There were unusually many plants still flowering in the garden in October this year as we experienced a bit of an Indian summer. We’ve now had our first frost, so time to publish this album of 116 pictures of over 100 species. Most but not all are edible / edimentals and, yes, I should have made a salad.
I think it was Nathan Shannon who sent me seed of the white-flowered variant of common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), now blooming for the first time!
There are 10+ pages about Sonchus oleraceus in my book and also other blog posts on this site, probably my most used vegetable in July-August each year!
I’ve grown numerous forms of garden orach (Atriplex hortensis; hagemelde) over the years as they are useful and decorative (edimental) annuals for the summer garden. Even though they are grown quite close to each other they don’t see to cross much. My red form (var. rubra) has maintained its colour for over 20 years in one small patch. Other favourites include golden orach (var. aurea) and an heirloom from Seed Savers Exchange in the US “Marie Barnes”. My favourite though is the Norwegian heirloom “Backlund/Bly” with enormous green leaves. Sadly, the seed doesn’t mature often here and I’ve lost it. Although this plant originated in Norway, it no doubt modified to its new home in the Mid-West in the US where it was maintained for several generations in a Norwegian family. See the (Norwegian) story here:
There are also a number of green Danish heirlooms like “Lille Næstved Skole”
You can maybe spot red and golden orach as well as “Marie Barnes” in this salad ingredient picture (click on the plants in the picture for the names) https://www.adressa.no/pluss/magasin/article9858403.ece?rs6280711594805805236&t=1
I use them mainly in summer, both in mixed salads and cooked in numerous dishes, as there are plenty of other perennial greens available in early summer.
See the pictures below:
Before I go any further, I should say that 2/3 of my cultivated area is almost 100% no dig (perennials is the ultimate no dig) as I grow perennial vegetables, fruit, berries and nuts. I rarely dig in these areas at all as I only plant once and don’t disturb the plants for years. I do still grow annuals on my raised beds…beds which are about 1.2m wide and are never walked on. I add compost on most of the beds each spring and lightly dig over to incorporate the compost and, surprising to most folks, to encourage the weeds to germinate.
There’s one weed in particular that I’m encouraging, Sonchus oleraceus (common sow thistle / haredylle). As I’ve written before (also in the 12 page essay in my book on the sow thistles), this is my favourite summer leafy green vegetable which I eat most days from July to September. It grows quickly and is actually more nutritious than standard greens. It’s also rich in antioxidants and I love it’s slightly bitter taste which goes well with pretty well any dish I might prepare, always mixed with other “vegetables of the day”. We ate it tonight in a pea soup and, yesterday, in a green pasta sauce and the day before that in pizza…
Yesterday, I weeded my second crop broad beans which were growing in a sea of “weeds” and as I weed I selectively allow the sow thistle to grow on between the beans and on the edge of the bed (you can think of this as “WEEDING YOUR WEEDS”). The video and pictures show the broad beans with the young self-seeded sow thistle plants in between. These will grow up quickly in the next 2-3 weeks and I harvest just before they start flowering. This doesn’t interfere with the growth of the broad beans which take much longer to mature to harvest. Later on, the next wave of sow thistle will be allowed to grow on the edges of all the beds where it doesn’t interfere with the main crops, a method used by the Maori of New Zealand which inspired me to introduce Sonchus oleraceus to my garden. Eating your weeds can significantly increase your yield. I must admit that I love weeding, a quiet time in the garden observing wildlife around me…….similarly, I love washing up, both quiet times contemplating. There’s even a name for weeds that are cropped…it’s a cryptocrop. Cryptocropping has been practised by many other peoples around the world.
Any nutrients or soil which might be washed out from my annual beds during periods with naked soil ultimately end up in my forest garden and perennial plantings below, so are not lost! However, there isn’t much loss as my soil is high in humus after over 35 years adding compost!
I’ve tried no dig in the past, but I would need a much bigger area to produce sufficient material for mulching and I also found that in my shady cool garden the soil heated up much too slowly and slugs were also a bigger problem.
In the video, I zoom into the low growing young sow thistle plants between the taller broad bean plants:
Perilla frutescens var crispa f. purpurascens (red or purple shiso) is looking good on the window sill in front of my desk! This is an important crop in the Far East both used as a flavouring, a dye plant, as wraps (the seeds, seed oil and seed sprouts are also used). I’d love to use the leaves to colour pickled chinese artichokes (chorogi), as shown on the Backyard Larder blog (see https://backyardlarder.co.uk/plants/chinese-artichoke), but the chorogi aren’t ready until November. Maybe I’ll try drying some leaves!
I grow this annual indoors as it’s generally too cold outside here in summer. It’s also difficult to save seeds as it doesn’t start flowering until late autumn and usually dies rather than producing seeds, a dead end for me, but now and again someone offers me seed for trading as in this case!
Perilla is also of course commonly used as an ornamental in warmer areas like Southern England, but I’ve also seen it outside in Gothenburg in Southern Sweden.
Perilla is in the mint family and it’s also easy to make more plants by taking cuttings (like basil).
I most often use shiso in my mixed salads.
Update 160121: The single plant produced many (over 20) fruits and masses of seed. I’ve added a few pictures at the bottom. I’ll be offering seed to members of KVANN / Norwegian Seed Savers (kvann.no).
Proboscidea louisianica subsp. fragrans (in the Martyniaceae) is currently flowering in the window sill and as its name suggest it has a beautiful fragrance! I’ve tried unsuccessfully growing it outside in the past, so this time I was given seed I’m trying it as an edible house plant. Its English names are variously devil’s claw, unicorn-plant, ram’s horn, aphid trap, goat’s head and elephant tusks. Sadly only one seed germinated and it only rarely self-pollinates (bees do the work, so I’ve been playing the bee using a paint brush…on the off-chance I might get a fruit). The fruits are sometimes compared with okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) or even the climbing cucurbit, achocha (Cyclanthera spp.) from South America. Years ago in 2007, I did get one fruit when I grew it in my old unheated greenhouse:
The unripe seed pods were traditionally cooked as a vegetable and added to soups or pickled and the leaves were also used as a potherb with beans. The immature oil rich seeds were also eaten raw or were roasted or dried and eaten like pine nuts.
Apart from being an important food plant for First Peoples, the dried seed pods were also incorporated into basketry to make patterns, plants were even selected for longer claws and used for sewing and a black dye was also obtained.
However, I’ll probably just enjoy it as a fragrant unusual house plant with a potential for food and hope it will live up to its alternative name, aphid trap!
And finally, one of Tom Hare’s wonderful art installations, Devil’s Claw, in Kew Gardens in 2011:
Pictures added January 2021:
I trialled over 50 different amaranths here about 15-20 years ago, hoping to find one that was early enough to produce seed in our short cold summer. The search was unsuccessful…but this was my favourite edimental variety, introducing Elephant Head!
These are the seeds of Nigella sativa (also known as black caraway, black cumin, nigella, kalojeere, siyah daneh or kalonji; Norwegian: legesvartkarve / svartfrø) are probably best known in Western Europe as a spice used in particular on Indian naan bread. It’s also ground as part of a 5-seed spice mix (panch phoron) used in Bangladesh, Eastern India and Nepal, together with fenugreek, nigella, cumin, black mustard and fennel in about equal parts. They are also used in the Middle East, for example in Armenian String Cheese (see https://www.google.com/search?q=armenian+string+cheese+with+nigella+seeds) and, in Palestine, the seeds are ground into qizha paste, first soaked in salt water overnight, then roasted in an oven, and dried in the sun before grinding!
I tried growing Nigella sativa in 2008 when I still had a greenhouse. I germinated seed in a spice packet, but even in the greenhouse there was no yield. Then two years ago, a member of KVANN (Norwegian Seed Savers), Hildur Hauksdóttir of the Domkirkodden Herb Garden in Hamar, Norway offered seed of Nigella sativa through our yearbook! She reported that they grew well in Hamar (which is a little north of Oslo).
I obtained seed from Hildur and, now, have harvested seed for the first time outside without protection although they were started indoors.!
There a reportedly some 22 known varieties in India, the second biggest producer (6 mill. ha), behind Turkey at 8 mill. ha. (a small amount is grown in the US).
I guess Hildur’s seed were a hardier variety than the seed I used in the past and I will now offer these to other members of KVANN!
I collect the seed for using on bread (see the latter album and http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?page_id=3191) and other baked dishes!
However, great and blue tits compete with me for the seeds, see my blog post on my narcotits (narkomeis)! The flowers are almost certainly perfectly safe to eat raw, at least in small amounts and you’ll see the occasional flower in my salads.
Papaver somniferum is also one of the favourite plants for pollinating insects such as bumblebees, hoverflies etc., see http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=12787!
Other poppy species have also been used traditionally for food and even the leaves of corn poppy (kornvalmue) are used in the Mediterranean countries (I remember seeing the leaves for sale in a market in Venice some years ago!
More about the uses of poppies from Cornucopia II. I grow all 3 in my garden here in Malvik!
Papaver somniferum – opium poppy (opiumvalmue). The seeds, called maw seeds in Europe and khas-khas in the Middle East, are widely used in breads, cakes, rolls, milky soups, rice dishes, stews, curries, saladdressings, and sweetmeats. When crushed and sweetened, they are used as a filling for crepes, strudels, pastries, etc. Poppy-seed oil is used like olive oil in French cooking, where it is known as olivette. A paste made from poppy-seed oil and roasted, ground poppy seed is widely used in Turkish cuisine.
Papaver orientale – oriental poppy (orientvalmue). Unripe capsules, though very acrid and hot in taste, are reportedly eaten as a delicacy. In Turkey, the seeds and flower parts are eaten.
Papaver rhoeas – Corn poppy (kornvalmue). Young leaves are cooked and seasoned like spinach, or used as a flavoring in soups and salads. A syrup prepared from the scarlet flower petals has been employed as an ingredient in soups and gruels. They also yield a red pigment used for coloring, especially wine. The seeds are used in cakes, breads, and rolls or pressed for their oil, an excellent substitute for olive oil.
This year, I started seed very early indoors and plants have for the first time been quite productive. Last night I made a soba (buckwheat pasta dish) with stir fried chopsuey greens and garlic scapes (with white wine, ginger, chili and soy sauce as flavourings). Chopsuey greens have a similar “aromatic” taste common to many other Asteraceae, including perennials like Aster scaber, Aster tripolium and Ligularia fischeri. Try substituting these perennials in chopsuey greens recipes.
I wrote an article about shungiku in the Norwegian herb magazine Grobladet, see
At the time, I couldn’t find much evidence of this plant having been used traditionally in the Mediterranean countries. However, thanks to the many ethnobotanical studies over recent years to document the Mediterranean diet, it has now been registered as eaten both raw and cooked both in Spain, Italy (including Sicily) , in a number of studies in Turkey as well as Palestine and Morocco. It is also sometimes cultivated.
More specifically, leaves and young shoots are used in the Mediterranean countries in salad (both raw and cooked), in pies, as a cooked vegetable, in a Turkish dish unlama (flour, garlic and lemon juice) and in Moroccan bakoula salad, usually made with mallow leaves, but spinach and /or kale are substituted for them (see, for example, http://www.mymoroccanfood.com/home/bakoula-with-spinach-and-kale)