Herbs That Repel Vegetable Pests

Basil'AfricanBlue'blooms (2)Ocimum kilimandsharicum x basilicum ‘Dark Opal’ – African Blue Basil is a sterile hybrid which has a high camphor fragrance which is useful for making spicy pestos. It is an attractive herb with purple-tinted new growth and showy terminal flower spikes. This basil repels many insect pests including mites, tomato hornworm and asparagus beetle. Grows 30″ tall. Annual in regions with frost.

SalviaofficinalisFlowers (2)Salvia officinalis – Common culinary sage is an evergreen perennial that comes in many foliage colours, including purple (‘Purpurascens’), ‘Tricolor’, gold variegated (‘Icterina’) and green (‘Berggarten’) – with the latter being an excellent culinary form. The summer blooms range from blue to a pinkish-purple or white, and are also edible. Sage will repel both cabbage moth and carrot rust fly. 30″. Zone 5.

ThymusvulgarisinBloom (2)Thymus vulgaris – English thyme is a stalwart of the herb garden and a native of southern Europe, so good drainage is a necessity. It is evergreen in mild climates and comes in several variegated forms, with ‘Silver Posie’ being one of the best. It bears white to pale lavender-pink blooms midsummer and repels cabbage looper, whitefly, tomato hornworm and corn earworm. Grows 12″ tall. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

Rosmarinusofficinalis'Rex'inflower (3)Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Rex’ – This upright form of rosemary has thicker leaves with much more essential oil, giving it a strong flavour. It bears blue flowers in early spring and is not as hardy as other cultivars, such as ‘Arp’. That said, the stronger fragrance makes it an effective repellent for cabbage moths, carrot rust flies and Mexican bean beetles. Grows 2 to 4′ tall when grown outdoors. Hardy to USDA zone 7-8.

Chivesinbloom1 (2)Allium shoenoprasum – Common chives are found in most residential vegetable gardens and are close relatives to garlic, leeks and scallions. It is a bulbous perennial whose chopped leaves are used for their mild onion flavour. The pale purple flowers are also edible and make an excellent salad garnish. Chives will repel many insects including aphids, carrot rust fly and Japanese beetles. Grows 18″ high. USDA zone 4.

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More Rare Fruits

Vasconellaxheilbornii'Babaco' (3)Vasconcellea x heilbornii – The Babaco or Mountain Papaya is a naturally-occurring hybrid that hails out of Ecuador. It grows in high elevations, making it cold tolerant but it cannot be grown outdoors anywhere in Canada, so treat as a houseplant and bring indoors for winter (tolerates light shade). The elongated yellow fruits with creamy-white flesh taste of papaya-pineapple-strawberry. Self-fertile. Grows 5-10′ tall. Zone 9 hardy.

PodophyllumMayappleFruitRipe (2)Podophyllum peltatum – Mayapple is a native of eastern North America in shaded woodlands. It is an herbaceous perennial with palmate leaves, fragrant white blooms and a solitary fruit (per stem) with pulp (skin and seeds not edible) which tastes of melon and green apple when fully ripe. All parts of this plant (also known as American Mandrake) are poisonous except the ripened fruit. Grows 18″ tall. Hardy to USDA zone 3.

LoquatFruit (2)Eriobotrya japonica – Loquat is an extremely rare fruit in Canada and can probably only be grown outdoors in southern coastal British Columbia. This specimen was thriving at Fruit Trees and More on Vancouver Island and the juicy yellow fruits tasted of peach-mango, with a citrus tang. These small evergreen trees flower into winter with fruits ripening late spring, so a sheltered site is required. 9-12′. Zone 8.

Passifloraincarnatafruit (3)Passiflora incarnata – This particular species of Passionflower is one of the hardiest but is generally herbaceous in nature, meaning it dies back to the ground for winter. Maypop requires good drainage and a sunny spring exposure but rewards with fragrant pink flowers and goose egg-sized green fruits with edible pulp tasting of lemon-apricot. It can be grown in a large container with support. 5-9′ tall. Zone 6.

JujubeMassandra3 (2)Ziziphus jujube MASSANDRA – Chinese Red Date is a native of southern Asia and forms a small deciduous tree in temperate climates. MASSANDRA is an early ripening cultivar from Ukraine but as with all varieties, cross-pollination increases fruit size and yield. The fruits can be eaten green (green apple flavour) or when fully ripe (reddish-brown) when they taste of apple-date (fruit can also be dried). 8-12′ tall. USDA zone 6.

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European Plums

plumgreengage (2)Prunus domestica subsp. italica ‘Greengage’ (syn. ‘Green Gage’) – The green gage plums were first bred in France from a green-fruited Turkish species. The freestone fruit is round to oval in shape with greenish-yellow skin and sweet yellow flesh. While considered self-fertile, it produces larger crops with cross-pollination. Ripens in September. Grows 12-18′ tall depending on rootstock. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

PrunusDomestica'Stanley'2 (2)Prunus domestica ‘Stanley’ – A reliable prune plum which produces dark purple fruits with sweet yellow flesh. It is freestone and has a high sugar content, which allows them to be sun-dried into prunes. Abundant white flowers are borne in early spring with plums generally ripening in early September. This cultivar is self-fertile. ‘Stanley’ grows 12-18′ tall depending on rootstock. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

plumyellow (2)Prunus domestica ‘Yellow Egg’ – An extremely sweet cultivar of European plum with abundant bright yellow freestone fruits that are generally egg-shaped, but can be roundish. The plums are quite juicy with a honey-like flavour and are produced from late August to September. This English variety has been known since the late 1600’s and is good for canning or fresh eating. Self-fertile. Grows 12-18′ tall. USDA zone 5.

PrunusPlum'Czar'2 (2)Prunus domestica ‘Czar’ – An old English cultivar (circa 1874) which can be hard to find these days. The purple fruits are round to oval and are generally freestone in nature. The plums can be picked a bit early for a tart taste which some prefer or left to fully ripen on the tree for maximum sweetness. ‘Czar’ is an RHS Award of Garden Merit winner. Self-fertile. Grows 12-18′ tall. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

Prunusdomestica'Victoria' (3)Prunus domestica ‘Victoria’ – A tried and true variety which was first discovered in an Alderton, Sussex garden back in 1840. It produces abundant crops of large plums with reddish skin and delicious greenish-yellow to golden flesh. ‘Victoria’ is an RHS Award of Garden Merit winner and generally ripens from late August to September. Self-fertile. Grows 12-18′ tall depending on rootstock. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

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Unusual Edible Nuts

Pinusparvifloranuts (2)Pinus parviflora – Pine nuts are usually found in the gourmet section of urban supermarkets but many ornamental Pinus species also produce edible (albeit smaller) pine nuts. One of these is Japanese White Pine which comes in many varieties including dwarf or variegated cultivars. They are wind pollinated with the cones taking about one year to mature and yield nuts. Grows up to 30′ tall. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

GinkgoNut1Ginkgo biloba – Ginkgo trees are beautiful ornamentals with fishtail-shaped leaves which turn to a distinct butter yellow in the fall. You will need both male (most cultivars are male) and female trees for the latter to produce their yellow plum-like fruits (smell like cat pee, harvest with gloves) which house an inner white nut. These are delicious once roasted but eat in moderation. Grows 50’+ depending on cultivar. Zone 3.

FagussylvaticanutsFagus sylvatica – European Beech was a common street tree back when larger properties were common, but older specimens can often be found in parks or established neighborhoods. The nuts from these mature trees can be gathered, roasted and made into nut butter or used as a substitute in pecan pie. These have a mild natural toxin, so eat in moderation. Grows 50-60′. Hardy to USDA zone 4.

CorylusRed MajesticNutsCorylus avellana ‘Red Majestic’ – This purple-leaved contorted hazelnut or filbert is often referred to as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. Although often considered strictly ornamental, with cross-pollination from a different cultivar it will produce a small crop of tasty nuts. Unfortunately this variety is susceptible to Eastern Filbert Blight, so plant ‘Red Dragon’ if available. Grows 8′ tall and wide. Hardy to USDA zone 3.

CastaneaSativaNuts3Castanea sativa – Sweet Chestnut is a native of southern Europe and North Africa that often finds its way further afield through the efforts of Italian or Portuguese immigrants. They are large, handsome deciduous trees with deep green serrated leaves and spiny-shelled clusters that yield tasty sweet potato and pecan-flavoured nuts. Cross-pollination increases yield and nut size. Grows to 45’+.  Hardy to USDA zone 5.

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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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