So I've been experimenting with edible perennial plants and self seeding annuals for a few years and have gained a little experience and insight. Now when I design for a new piece of land I can draw on this knowledge. I've started thinking of it like an artists pallette. Instead of paint though I have plants that will grow well in my area, each like a colour offering something different to the garden.
It's far from complete but I thought that it might be useful to folks in my region of eastern Onatrio. I'm in plant hardiness zone 4b. I've tried to group plants by family so it's easier to design with diversity in mind. I've only gotten so far as understory plants. I encourage other folks in the region to add to it based on their experiences!
*-Tiger Lillies (aka ditch lilies. Apparently not all varieties edible but the common orange ones that grow around here I haven't had an issue with. I've like the flower stuffed, battered and fried as you would pumpkin flowers. I have tried the tubers)
-Tulips (historically famine food in the Netherlands, I've only tried the petals. Nice early flowers in Spring, a good way to stack plants over time and provide some living mulch under trees)
*-Lovage (aka poor man's celery... tasty perennial somewhere between celery and parsley on taste). Good for beneficial insects.
-Skirret (perennial carrot I'm trying to grow for my second time. Easier to start from tuber than seeds)
-Bronze Fennel (mine lasted 2-3 years and produces bronze coloured sprigs of delicious fennel, couldn't tell the difference in taste between this and normal fennel but no bulb to use. May be able to use regular fennel too but I haven't tried myself)
-Sweet cicely (perennial herb, some people grow it to add to rhubarb dishes saying it makes them less sour but I didn't notice the difference)
-Mints (peppermint, *spearmint, chocolate mint, applemint) Classic herbs for tisanes, salads, mojitos, Can be prolific. Supports beneficial insects.
*-Oregano (classic herb for pizza, tomatoe sauces, etc. Can be prolific. Supports beneficial insects.)
*-Lemon balm (young leaves for salad. Fresh or dried for tisanes. Can be prolific. Supports beneficial insects.
*-Bergamot (several varities of this North American plant. Variety of flavours. pink, purple, red. Edible leaves and flower
-Crosnes (small Mint family edible tubers used in French cooking)
-Lavender (classic herb)
-Sage (classic herb)
-Mustards (popular in certain Adian cusines mustard greens are self seeding annuals that grow spicy leaves for salads (young) or cooked greens (older). Seeds can alsso be harvested to make mustard. I didn't notice a difference in taste between red and green)
-Arugula (self seeding annual, I had it grow really well by accident and not at all where I wanted it to. Cut and come again greens with peppery taste)
-Horseradish (classic root vegetable with peppery taste used for condiment. Easy to grow. Provides living mulch.)
*-Walking onions (aka Egyptian onions. They make small edible bulbs at the top owf the plant which causes them to fall over and grow a other plant. The young hollow stems are also edible and one of the first plants to sprout in Spring)
-Chives (Classic herb for garnishes, soups, salads) Can be prolific.
Onocleaceae fern family
Fiddle heads (Harvested in Spring fom Ostrich ferns. Have been eaten for hundreds of years but have some concerns about toxicity though lower than the risk of bracken ferns)
-Roses (rose seed pods called rose hips are high in Vitamins C and a nice addition to tisanes, pairs nicely with lemon balm)
-Salad Burnet (perneial herb with small edible leaves, cucumber like flavour. Old leaves can be a little bitter. Nice addition to salad)
-Strawberries (wild or cultivated can produce fruit and provide a living mulch, need many plants to have any significant amount of fruit)
-Raspberries (some varieties tastier and less seedy than others, varieties have different pruning requirements and fruiting times, often prolific and can easily become a thorny mess if not pruned and given support)
Gooseberry (grows well in shade, some cultivars less thorny than others. Grow in shade)
*Currants (Black most productive but also red and white. Easily propagated. Need pruning to improve yield. Berries edible, kind of tart, go well with sugar, other berries or in cereal. Can make juice or even alcohol. Grow in shade)
*-Jerusalem artichokes, sun chokes (the invasive vegetable! They can make many many tubers which can be used raw like a water chestnut or cooked pretty much as you would potatoes. Harvest and place one back in soil for next year. Flowers are sterile, spread by roots. Prolific! Can grow very tall. Can produce ++gas hence "fartichoke" name. A friend of a friend became painfully bloated with these but we've never had those issues)
-Dandelion (cultivated varieties available. Leaves least bitter when young and/or NOT flowering. Edible uses for roots and flowers as well. Mild diuretic)
-Plantain Majora (Not to be confused with the banana relative of no relation, edible leaves best when young. Infuse olive oil with leaves and and melted beeswax to make excellent salve for dry hands.)
-Lambs quarters (Common weed aka wild spinach, raw or cooked. Can be dried and powdered for use in soup. High in vitamins and minerals. Grows well i disturbed/cultivated soil. Related to quinoa, seeds tiny but edible.)
*-Magenta Spreen (semi domesticated Lambs quarters with magenta coloured dust on leaves. Spreen = "Spring=Green")
*-Sorrel (French and Garden varieties of leafy greens popular on Eastern European cuisine. They have a delicious lemony flavour and cam be cooked or used sparingly in salad... high in oxalic acid which can apparently tly cause kidney stones. Very different from Jamaican Sorrel)
*-Dock Patience (European spring green, classic Romanian recipe for use as leaves in cabbage rolls)
-Rhubarb (classic perennial vegetable)
-Purslane (succulent weed, tasty as raw greens, apparently can be used in place of okra to thicken dishes, notably high in Omega 3 fats)
-Asparagus (classic perennial vegetable, descended from seaside plant therefore does well with salt, can be planted as a short hedge)
-Hops (vine to grow up tree. Used in brewing beer. Attractive plant and cones. Does much better with more water)
Chinese Gooseberry Family
-Arctic Kiwi (Vine to grow up trees produces small hairless kiwis. Delicious. Must have a male and female to pollinate)
Good list, Steve! I have many of these, too. I'll have to look into Magenta Spreen, as the regular lamb's quarters don't thrill me.
I also grow lemon balm for tea, nettles for lots of things, clover and other medicinal type of herbs. I'm really enjoying playing around with herbs for tea, medicine and balms/creams.
Just a note: What we call ditch lilies here aren't Tiger lillies, which have spots and reflexed petals. I hate the darned things! They spread like mad and it's almost impossible to dig up every tiny bit of root.
(I'm in Gore's Landing, north of Cobourg; more central than eastern Ontario.)
Hey Steve, thanks for the post. I'm in eastern Ontario too and always have my ears and eyes open for ideas. Since you invited input, I thought I'd mention that grapes grow wild around here very happily. I often see them along roadsides and even in the city (Ottawa). There are several breeder-grown varietals (here's a nice cross-section) with good sized fruit and that are plenty hardy for our region.
I had a happy accident with garden cress self seeding where I had planted garlic. The cress was an excellent ground cover not to mention great in salads and the garlic grew very well.
I planted the cress 3 years ago and it has self seeded the last two years very well.
I finally got around to editing a video I took of my first food forest. It's a small but diverse 5-7 year old backyard patch with a guided and labelled tour featuring many species in my permaculture palette for Eastern Ontario.
Thanks for sharing that video Steve! I’m in a similarly cold urban environment (St Paul, Minnesota). I’ve been trolling the archives looking for ideas. I’d love to see how your food forest is looking now 4 years later!