Garden perennials that are edible...Culinary plants, including Allium and Hibiscus.
Humans have been cultivating plants for over 12,000 years and in that time, someone, somewhere, has tasted most every single plant. The results weren't always pretty, but these intrepid tasters discovered an amazing variety of culinary plants that also happen to look great in the landscape. By the strict definition, a culinary plant is a vegetable (leaf, root, stem) that you eat, but not a fruit, seed, herb, leaf, or any part that you make tea or alcohol from. However, for our purposes, we are going to define a culinary plant as any plant that you can eat, including herbs and spices, fruits, seeds, as well as any plant part that can be used to make tea or can be fermented into spirits.
Read More About Culinary Plants
Of course not every culinary plant is as tasty as a turnip, and some garden perennials require quite a bit of processing (cooking, pickling, etc.) to be made edible, but the adventurous perennial gardener can greatly expand their palette if they are inclined to. Included in our lists below are plants that can be eaten raw, plants that require cooking to remove toxic or distasteful compounds, plants that are popular with cultures outside of the US, plants that were popular edibles in the past, subsistence crops (plants that take a lot of effort to prepare but provide only a few calories) and famine crops (plants that have distasteful flavors or textures but are be eaten when times are tough)
When growing culinary plants in the perennial garden, it is important to know which plant part to eat. People can eat almost any plant part including roots, bulbs (corms, rhizomes, tubers), stems, twigs, bark, pith, stem hearts (cortex), immature or mature leaves, leaf petioles, fruits, flower buds, flowers, nectar, pollen, seeds, or seed oil. In preparing our list of culinary plants we consulted many sources but relied heavily on the "Plants for a Future" website (www.pfaf.org) as a reference to the edibility rating of our plants. They also provide brief preparation guidelines and notes on toxicity. Disclaimer - we have not eaten most of these plants and advise caution and plenty of research before eating any plant in these lists…remember, here at PDN, we grow perennial garden plants for their looks, not their taste. When you finish your research and are looking for where to buy culinary plants for your perennial garden, we hope you will check out our culinary plant list below.
Since 1988, Plant Delights Nursery has been the choice of serious gardeners and plant collectors looking for the best and rarest perennial plants. We are pleased to have received the Perennial Plant Association Retail Award in 2011, the American Horticulture Society Commercial Award in 2002, and to have been selected as one of the Best Mail Order Plant Nurseries - Garden Design Magazine 2010. Welcome to our family of plant lovers!
Acorus calamus 'Variegatus' is an aroid relative and former member of the "family" before being ousted by the molecular taxonomy mob. Acorus calamus is now in the horticulture protection program disguised as a dramatic, upright deciduous iris. The vivid white and green banded, deer-resistant leaves of Acorus calamus 'Variegatus' make this one of the most strikingly beautiful vertical accent plants in the garden! Variegated sweet flag spreads slowly by means of a very thick above-ground rhizome. Sweet flag loves a moist spot such as a bog but will also grow in ordinary garden soils...a real easy-to-grow, carefree prize! Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Despite the long, tongue-twisting name, the dwarf golden sweet flag is one of the most striking and certainly the cutest of the acorus. The tufts of tiny, golden, ornamental grass-like, evergold foliage make a slowly spreading patch to 2' wide in 5 years. If you get out the magnifying glass, you'll notice the tiny aroid-like tan spadices (flowers) in early summer. Acorus 'Minimus Aureus' is a bright, deer-resistant, dwarf evergreen perennial groundcover in moist shady areas where it makes either a feature specimen or a killer filler between dark stepping stones...a real highlight in the woodland garden. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
(aka A1FL-113) This selection of the worldwide native Adiantum capillus-veneris comes from Washington Co., Florida, about an hour west of Tallahassee. Adiantum capillus-veneris 'Falling Waters' has made a splendid patch in our garden with frond pinnae (fern leaflets) that are slightly smaller and narrower than what we typically see in other regional southern maidenhair fern forms. Our five-year-old clumps have spread to 2' wide and so far have survived single digit temperatures with no problems. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
(aka: Adiantum capillus-veneris A3T-022) We discovered this wonderfully cut leaf form of the southeastern native Adiantum capillus-veneris along Wasp Creek in Kendall County, Texas. Unlike most forms of southern maidenhair fern, the pinnae are shaped like narrow Japanese hand fans. For us, Adiantum 'Fan Dance' forms a tight 6" tall patch that expands to 2' wide in 5 years. We are pleased to finally be able to share this special form of southern maidenhair fern. Moist soils are best. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
(aka: Adiantum c-v A1CR-090) In 2010, we discovered a small patch of Adiantum capillus-veneris growing in a wet seep at 1680' elevation on the south slope of Crete's Mt. Ida...very near an amazing population of white-flowered Dracunculus vulgaris. Our spore collections germinated well enough that we are able to share. The parent clump was more compact than most of the US native forms, maturing around 6" tall. We expect a 2' wide patch in 5 years...we'll find out together. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
(coll. #A2T-034) This form of the wonderful southern maidenhair fern, Adiantum capillus-veneris, comes from spores that we collected in 2000 in the Edwards Plateau region of Texas near the town of Rock Springs. Not that you are interested, but we were stopped three times by border patrol agents who searched our backpacks for illegal aliens...glad I carried a small backpack. Plantsman Scott Ogden showed us this population of southern maidenhair fern growing along a small creek in a very alkaline soil. Our 5-year-old clump is 1' tall x 2' wide and, as you can imagine, quite heat tolerant. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
When my friend Gert Fortgens of Arboretum Trompenburg in Holland told me about his cross of the North American native Agastache foeniculum with the Korean Agastache rugosa, the offspring sounded too good to be true. However, after trialing Agastache 'Blue Fortune' in our dry garden, I consider it one of the finest new perennials in years! In spring, the strong new stalks shoot upward to 3' tall, clothed with fuzzy, licorice-scented fragrant leaves. From early spring through summer, the stems are topped with hundreds of large bottlebrush, blue-lavender flowers that attract a stunning array of pollinators, including hummingbirds! Agastache 'Blue Fortune' needs an open, well-drained site for best performance. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
This Terra Nova introduction is one of the first of the brightly-colored agastache hybrids to survive our NC summers. Agastache 'Cotton Candy' forms a 2' tall x 3' wide drought-tolerant clump of upright green stems, each clothed in small, but very minty-fragranced leaves. From spring through fall, the stems are topped with dense clusters of small pink flowers emerging from the dark pink-tipped calyces. Agastache 'Cotton Candy' is a magnet for attracting both butterflies and hummingbirds...we recommend a flight control tower within a 100' radius. Good drainage is essential for long-term survivability. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Agastache foeniculum 'Get Riehl' comes from an early 1990s trip when I visited Iowa City plantsman, Frank Riehl. Sharing a love of native habitats, Frank took me to a nearby prairie remnant where I first saw anise hyssop growing in the wild. Those cutting-grown plants have remained in our garden for over two decades, so we decided that it was time to share. The deciduous Agastache foeniculum 'Get Riehl' makes a wispy upright clump of angular branched stems, topped from early summer through September with 6" terminal soft lavender flowers. Agastache foeniculum is also grown for its wonderfully fragrant licorice-scented foliage. Anise hyssop has long been prized for its medicinal value to cure everything from coughs to diarrhea. Bees also use anise hyssop to make a lovely flavored honey. In the garden, good drainage seems to be the key to persistence. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
We purchased this lovely form of Agave americana in 2005 from a grower in Thailand, but unfortunately it came without a valid cultivar name, so we've named it Agave americana 'Marshmallow Cream'. Agave 'Marshmallow Cream' has a much wider and shorter leaf than the typical Agave americana 'Marginata', which is more common in the trade. Agave americana 'Marshmallow Cream' also makes a much more elegant plant in the ground as well as in a container. Since it isn't winter hardy for us, we can only guess about a mature size, but we would expect 5' tall x 8' wide. Quantities are very limited. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
This beautiful, but slowly offsetting selection of the Mexican Agave americana makes a 2' tall x 3' wide clump, with each wide blue leaf highlighted with a wide central stripe of white. Agave americana 'Mediopicta Alba' is often used as a specimen container plant by gardeners in colder zones. Because of the leaf layer arrangement, Agave americana 'Mediopicta Alba' is one of the few variegated agave that cannot be successfully tissue cultured. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Native to oak woodlands from Arizona to northern Mexico from 5,000' to 7,000', Agave parryi ssp. huachucensis is the largest member of the hardy Agave parryi group. The very wide, steely blue-grey foliage makes a striking rosette (in more ways than one) to 2' wide. In about 15 years, the clumps are topped with giant Jack and the Beanstalk-like flower spikes to 12' tall! The leaves of Agave parryi ssp. huachucensis are flatter and wider, but not as thick as A. parryi ssp. parryi. As with all agaves, winter drainage is absolutely critical for survival in cold climates. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
(aka: 'Kitsuyoteh Hakafu', 'Mediopicta Alba') Agave parryi ssp. huachucensis 'Excelsior' started its life as a seedling from California's Excelsior Gardens around 1967 and was first commercialized in the 1980s by Nature's Curiosity Shop. For us, the 6" tall x 1' wide tight rosette is highlighted by a 1.25" wide chartreuse central stripe. We are unsure of the ultimate size of Agave parryi 'Excelsior', but expect it may double the listed size. Agave 'Excelsior' grows extremely slow when young, but faster as it ages and begins to offset. We are uncertain of its cold hardiness, but it could be much hardier than our tentative Zone 7 rating if kept very dry in winter...a splendid addition to our line of winter hardy agaves. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Agave parryi ssp. truncata, considered one of the most beautiful of all the agaves, has a very limited native distribution. Found only in Durango, Mexico, it can best be described as short, fat, blue, and producing lots of offspring. Come to think of it, that also describes most of the guys at the local saloon on Saturday night. Each 18" tall x 18" wide robust clump is topped at maturity with a phallic flower bud that enlarges into a 3" diameter, 20' tall flower spike which could easily be used for a flagpole...we like horticultural multi-tasking. When they finally open, the bright yellow, fragrant flowers are hummingbird favorites. Remember to keep Agave parryi ssp. truncata well-drained and dry in the winter months. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Okay, I'd probably grow Ajuga 'Planet Zork' just for the name, but imagine my excitement when this cool bugleweed turned out to be a cool garden plant as well. Most ajugas don't fare well in our heat and humidity, but to my surprise, Ajuga 'Planet Zork' has performed wonderfully in our garden trials. This compact bugleweed selection comes from Japan where its slow clumping growth habit and upwardly cupped, crinkled, grey-green, deer-resistant leaves with a pink overlay are highly prized. Superficially, Ajuga 'Planet Zork' looks like Ajuga 'Burgundy Glow' that was sprayed with weedkiller...a likely leftover from the "better gardening through chemicals" program. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
This stunning Allium nutans hybrid comes from the Onion Man, Mark McDonough. Allium 'Millennium' represents several generations of breeding (onions) and is head and shoulders above any other alliums we grow. The compact 1' tall x 1' wide clump of narrow, glossy green, deer-resistant leaves is topped for over a month in late summer with 2" rosy-purple flower heads. We grow Allium 'Millennium' in several locations and have never seen any sign of a stray seedling...garliccimo! Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
(aka: Allium luteum) This fantastic selection of the southern European golden garlic was made by Antoine and Michael Hoog in 1978 while trekking in the Spanish Pyrenees. Allium 'Jeannine' is greatly improved over the typical species by having golden flowers instead of the typical greenish yellow, and by producing two flower spikes per bulb instead of the typical one. Allium moly 'Jeannine' also comes into flower a few weeks earlier than the normal species, which means late May/early June in NC. The small clumps are topped with 2" umbels of bright yellow flowers atop 10" stalks...very cute! Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
This delightful form of the Siberian Allium nutans was shared with us by our friend and garden writer, Pam Harper. Allium nutans 'Pam Harper' is composed of 8" long x 0.5" wide, slightly twisted, glaucous, deer-resistant leaves topped with 15" tall spikes that end with 2" floral balls. The clump begins flowering in early June and reflowers through the end of September. The flowers are pure white except where the nights are cool, when they may take on a light pink cast. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
We had almost given up on alliums after growing far too many weedy species but have been delighted to find great non-weedy hybrids like Allium 'Sugar Melt', thanks to Allium guru, Mark McDonough. This hybrid of Mark's combines the best traits of both Allium nutans with the popular Allium senescens. Allium 'Sugar Melt' has been a standout in our rock garden, making a 6" tall x 8" wide circular clump of narrow, green, deer-resistant leaves, topped in early July (later in colder climates) with 16" stems of light pink flower balls...a perfect rock garden plant. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Alocasia cucullata 'Yellow Tail' is a quirky little elephant ear that has fared very well in our garden trials since 2002. In shape, Alocasia 'Yellow Tail' resembles a vigorous form of typical Alocasia cucullata, forming 3' tall x 3' wide clumps of small, twisty, thick, glossy green leaves, but with leaves that are bordered with an irregular, narrow yellow edge...a plant for collectors who need every one. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)