From garden to table: add these tasty homegrown treats to your recipes for succulent surprises
By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Recent rains have brought on an explosion of flowering perennials. The moist soil and cool temperatures make for excellent planting conditions, not only for large specimen trees, shrubs, and evergreens, but for perennials, too.
The last frost of May signals the start of the summer vegetable gardens, while June is when the most stunning perennial flowers start blooming. Surprisingly, several summer perennials are pretty and produce a harvest of edible goodness.
Here is a listing of some edible perennials that may surprise you. All are available now at Watters Garden Center.
Bamboo. Panda bears enjoy munching on bamboo shoots, but they aren’t the only creatures that enjoy them. I like to grow bamboo in a container on the back deck. It’s beautiful and edible. When early shoots appear in mid-spring, they are tender and delicious. Conveniently, bamboo grows quickly and prolifically under the right conditions, so you may grow as much or as little as you like.
Daylilies. With brightly colored flowers on top of stalks that grow up to three feet tall, with floppy leaves circling the base, a lily usually is considered an ornamental contribution to a landscape. But did you know it’s also edible? Enjoy the shoots, some of the spring tubers, the flower buds, and the blossoms.
Dahlia. The dahlia plant is small, no more than a foot high, and grows well in compact spaces. It easily blends into spicy container gardens. Its petals and small tubers are unique edibles. Experiment with different varieties to discover their distinct flavors.
Roses. While roses are pretty to look at and sweet to smell, they also can be delicious to taste. Used in many Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines, roses make sweet floral preserves and vibrant garnishes. Here are 12 recipes for using rose leaves, hips, and flowers from Mother Earth News.
Hosta. On the list of classic garden plants, hosta is an easy-to-grow perennial with a wide range of varieties. I really enjoy hostas with variegated leaves to spruce up the shade garden. Break off the edible young shoots from the clumps in the center of the plant. There is some debate as to whether all species of hostas are edible, but the ‘Sagae’ variety was originally used as edible and is safe for sampling.
Elderberry. Elderberry is a large perennial shrub grown for its textured foliage, lovely summer flowers, and deep purple fruits. Flowers and berries are edible, though the berries do need to be cooked sufficiently to prevent stomach upset. Jams, jellies, syrups, and herbal remedies are all favorites from elderberry. Birds are drawn to elderberry shrubs as much as we are, which is excellent if you are interested in attracting birds as beneficial garden helpers.
Prickly Pear. The pads are intimidating to use because of their tiny spines, but those are easily removed by scraping with a knife. The pads are cooked and added over meat and fish. Prickly Pear Pad Recipes. The plum-shaped fruit, called Indian fig, prickly pear, or tuna, ripens in late September. The outside becomes bright red, and the insides turn a fiery orange, making beautiful syrup, preserves, or jelly. In some parts of Mexico, the tunas are fermented to produce a heady liquor.
Sweetberry Honeysuckle. Honeysuckle will quickly cover a wall or fence with a cascade of color and fragrance. It also produces an abundance of edible blossoms. As an extra surprise, the blue-berried variety produces a blueberry-like fruit!
Lady’s Leek. Lady’s leek is grown as an ornamental for its bright bursts of small flowers. The name gives it away as an edible leek, also part of the garlic family. Use the delicate flowers, onion-like stalks, or garlic-like bulbs in your garden recipes.
Banana Yucca. This local native grows wild at all elevations of Arizona. Flowers (petals only) and fruit are edible. Other parts of the plant contain saponin, which is poisonous; even Javelina won’t eat this spiky plant. The flowers have a crunchy, fresh flavor.
Perennials to Avoid. Some flowers should not be eaten. Here’s the list of local plants to avoid eating: azalea, crocus, daffodil, foxglove, oleander, rhododendron, jack-in-the-pulpit, lily of the valley, and wisteria.
Until next issue, enjoy this perfect planting weather.
Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at WattersGardenCenter.com or FB.com/WattersGardenCenter