Pretty foliage, flowers and fruit – achocha is an ornamental edible

I love growing unusual edible plants – not only are they potentially useful and easy to grow (because the pests and diseases they suffer from are not widespread), but they can be beautiful too. I’m even looking for like-minded people to feature in my latest book project.

But if you’ve never grown something unusual before, it can be a little daunting. These plants don’t appear in regular gardening books, and although you may be able to find growing information on the internet you may also find that many of the growers are in a different part of the world and have a different climate.

So if you want to start growing unusual edibles but don’t know where to start, you may find the following short list of easy candidates helpful:

  1. Achocha, Cyclanthera species. Achocha seeds are fairly easy to find – Real Seeds sell them and Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library offer them to members. They also regularly appear in seed swaps and on eBay. Once you have your seeds then achocha is an easy plant to grow – it’s a climber, and it’s grown like beans. You can sow your seeds indoors early in the season or sow them outside once the risk of frost has passed. Given something to climb up, achocha plant rapidly form a leafy screen. Small flowers are followed by plentiful teardrop-shaped fruit that can be eaten raw when young or cooked when more mature. The big, hard seeds are easy to save from mature fruits.
  2. Oca, Oxalis tuberosa. Oca is a tuber crop, grown a bit like potatoes. You can chit tubers on the windowsill, and plant them out in early spring. They make small clumps of pretty foliage, which is tinged with the tuber colour – of which there are many varieties. Unlike potatoes, there’s no need to earth up your oca, and the plant is not susceptible to blight. Simply leave the plants in place until the first frosts kill the foliage, and then dig up your harvest of colourful tubers, which have a lemony tang but can be used just like potatoes. Again, it’s easy to save tubers for next year, and you can buy tubers from Real Seeds.
  3. Japanese wineberry, Rubus phoenicolasius is a perennial plant in the same family as raspberries and blackberries and grown in the same way. The difference is that the plant is much prettier and the fruits are kept covered until they ripen, which means far fewer problems with pests. They’re tasty too, but you won’t find them in supermarkets. Plants are fairly widely available, and easily propagated by layering.
  4. Sorrel, Rumex species is a perennial herb that produces large amounts of green leaves with a lemony flavour. There are many varieties, including a pretty red-veined one, and sorrel will be one of the first green leaves available in spring. Easily grown from seed, with seeds widely available, and it’s easy to save your own seeds as well.
  5. Welsh onions, Allium fistulosum is a perennial clumping onion. The leaves can be harvested almost year-round, and make a good substitute for salad onions and chives when those aren’t available. The plant does make small bulbs, and you can dig those up and use them as onions – any you replant will grow into a new clump. Easily grown from seed (which is easy to source) and it’s easy to save your own seed from them on.

Those are just five of the unusual plants I have in my garden that are easy to grow – there are plenty more. Do you have a favourite easy unusual edible?