Homegrown Spices

SoanishTarragon5 (2)Tagetes lucida – Mexican Tarragon is perennial in its native Mexico and Central America but is grown as a frost-tender annual elsewhere. The leaves taste just like French Tarragon (Artemesia dracunculus) and along with the yellow blooms, are brewed to make a tasty anise-flavoured tea. These can be used fresh or dried, although the flavour diminishes with drying. Grows 18-30″ tall. Hardy to USDA zone 9.

MushroomPlantRungiaKlossii (2)Rungia klossii – Mushroom Plant is a relative newcomer to the culinary garden which brings once distinct advantage, it tolerates shaded exposures. The glossy green leaves have a strong mushroom taste (as well as Vitamin C and iron) that can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in soups and stews, keeping in mind that the flavour increases with cooking. This native of Papua New Guinea grows 12-24″. Zone 9.

JuniperusCommunisBerries (2)Juniperus communis – Common Juniper is native across the northern hemisphere, with a few pockets in the Atlas mountains of Africa. It can grow as a low-lying shrub or small tree and produces blackish-blue berries which have been used for flavouring gin, beer or wild game. My oldest daughter uses it sparingly (it has a strong taste) to marinate our Christmas turkey in a brine. Grows 4-15′ tall. USDA zone 2.

CurryLeaf1 (2)Murraya koenigii – Curry Leaf is another hard to find spice that has recently entered the retail market. It is actually a tropical tree native to India and Sri Lanka whose foliage is used a lot like Bay Leaf to flavour curry. The pinnate foliage is easy to harvest but it needs to be grown as a houseplant in winter with bright light and warm temperatures. Relative of the citrus family. Grows 4-6′ tall in containers. Zone 10.

Crocussativusflower (2)Crocus sativus – Saffron Crocus is a hardy bulb (or corm) which is readily available in late summer at most garden centres. It blooms in the fall, producing large purple flowers with exactly three red stigmas…these are saffron. They must be gently harvested and dried for about a month before the flavour emerges. You need to protect this plant from slugs and snails. Grows 4-8″ tall. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

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Berries with High Antioxidants

MorusNigraFruit1 (2)Morus nigra – Black Mulberry is a deciduous tree native to southeast Asia which produces dark berries with a flavour of currant and blackberry. They’re a favourite of birds, who often descend on the tree when the fruits are ripe, making quite a mess down below with staining berries – so plant these away from sidewalks, patios and driveways. Black Mulberry grows to 30′ tall on average. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

goji9 (2)Lycium barbarum – Goji berries (fresh or dried) are one of the highest sources of antioxidants, but they have a rather unusual fruit/vegetable flavour reminiscent of tomato and cranberry. It is a hardy deciduous shrub which produces reddish-orange berries from midsummer to frost. The purple flowers are also attractive and the bush is self-fertile. Grows 6 to 8′ tall. Hardy to USDA zone 5 or colder.

Lonicera caerulea 'Honey Bee' (2)Lonicera caerulea – Haskaps or Honeyberries were recently introduced commercially and they are a deciduous shrub species native to the northern hemisphere. The pale yellow blooms are followed by rod-shaped dark blue berries with a tang of blueberry and raspberry, but with a sharp aftertaste. While high in antioxidants, this fruit lends itself to blending with other berries. Grows 3-5′ tall. USDA zone 2.

JapaneseSilverberry1 (2)Elaeagnus umbellata – Japanese Silverberry or Autumn Olive is an invasive species in many states and the province of Alberta – so check local restrictions before planting. That said, it is a very cold hardy deciduous shrub which tolerates dry soils (once established) and fixes its own nitrogen. The small red berries are produced in abundance and have a distinct rhubarb-red currant flavour. Grows 9-15′ tall. Zone 3.

Vaccinium'Nocturne'4 (2)Vaccinium x ‘Nocturne’ – A complex blueberry hybrid which includes such species as Highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum), Rabbiteye (Vaccinium ashei) and wild blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium). The resulting plant bears unusual coral orange berries that ripen to a jet black with a nice musky flavour. While self-fertile, ‘Nocturne’ does produce heavier crops with cross-pollination. Grows 5-6′ tall. Hardy to USDA zone 3.

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Edible Flowers

ElectricDaisyBlooms (2)Acmella oleracea (syn. Spilanthes oleracea) – This tropical rarity goes by many common names including Toothache Plant (it has natural antibacterial qualities), Buzz Buttons and Electric Daisy. The strange looking ‘alien eyeball’ blooms are yellow with a reddish-brown pupil and when consumed have an unusual effect of making the tongue tingle and the mouth salivate. Grows to an average of 12″ tall. Tender annual.

Monarda'JacobClime'3 (2)Monarda didyma – Bee Balm or Bergamot is an excellent choice for edible gardens, as both the aromatic leaves and flowers are quite tasty. Expect an Earl Grey tea to slightly minty (Monarda is in the mint family) flavour from both of these. The large blooms make a stunning garnish for those tall glasses of iced tea in the heat of summer. Attracts hummingbirds. Grows 12-48″ depending on cultivar. Z4.

Boragoofficinalis (3)Borago officinalis – Borage is an old-fashioned medicinal plant with beautiful starry blue edible flowers that are much favoured by the bees. The blooms have a slightly peppery flavour making them a good choice for summer salads or even a Bloody Mary garnish – they can also be candied for use as cake decorations. The leaves are equally edible with a cool cucumber flavour. Grows 2-3′ tall. Self-seeding annual.

AlceaRed (2)Alcea rosea – While Hollyhocks may be somewhat lacking in the taste department (they are a bit bland), they more than make up for this with their range of colours and visual pop. The often glossy flower petals make an ordinary salad look like a culinary wonder. The raw leaves are also edible which is why it is raised as a food crop in Egypt, but grow under eaves in wetter climates due to fungus. 4-8′ tall. USDA zone 2.

Cerciscanadensisblooms (2)Cercis canadensis – Redbud is one tree that provides a lot of ‘bang for the buck’ in the edible department. The tasty flowers emerge before the leaves and have a sweet, nutty pea flavour – these are available in a range of colours from white to lavender-pink. They are excellent when cooked into crepes or muffins and the young pea pods can be eaten (in moderation) when lightly cooked. Grows 20-25′ tall. USDA zone 6.

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ficuscarica'Dauphine' (3)Ficus carica ‘Dauphine’ (syn. ‘Violette Dauphine’, ‘Argenteuil Red’) – Commonly grown in southern France, this San Pedro-type fig will bear one crop without pollination. The fruit ripens to a deep purplish-brown skin with strawberry-amber flesh that is quite sweet and juicy. The breba crop fruits are quite large, usually weighing 100-120 grams. ‘Dauphine’ grows 12 to 15′ tall. Hardy to USDA zone 7.

FicusCarica'GentilBianco'2 (2)Ficus carica  ‘Gentil Bianco’ – A green to yellow-skinned edible fig with pale pink flesh, this cultivar is immensely popular in Europe. This Italian variety generally produces a breba crop in July, with the main crop (produced in September in warmer regions) usually failing in the Pacific Northwest. Like all figs grown in cool coastal gardens, the site chosen should be warm with good drainage and winter shelter. 10-12′. Zone 7

Ficuscarica'RondedeBordeaux' (3)Ficus carica ‘Ronde de Bordeaux‘ – A versatile French cultivar with small to medium (35-45g) sized deep purplish-black figs with juicy strawberry-pink flesh. These are borne in abundance on a bushy plant with excellent vigor. The fruit is suitable for drying but must be picked at peak ripeness for fresh eating as the shelf life is rather short. ‘Ronde de Bordeaux’ grows 12-15′ tall. Hardy to USDA zone 7.

FicusCarica'Jordan' (2)Ficus carica ‘Jordan’ – This cultivar was selected from edible figs growing around the river Jordan in Israel but is still cold hardy. It bears reddish-purple fruits with bright strawberry coloured flesh that is quite juicy and tasty. It comes into bearing at a young age (produces in August) and like most common figs is self-fertile. ‘Jordan’ grows 10 to 12′ tall depending on locale. Hardy to USDA zone 7.

Ficuscarica'ChicagoHardy' (3)Ficus carica ‘Chicago Hardy’ (syn. ‘Bensonhurst Purple’) – This variety is considered one of the hardiest edible figs and has been grown successfully in sheltered sites (with protection) of zone 5. The fruit is medium-sized with brown to purple skin and sweet pink flesh. It is an excellent choice for container culture due to its cold hardiness. ‘Chicago Hardy’ grows 10-14′ tall (shorter in colder climates). USDA zone 5-6.

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CitrusOrange'Seville' (2)Citrus x aurantium – The Seville Sour Orange is primarily grown for its tartness which is invaluable in the production of marmalade. It is self-fertile with fragrant white flowers and can be brought indoors into a bright room for winter protection. This particular specimen was grown in a coldframe with minimal heat by Bob Duncan of Fruit Trees and More in Saanich, BC. USDA Zone 9.

CitrusLemon'Eureka' (3)Citrus limon ‘Eureka’ – A standard lemon cultivar that produces large (and relatively seedless) fruits, often at a young age. This cultivar was obtained by seed brought in from Sicily and planted in California in the late 1850’s. It is self-fertile and grows 10-12′ tall when grown outdoors, smaller as a container specimen on dwarfing rootstock. ‘Eureka’ lemon is hardy to USDA zone 9.

CitrusVariegatedCalamondin1 (2)x Citrofortunella mitis ‘Variegata’ – This compact citrus is hardier and more attractive than most, with white-edged variegated foliage and juvenile fruit. The latter mature to 1 inch diameter orange fruits which can be used in juices or marmalade, and have a distinct sour lime flavour. With enough light, this self-fertile cultivar will produce fruit year-round. 3-5′ tall on dwarfing rootstock. USDA zone 8.

Citrus'KeyLime'thorned (2)Citrus x aurantifolia – The Key Lime comes in both thorned and unthorned cultivars, both of which bear green fruits (yellow when fully ripened) used in the classic Key Lime pie and cocktails. It is self-fertile and will produce year-round with adequate light and heat, but needs to be overwintered indoors in cooler regions. The small 2″ fruits are seedier but more flavourful than traditional limes. USDA zone 10.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACitrus x paradisi ‘Cocktail’ – The Mandelo or Cocktail Grapefruit is a Pommelo x Mandarin hybrid that was developed  at the research station at the University of California. The fruit is smaller than a standard grapefruit with yellow skin, yellowish-orange flesh and a sweet grapefruit flavour. Cocktail Grapefruit grows 3-5′ tall on ‘Flying Dragon’ rootstock. Hardy to USDA zone 9.

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Rare Fruits

Cornusmas'Elegant' (2)Cornus mas ELEGANT – A newer variety of Cornelian Cherry out of Ukraine with pear-shaped fruit which mature to a dark red. These are quite sweet and can be eaten fresh or processed into jams, liqueurs and sauces. The bright yellow late winter blooms also make this a very worthwhile ornamental tree, as these are borne on bare branches. Grows 20′ tall by 15′ wide. Hardy to USDA zone 4.

Acca sellowiana Ripe Fruit (2)Acca sellowiana – Pineapple Guava is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that is native to South America. It bears both edible flowers (which taste like Cotton Candy) and fruits (expect a pineapple-mint flavour) , with the latter ripening very late in the Pacific Northwest, usually November. Cross-pollination is also necessary for fruit production with most of the cultivars. Grows 5-6′ tall. Hardy to USDA zone 7.

Gaulnettya'WisleyPearl'1 (2)Gaultheria x wisleyensis ‘Wisley Pearl’ – Gaulnettya is a self-fertile hybrid of G. shallon (Salal) and G. mucronata (Pernettya or Prickly Heath). It produces an abundance of purplish-pink berries (in September) which have a mild flavour. Gaulnettya is an acid-loving shrub that was discovered at the RHS garden at Wisley, England. Grows to about 3′ tall. Hardy to USDA zone 6.

Assimina'PennsylvaniaGold' (2)Asimina triloba ‘Pennsylvania Golden’ – An early ripening PawPaw which makes it a good choice for cooler coastal gardens. The species is a deciduous tree native to Eastern North America with dark burgundy flowers followed by large, often clustered fruits with tropical flavoured (banana, mango, pineapple) pulp. Cross-pollination is required for fruit production. Grows 12-15′ tall. USDA zone 5.

ChileanGuava6 (2)Ugni molinae – Chilean Guava or Tazziberry is an evergreen shrub native to Chile and Argentina with white heather-bell blooms in late spring. These are followed by absolutely delicious red berries that have a unique strawberry-guava flavour. This tender shrub is readily available at garden centres but will require some shelter in our winters. Grows 5-6′ tall and wide. Hardy to USDA zone 8.

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World Crops

HornedMelonRipe (2)Cucumis metuliferus – Horned Melon, Kiwano or Jelly Melon is an African native with green pulp that sports tastes of banana, cucumber and lime. The ripe fruit has a yellow to orange skin with prominent spikes and the hollowed-out shell makes an interesting serving dish. The jelly is usually eaten fresh with a little sugar sprinkled on it to enhance the flavour. The 6-9″ long fruits ripen in about 120 days.

egyptianwalkingonion2 (2)Allium x proliferum – Egyptian Walking Onion or Tree Onion get their names from the fact that the produce heavy bulbils on their growth tips that cause them to flop over and touch the soil, where they root in or ‘walk’. They are actually a cross of Welsh and domestic onions that are planted in spring (about a foot apart). The greens can be harvested  at any time, while the bulbs and bulbils in late summer. 65-80 days.

ChayoteMelonSechiumEdule2 (2)Sechium  edule  – Chayote is a staple of Central and South American diets but is quickly gaining mainstream popularity. It is a member of the squash family and grows like a vine with clinging tendrils, while usually cooked, it is occasionally eaten raw. There are both smooth-skinned and prickly varieties, with the latter considered better tasting by many. Ripens in 120-150 days.

AsparagusPea3 (2)Tetragonolobus purpurea (syn. Lotus tetragonolobus) – Asparagus Pea or Winged Bean is native to tropical climes but grows readily as an annual in temperate regions. It produces gorgeous ruby red flowers followed by winged or four-sided pods that have a mild asparagus flavour. Best picked young (3″ or less) and cooked lightly with steam or stir-fried. Asparagus Pea ripens in 60-75 days.

Karelamelon (3)Momordica charantia – Karela or Bitter Melon is a staple of East Indian cooking and is used as much for its medicinal benefits (in regards to diabetes) as it is for its culinary value. There are several varieties available including a long, slightly smoother one in China, while the smaller spikier fruits are popular in India and Pakistan. It is generally cooked when green or pale yellow. Ripens in 70-100 days.

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