This guide is straight up beautiful, incredible edibles. If it isn’t pretty and it’s not something you can eat (whether you should or not is debatable) it’s not making this list. Read on, dear gardener, for we are concerning ourselves with the good-looking plants that make teas, wasabis, sweet pies and a whole lot more.
Mission: Impossible Plant
Impossible never stopped an avid anyone, amirite. Wasabi plants are known to be extremely hard to grow and even harder to find in nurseries. We carry them at McLendon’s in late spring but call ahead to make sure they’re in stock. The rhizome and leaves are useful in Japanese cuisines and many other dishes.
GROWING GUIDE: No direct sunlight, not too much shade; needs splashes of water (as from a stream or waterfall); requires constant moisture in the soil (no standing water). Oh and it’ll take two to three years to mature. Any damage to the plant will extend that date even farther, so no bumping leaves when you're weeding. You got this, gardener.
Spilling the Tea on Teaberries
Wintergreen goes by many names. Its tough berries are called teaberries. Some cultivars have a lovely white fruit but most have red berries. They’re mildly sweet and tend to taste better after a hard freeze. Wintergreen foliage can be used dry, fresh or fermented, to make a glorious hot tea.
GROWING GUIDE: Wintergreen does best in bright locations and out of the hot sun. The North American native is evergreen and won’t shed its leaves, but minor pruning in spring will encourage new, bushy growth. Water only when necessary.
Brassica oleracea spp.
Inedible in All But Name
Sure cabbage and kale are edible (or so they say). It’s probably out of fashion to make veggie-hating jokes. Anyways, even lettuce-heads know that some varieties of Brassica oleracea are grown and bred for looks, not taste. These cool-season annuals won’t develop their full color until temps get chilly.
GROWING GUIDE: Ornamental cabbage and kale thrive in cool weather, full sun and slightly acidic, well-draining soil. Plant wherever you please, in beds or in containers. These one-season wonders are marvelously low-maintenance.
Rheum x hybridum
Makes a Killer Pie
Its stalks are a tasty addition to pies. But this perennial’s gigantic leaves could kill you—could being the operative word. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, a natural compound also found in purslane, spinach and parsley. You’d have to eat about 10 pounds of sour, mouth-burning leaves to get sick, and maybe die, which is why you throw them away after tearing off a stalk (lest the temptation be too great).
GROWING GUIDE: In early spring, plant crowns of this sun-loving veggie in well-draining soil at least three feet apart. Wait until the second year to harvest sparingly. Amend soil yearly with compost, high-nitrogen fertilizer or well-decomposed manure. For best flavor, remove any flower spikes as soon as they appear.
Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus
A Whole Lotta Look
An annual elsewhere, artichokes do very well as a Pacific Northwest garden perennial. Artichokes are thistle flower buds, and plants reach a massive six feet in height and diameter. When summer hits, expect at least six artichokes per plant. Have friends over for a BYOB (as in, butter) artichoke feast.
GROWING GUIDE: Thirsty ’chokes need lots of water and nutrient-dense, well-draining soil. Establish new plants after the last frost, hardening off starts for a week before planting outdoors. Give these monsters at least eight feet between them. Amend soil with compost in the spring, and side dress with organic fertilizer every month during the growing season. Artichokes are ready for harvest in their second year. Nip them in the bud, literally, when they’re compact, full and dark green. If they open into a giant thistle flower, let it go and marvel at your beauteous garden gargantuan. Come fall, cut them back to an 8-inch stalk and cover with mulch for the winter.
Beloved by pollinators and culinary enthusiasts alike, bee balm flowers and leaves are a fragrant addition to gardens and dishes alike. A member of the mint family, bee balm aliases include horsemint and wild bergamot. Expect show-stopping, edible, minty scented blooms every summer. Harvest and dry leaves to make a tasty tea reminiscent of Earl Gray.
GROWING GUIDE: This low-maintenance, no-nonsense perennial prefers partial sun and partial shade—and that’s about it. “Bee” aware: Under the right conditions, this plant spreads like warm butter. Choose a mildew-resistant variety, as it’s prone to powdery mildew. In the spring, add compost and mulch well. After the first killing frost, cut plants down to an inch about the soil line.