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.