’s much stronger garlic flavour – which according to the literature, doesn’t stay on your breath (apparently making you more sociable – thus the name!)

I love it chopped finely and added to salads, and to just about any cooked vegetable. Try using both the white & green parts

Try it with mashed potatoes or sour cream & I swear you’ll never turn back to chives!


Fantastic survival plant as it’s ornamental, incredibly hardy, and can so easily be used in the kitchen.



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.


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.


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.


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 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.

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.

sweet leaf sauropus androgynous-1

Sweet Leaf

Botanical Name: Sauropus androgynous

Some other names: Katuk, Star gooseberry, Tropical asparagus

How to grow it:

Sweet Leaf is a hardy perennial shrub that has a wide tolerance for growing conditions.

It will do best in moist well drained soils, but I’ve found it will grow well in poor soils too. Seems to grow equally well in sun or shade.

In warmer areas it will slow down leaf production when the weather cools off and in cooler areas it will die back only to reshoot in spring.

Regular watering is preferred to keep it growing, but it will also handle periods of drought – it’ll just stop growing. Regular fertilising will make a big difference to leaf production.

I grow lots of it as it’s an attractive plant and would be right at home amongst other ornamental plants.

Propogation is by seed (if you can get them) but easier by tip cuttings. In rainy season you can just take tip cuttings  and put them in the ground or in pots. Make sure they are well watered for a week or two.

Sweet Leaf will also grow quite happily in pots – keep them near the kitchen, well watered & fed for a regular supply of tips & leaf.



A really good source of protein, calcium, potassium & phosphorous plus vitamins A, B, & C.

Using it in the kitchen:

Leaves have a taste similar to peas and are a favorite for anyone who visits my garden. Great fresh in salads and sandwiches on their own or in combination with other greens.

Leaves can also be added to stir fries, soups, curries & casseroles for their nutrition moreso than their taste which is somewhat lost through cooking. Adding at the last minute to stirfries & omelettes will preserve their flavour.

sweet leaf sauropus androgynous
Freshly harvested Sweet leaf leaves – add to salads or cooking

Tip cuttings can be steamed or stir fried on their own as a vegetable & are sometimes known as tropical asparagus. They are much better this way in the growing season – a bit tough when the weather cools down.

A great survival plant for it’s long season of highly nutritious leaves.


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.

Nasturtium Tropaeolum majus


Botanical Name: Tropaeolum majus

Some other names: Indian Cress, Monks Cress

How to grow it: Nasturtiums are an annual trailing plant to about 40cm, but they’ll happily grow up fences, trellises & other plants. Although strictly speaking an annual, they behave like a perennial as they self seed so readily. In cooler climates, they might need replanting each year in spring.

They gow happily in full sun or part shade, but I’ve noticed that their leaves can get a bit bitter in the mid-summer sun – best to have them in a few different garden spots for regular supply.

They respond well to watering and fertilising, but they are so hardy they actually don’t seem to need any care at all.

Put them under taller plants & trees for an attractive living mulch that will also help repel many garden pests.

They’ll do well in pots too – try them in a hanging basket for great effect.

Propogation is simple – by cuttings that will strike in water, by root division, or by seed which can easily be collected at ground level. You can often find them as seedlings in garden shops – sold as ornamental flowers rather than food.


Very high in vitamin C along with iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. The whole plant is considered a powerful antixidant so use it regularly & often!

Using it in the kitchen:

Nasturtium leaves have a peppery taste that make an interesting addition to salads and sandwiches. Check that you like the flavour though – you might want to use it sparingly to begin with.

The Nasturtium bounty – leaves,  flowers & seeds.

The flowers are also edible and add great colour to salads. My kids also love sucking the nectar out of the flowers which is very sweet & delicious.

I’ve had no success in cooking the leaves – the flavour tends to dominate the dish they’re added to, so I prefer to use them fresh.

The green seeds and unopened flower buds can be pickled in vinegar to make a nice caper substitute, and the dried seeds can be ground up as a pepper substitute (not as hot as black pepper)

A truly hardy, nutritious & useful plant in your survival garden.

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 tip cuttings

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


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.

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.

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!.

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.


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.

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.

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 is easily propagated by root division


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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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 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.

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.


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.

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.

Garlic chives Allium Tuberosum

Garlic chives

Botanical Name: Allium Tuberosum

Some other names: Thai leeks, Chinese Chives, Gow choy, Oriental garlic.

How to grow it:

Garlic chives are a perennial herb to about 50cm with strap like leaves that distinguish it from it’s close cousin Onion chives. I’ve found it to be much more hardy & prolific than onion chives. Handles all soils well & does best in full sun.

In warmer climates it will grow & can be harvested all year round, in colder climates it might die down in winter, but resprout pretty quickly when the weather warms up.

Will benefit from the addition of fertiliser and regular watering, but seems to grow happily without much care

Will do very well in pots but will need to be pulled up & thinned out every couple of years.

Garlic chives have a very strong root system and will handle neglect where most other plants won’t. Often when I’ve seen a run-down vegetable patch, the only plant outcompeting the weeds & handling drought are the garlic chives. Seems to grow faster if it’s harvested regularly.

It grows easily from seed, but once you have plants established, the best way to propogate is to dig the whole plant up, divide the bulbs and roots into small sections & replant. Within a week or two, the plants are on their way again.

You won’t have to look very hard to find seeds or plants at your local nursery.


High in Vitamin C also rich in vitamins A & B, iron, calcium, sulfur and magnesium. Good tonic herb to take regularly.

Using it in the kitchen:

Garlic chives can be used in all dishes – cooked & uncooked where the delicate flavour of onions & garlic are required.

The upper green parts can be used in salads & sandwiches to great effect. They can be chopped finely, but I prefer them cut in 2-3cm sections as shown below – the flavour seems a little more noticeable.

When used in cooking, the upper parts can be added to soups, casseroles, omelettes & stir fries but I suggest adding them only at the last minute or the flavour will be lost. The lower white parts can be treated just like you would leeks, or my favourite is to add them to stir fries for a delicious garlic flavour burst.

Rarely a meal goes by that I’m not using garlic chives both for the flavour & health giving properties.


Garlic chives are a great survival food as they seem to survive any conditions and have great nutrition. If I was in a survival situation, I’d cherish them for the flavour they would add to my food.

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.

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!


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.

Freshly harvested Comfrey root

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.


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.

Asparagus spears just waiting to be picked!


Botanical Name: Asparagus officinalis

How to grow it:

Asparagus is a flowering perennial plant which dies back in winter and is harvested in spring for it’s emerging spears. It’s a fascinating plant to grow and harvest.

An easy to grow plant, but you’ll need to have patience. It might take a few years before you get serious harvests. One of the best things about asparagus is that it will grow in most climates so it’s very likely it will grow in yours.

The better position you can give it, the better the results. Full sun, deep, fertile soil, regular addition of fertiliser. It is a very hardy plant though – in tougher conditions it will just give less spears.

You can start asparagus from seed if you can wait until the 3rd year for your crops. You’ll get better crops in the 2nd year by sourcing crowns (below ground parts) or dividing your own. I’ve always just gone the seed option and waited the extra year.

Nutrition: Asparagus is a seriously nutritious plant. Spears have high levels of Vitamins A, B, & C, E, & K, potassium, iron, phosphorous, copper, manganese & many other nutrients. Also thought to be high in antioxidants

Using it in the kitchen:

You’ve never really tasted asparagus until you’ve picked some fresh & eaten it raw. It’s a much more subtle flavour and the spears are so tender they almost melt in your mouth. In my home, the spears don’t usually make it to the table as competition is so high for them straight from the garden.

If you do manage to get some to the kitchen, try eating it raw in salads

In cooking, it should be lightly steamed or stir fried – 1-2 minutes is plenty

Autumn foliage of Asparagus

They’ll store for a week or so in the fridge, but the basic idea is to eat them as soon as you can after picking.

Asparagus is a great addition to your edible garden as it’s so easy to grow & rewards with repeated crops of nutritious vegetables year in year out.