|Stinging variety of Chaya|
I want to take each one of these separately and do individual posts. Today, there's just a list of what has worked for us so far, and ones we've heard good things about but never tried yet.
The ones that endure the most punishing heat so far, and have food uses:
1. Chaya, aka chayamansa, aka Mexican Chaya or Mexican Spinach Tree: These are propagated by cutting a section and sticking it in the ground, watering it in and watching it go! Leaves are harvested with gloves unless you have the unprickly variety (meaning non-stinging. The stings are similar to stinging nettles). We PREFER the wilder variety with the stinging leaves. These turn out to be bushes nearly 8 feet tall by the end of our season, die back in the winter, come back in the spring from the roots. A nectary plant for Gulf Fritillaries and some other kinds of butterflies. Leaves must be boiled in order to eat to neutralize their initial cyanic compounds. We find them an agreeable green with a neutral taste, best cut into thin strips before cooking, removing stems. They are HIGHLY nutritious and I believe I remember some mention that they are one of the only plants with some of the nutrition usually only found in meat protein. (See? I'll have to go dig up the stats again)
|Moringa, before coppicing again|
2. Moringa oleifera. These grow like weeds once started and Jack propagates them from (I forget the formal term) limb cutting stuck right into the ground. When they reach no more than 4 feet (or, for us, two feet) they can be easily cut as a coppice crop. The new sprouts keep on coming and are especially good at this stage. We will soon try a suggestion to use the actual sprouts as an asparagus-like substitute. The leaves at this stage lack the hard stems that with more mature limbs end up being needle-like when dried. The leaves are a magnificent nutrient source. We have yet to enjoy the flavor. It is peppery and green, so a little goes a long way. One of the best uses we have for this is to cut the fronds as mulch around other plants, due to its high fertility-adding qualities...build in fertilizer. It is also said to be an excellent animal forage and we've seen chickens take readily to the cut branches, with gusto. Somewhere I read grazing animals can be fed it as supplemental forage and huge vitamin booster, some up to 50% total feed, if introduced gradually. We intend to use it for a several-cuttings-per-season forage in areas that don't naturally support much grazing, and we will use it prodigiously as a very soft wood to keep running through a wood chipper for a natural fertilizing wood chip mulch (differing degrees of size and fineness) when we one day get a wood chipper. That, and for supplementing livestock feed for healthy and vigorous animals. And for making a daily green tea for our own use.
3. Honeysuckle, japanese: It can be invasive, but I do want a patch for medicine making. This one deserves its own post, too!
4. Canna lilies: I've found repeated mention of using the blossoms in salads and the rhizomes as a baked starch. With the low places available to grow them and the beauty they add, they are worth a try
|Almost spineless Nopal Cactus|
5. Nopal cactus: We have a nearly needle-free variety given to us a few years back from a former client who wanted hers moved away for more garden space. After removing the fine glochids by scraping with a knife, these are edible and medicinal. And so easy to grow you just plant and forget them.
6. Gynura procumbens: This is our blood glucose friend, purported to have a similar effect on blood sugar as the medicine such as Metformin. It's a hardy warm weather trailing plant with slightly fuzzy leaves. The flavor is not unpleasant, it is mild and green, but slightly fuzzy. I know a man who eats 12 leaves a day for his blood sugar control. I find very little western research on this plant but it is a traditional plant to keep as a potherb in the East and to include in salads fresh. We like ours and would like to explore its potential more. It grows easily behind and under bushes and in pots kept in a sheltered place under a bush or tree. Ours overwinter by a doorway and come back with a burst in the warm weather.
7. Sweet potatoes: Edible root and leaves. We have yet to try the young leaves but they were eaten, and still are, by southerners in the US pre-twentieth century and by other cultures worldwide as a highly nutritious green. We have not grown sweet potatoes here yet but it will be one of our first farm plantings, for the potato and the greens.
8. Calabaza, tropical pumpkin, winter squash: This is our hot weather variety of winter squash. We still have three left from our harvest from one single seed that sprouted in a compost area, left untended and weedy. It not only survives neglect every year (we throw a few seeds into the same place each year and one or two always sprout) but it resists borers, vigorously vines through weed and up trees if left to do so, and in the early fall we walk through with a mower, mowing the bermuda right up to the vines and picking up full grown pumpkins till there is a big wheelbarrow full. I think we got about thirty off one plant last year with no more effort than that, and they cook up silky and mildly sweet, yum! I can't believe I was an adult before I learned the greatness of winter squash/pumpkin. This market stall (hispanic) variety seems to fit the bill here. We will definitely increase our uses of this on the farm.
9. Okra. Takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'. And is delicious. Very heat tolerant.
10. Cowpeas: Purple hull peas, or any other favorite regional variety. They are delicious, store dried well, are good forage for grazing animals, and the young leaves are my FAVORITE cooked green, LOADED with nutrition! They rock the heat and can be tilled back into the ground for fertility. We WILL be planting these on the farm. One of my favorite memories of home garden food growing up, when paired with fresh homegrown tomatoes, yellow squash with onions, and cornbread...yum!
This is a good starter list. Do you know of anything that might be added to the list? We're open to all of it...edible "weeds," unexpected favorites, survival plants, plants otherwise unknown to the western markets as edible but known to be staples in other cultures...we're interested in them all.
David the Good has a good list to peruse over at his Florida Survival Gardening Blog.
In Florida the summer season has come to be a non-planting or growing season in modern times due to the heat and vagaries of either drought or monsoon. We plan to vary things a bit to still have productive summers. We're new to this but plenty of others are leading the way, and we love gleaning from their expertise.
What are your hardiest go-to plants...and what are unexpected favorites in your own patch of dirt??