Most of the plants we eat, and grow, at home are annuals.
Annuals are short-lived, having a lifespan - from seed to flower to seed - of only one growing season. Every part of the plant dies at the end of the season, and therefore if one wants to have a continuous crop, the plant has to be replanted every season.
Perennials, on the other hand, are plants that live through many growing seasons. There are hundreds if not thousands of species of plants found in India that provide wonderful edible leaves, flowers, fruit, shoots, roots year after year. Along with the fact that they don’t have to be continuously replanted, there are a number of other benefits to eating and growing perennials:
They are usually well adapted to the climate and can withstand harsh weather better than annuals
Once established they tend to be highly resistant to pests and disease
They are low maintenance
They typically have a higher nutritional value than most annuals
They often have medicinal as well as culinary value
They contribute to the diversity of the ecosystem as well as diversity in our diets
They provide food in different seasons from annuals, giving you more food throughout the year
They are multi-functional in the garden – attracting beneficial insects and pollinators, acting as living ground cover, controlling erosion, providing hedging, fixing nitrogen in the soil and much more.
They help build soil because they remain where they are, continuously adding organic matter, improving soil structure with their roots and so on.
Here’s a list of just some of them, along with which parts are edible.
Sweet potato (Ipomea batatas) – Shoots, Leaves, Tubers
Water Spinach (Ipomea aquatic) – Leaves, Shoots
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum sp.) – Leaves, Flowers [also a vine]
Pumpkin (Curcurbita moschata) – Shoots, Fruit, Flowers
Bindhi/Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) – Fruit
Rosella (Hibiscus sabdariffa) – Leaves, Sepals (‘fruit’), Flowers
Gongura (Hibiscus sabdariffa) – Leaves, Flowers
Kale (Brassica oleracea) – Leaves, Shoots
Chaya/Tree Spinach (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius) – Leaves, Shoots
Katuk/ Chakramuni (Sauropus androgenous) – Leaves, Shoots
Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) – Fresh peas and pods, Dried peas
Yams (Dioscorea sp.) – Tubers
Tapioca/Cassava (Manihot esculenta) – Leaves, Tuber
Taro (Colocasia esculenta) – Tubers, Leaves
Ceylon Spinach (Basella rubra) – Leaves, Shoots
Karela/Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia) – Fruit, Shoots, Leaves
Ivy Gourd (Coccinea grandis) – Fruit, Shoots, Leaves
Winged Bean (Phosphocarpus tetragonolobus) – Pods, Shoots, Leaves, Tuber
Chayote (Sechium edule) – Fruit, Shoots
Passionfruit (Passiflora sp.) – Fruit
Sword Beans (Canavalia gladiate) – Pods
Scarlett Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus) – Pods
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis sp.) – Leaves
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) – Leaves
Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album) – Shoots, Leaves, Flowers
Sissoo spinach (Alternanthera sissoo) – Leaves
Water Spinach (Talinum sp.) – Leaves, Flowers
Note: Some greens have to be cooked before eating or should not be consumed in high quantities, make sure you do some research on what you’re growing before eating it.