Hello and welcome to Tendrils! The weather has been horrible this week, so I have mainly been an indoor gardener. I did venture out to the Plotting Shed to repot the Madeira Vine (Anredera cordifolia) that lives on the kitchen windowsill. It is delightfully unfussy as a houseplant, although it does have a tendency to clamber over everything in sight. This could be considered a bonus in a plant with edible leaves! Mine had started heaving itself out of the pot, and was looking a little worse for wear, so I gave it a haircut (the leaves are in the fridge for now). It turned out to have a mild infestation of scale insect, but they’re easily picked off the flat leaves, and a quick rinse washes off their sticky residue. I was a bit stunned to find it had produced some nice, nobbly roots. These are edible, so I pulled two off to try (they’re also in the fridge for now!). According to Radix, they are at their best when roasted. I’ll let you know… I’m planning on doing more eating from the garden next year.
The Madeira (or Mignonette) vine is a tender perennial. In our climate it’s not a problem, but elsewhere it can become invasive. Anredera cordifolia: Pest or Food Crop? and Madeira Vine: an ironic Harvest discuss the ins and outs of eating/cultivating it in a scenario where it could spread out of control.
The David Suzuki Foundation has been talking about the delicious benefits of edible perennial plants this week, illustrated with a rather lovely photo of oca foliage by yours truly 🙂 Madeira vine isn’t on the list, but plenty of other things are, including Caucasian spinach (Hablitzia tamnoides). I seem to have managed to kill my plant (too much time spent in a small pot with inadequate watering, I think), so I have ordered another from The Backyard Larder. I’m planning on planting it straight into the ground when it arrives; it’s an extremely cold-tolerant plant that produces a wealth of edible foliage during the ‘hungry gap’ in early spring. It should be a valuable addition to the garden.
I haven’t delved under the soil to take a look at my ulluco and oca harvest this year yet; it’s just about time (two weeks or so since a hard frost) and other gardeners are gathering theirs in. I think of them as ‘replant perennials’ as – left to their own devices – they would probably persist in the garden, in the same way that potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes do. Archaeologists in the Andes have recently found evidence pertaining to the question of who first farmed potatoes?, but it’s unlikely we’ll ever have a definitive understanding of potato domestication. Life sure would be different if those early farmers hadn’t bothered….
Of course, native plants sometimes get shelved in favour of foreign imports. The reasons are complicated; it’s not always because they’re nicer! (Although sometimes it is 😉 ). A recent edition of the BBC’s Food Programme took a look at wild spices growing in Scotland. There’s also a brief section on Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus), a perennial that divides opinion. Some think it’s a wonderful plant that brings abundance to the kitchen garden; others think it’s nasty and should be confined to the history books! It may all be down to proper preparation (which, as we all know, prevents p*ss poor performance!).
The one and only time I have encountered Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus aculeatus) was in Blean Woods when I was an ethnobotany student. In a festive turn of events, it also turns out it’s called Knee Holly, possibly because whilst you’re distracted by its lovely red (and poisonous) berries, its spiny ‘leaves’ (botanically they are flat shoots known as cladodes) are ripping at your knees. Young shoots are edible, and one of those ‘asparagus substitutes’ that probably explains why asparagus became so popular, and mature shoots were used by butchers for scouring brooms, hence the common name. Anyway, there’s a point to this rambling, and it’s that inside those berries, Butcher’s broom has edible seeds, which can be turned into a coffee substitute.
Eating your Christmas tree has been a bit of a perennial topic on this blog (a slight obsession – I should probably try it!), but as an alternative to that an artist has come up with a way to waste pine needles into wood. Apparently, 600 million pine trees are chopped down in the EU every year for timber, but their pine needles go to waste. Perhaps it’s time to popularise pine needle tea!
Well, we’re just about done with another edition of Tendrils. I’ll just add in a quick non-perennial link – Garden Organic have a nice page about Pumpkins, squashes and the whole cucurbit family with some pumpkin porn for you to drool over. If you’re stuck for a gift for a gardener then membership of their Heritage Seed Library is a good one (but does require Garden Organic membership); it’s simpler to Adopt-a-Veg, which pays to support their work conserving heritage varieties, and comes with seeds….
Enjoy your weekend, everyone, and I hope to see you all back here next week for another surprising edition of Tendrils!
This blog post was written by Emma Cooper and was published on The Unconventional Gardener website. If you're reading it elsewhere you may want to navigate away from plagiarised content.