2017-10-13 / Home & Garden

Perennial vegetables bring a forever harvest

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

While everyone enjoys the sensory delights of lowmaintenance perennial flowerbeds from spring through fall, the annual vegetable plot is much more labor intensive. Soil preparation is followed by continuous attention to weeding, watering, fertilizing, disease and pest patrol, and decisions on what to do differently next year.

Some food gardeners are opting to incorporate perennial edibles with existing perennial ornamentals. The trend is catching once they realize their perennial beds already contain food crops and some of the “weeds” are popular vegetables in European markets.

Asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish, and Jerusalem artichokes aka sunchokes are more familiar perennial vegetables in Midland gardens. The ornamental edible Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, is a 12’ tall floriferous fall blooming sunflower producing abundant crisp sweet tubers eaten raw or cooked. At Arnold Farms in Hopkins, sunchokes are grown as a row crop and tubers are sold to local restaurants.


Jerusalem artichoke is an edible ornamental with sunflower blossoms at top and sweet tubers underground. Jerusalem artichoke is an edible ornamental with sunflower blossoms at top and sweet tubers underground. Daylilies are important vegetables in the Orient. Flower buds are eaten like green beans in Chinese stir-fries and Japanese tempura. Flowers are eaten in salads and soups or battered and fried. Achira, Canna edules, is a large perennial root crop planted in colonies in tropical America, southeast Asia, and Australia. The baked rhizomes are sweet enough to serve as dessert. The smaller ornamental garden canna, Canna indica, roots are edible too.

Lawn weeds like chicory and dandelion have highly nutritious leaves used in salads and cooked in Italian and French recipes. Roasted roots of each make a coffee substitute.

Chufa, Cyperus esculentus var. sativa, is a noninvasive clump-forming relative of yellow nutsedge, the bane of farms and gardens. Chufa, cultivated in southwestern Europe, Africa, and Asia, yields over 100 tubers per plant. Tubers are boiled or baked and eaten like potatoes.


Rhubarb is a passalong perennial leaving fond memories of rhubarb pie and pudding. Rhubarb is a passalong perennial leaving fond memories of rhubarb pie and pudding. Perennial bi-colored kale, Brassica oleracea ramosa, aka Kosmic Kale is a cut and come again edible ornamental bred in the Netherlands and sold by Territorial Seed Company. Blue green leaves are edged in creamy white margins.

Two edible landscape plants discovered by the Lewis and Clark expedition adapt easily to Midland foodscaping.

Camass, Camassia quamash, grows in blue-flowering colonies in spring. The best method for cooking camass bulbs is a pressure cooker; the cooked bulb has a sweet winter squash flavor.

Arrowhead, Sagittaria spp., recognized by its spear-shaped leaf, inhabits fresh water ponds. In Asia, the tubers are grown in paddies like rice. The nutty-flavored tubers are cooked like potatoes.


Cardoon stems are harvested and used like celery. Cardoon stems are harvested and used like celery. Garden sorrel, Rumex acetosa, and French sorrel, R. scutatus, are favorite cold-hardy perennial herbs easy to grow in full sun or partial shade. Young leaves are the edible parts. Place the delicious lemon-flavored leaves atop fish and in salads or make lemony sorrel soup. Chives are perennial edible ornamentals and are replacing liriope as an edging edible.

Cardoon, Cynera cardunculus, is an 8’ tall showstopper thistle-like giant. This European delicacy is grown for its stalks, which are prepared like celery.

Okinawa natives living in Columbia grow taro, Colocasia esculenta, a relative of elephant ear. Taro root is prepared like potatoes. As with many wild plants, taro contains potentially toxic compounds that must be removed through proper preparation methods.

When foodscaping the garden to include perennial edibles, you receive a forever harvest. References on Perennial Vegetables Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier Perennial Vegetable Gardening by E. Toensmeier (DVD) The Food Forest Handbook by Darrell Frey and Michelle Czolba A Georgia Food Forest by C. Dill

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