Now that you’ve seen our top 5 edible garden shrubs, take a look around for these edible garden perennials. They may already be in your garden, waiting for a trip to the kitchen!
As always, make very sure of your identification before eating these plants.
Bee balm (Monarda didyma)
Bee balm’s pink or red flowers look like fireworks over minty green leaves. Cottage gardeners love it, especially as it draws in bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. It can take full or part sun, and it’s ideal for slightly wet spots.
Bee balm makes a great tea, and the flowers and leaves can be chopped up to use as you would oregano.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Everyone knows the dandelion, whose cheery yellow flowers turn to magic puffballs perfect for blowing on—and reseeding everywhere. But dandelion is versatile in the kitchen, too.
Dandelion salad is a traditional spring tonic to get the blood moving after a long winter of heavy foods. The bitter greens are loaded with vitamins and taste best before the flowers bloom. You can fry or boil buds before they open, or you can pull the yellow petals and use them to make dandelion wine. Even the taproots are edible.
Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)
Stick to the traditional orange tiger lily or ditch lily (Hemerocallis fulva); there’s no telling if the hybrid cultivars in your garden are safe to eat. But once you find a stand of ditch lilies, you can harvest them for use several ways.
The buds can be sautéed or added raw to salads. The early shoots (under 5″ tall) are a mild and crisp vegetable. Dried daylily petals can be sprinkled over food to give a yellow-orange color, while fresh daylily petals are good in salads. And in late fall and winter, the tubers of the plant are a delicious root vegetable, like miniature potatoes. (Note that daylily can cause an allergic reaction in some people.)
Hosta (Hosta spp.)
Beloved of shade gardeners everywhere, hosta comes in a enormous range of leaf sizes and colors. Harvest by slicing off a chunk of the tightly curled shoots when they emerge in late spring. Use a sharp spade to cut off shoots from the outside of the plant, and don’t take more than one-third of the shoots.
New shoots of hosta, still tightly furled, can be chopped up and stir-fried. Shoots that have just a bit of the leaf open are better when blanched in boiling water and then sautéed. The flowers are edible too! Use them in salads or as a garnish.
Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris and M. pensylvanica)
Fern slowly unfurl in spring, in tight rolls called fiddleheads, some of which are delicious. The best fiddleheads come from the ostrich fern, a majestic shade-lover. Here’s how to spot them.
Once you’ve tracked down some ostrich ferns, harvest the fiddleheads while they are still tightly furled, and only take a few from each plant. Boil fiddleheads for 10 minutes, then enjoy their fresh, green flavor alone or with butter or lemon juice.
For more about these edible plants (and many more!), check out Backyard Foraging by Ellen Zachos.