Felder’s Edimental Garden
Got into a convo the other day about sassafras trees, and how as kids we used to steep its root bark to make a root beer-like tea and crumble its leaves into gumbo. Which segued into other non-mainstream garden plants we could eat if we got hungry enough.
Some years ago, I developed a little urban foraging brochure which I email to folks who request it, which goes beyond the usual vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, and fruits. Turns out, a stroll around most neighborhoods will uncover quite a few culinary candidates which most people may not appreciate as… well, food.
And this is now quite the trend, with edible landscapes being featured in major flower shows, all based on a newish word coined 8 years ago by foodie author Stephen Barstow: edimental - a mashup of edible and ornamental. Dual-purpose plants which you can eat when you get tired of looking at them.
Rather than being showcased in dedicated plots, they can be dotted informally here and there in shrub or flower beds, containers, as well as the usual mixed potager or kitchen garden. Perfect for folks unwilling or unable to take on the intensity of regular vegetable or herb gardening. Ideal for introducing children to growing food.
This is nothing new, of course. I was raised in my quirky horticulturist great-grandmother’s large landscape with mixed plantings that included a huge variety of fruit and nut plants that were pretty all year, plus uncommon delights such as prickly pear cactus (she cooked both the round pads and the fruits), cassava, Japanese persimmon, elderberry, pawpaw, jujube, and smooth sumac whose berries we steeped into a delightful summer drink.
We ate squash flowers, elephant garlic, and all parts of daylilies and sweet potatoes, leaves and all. While I personally don’t eschew the taste of okra, I prefer it as a heat- and drought-tolerant summer plant with big leaves, pretty flowers, and interesting pods. And my sweetheart has to browbeat me into snipping beautiful blue-green leaves from my blue kale for soups.
My interest in foraging was further piqued by Euell Gibbons’s best seller, Stalking the Wild Asparagus. It’s where I learned that the flowers of orange daylilies have the same nutrition as broccoli and can be eaten the same many ways. Since then, I’ve made tea with fresh pine needles, rose hips, and monarda, cooked bamboo shoots, eaten pyracantha fruits (apple relative), purple beauty berries, mid-winter eleagnus fruits, redbud flowers, wild strawberries, and noshed on raw or steamed tender new shoots of smilax (“green brier”) - just like its cousin, asparagus.
I won’t get into all the delightfully edible plants that sprout in the lawn; whether your worldview sees them as weeds or wildflowers, many are both palatable and edible… and nutritious. Truth is, none of us are more than just a few days away from thinking they are delicious; as the old English saying goes, “Hunger is the best sauce.” So, when it comes to wild violets, lawn onions, henbit, Virginia buttonweed, and chickweed, if you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em!
Important: It’s vital to know edible from poisonous, or how to treat it to make it safe to eat (pokeweed comes to mind), potential allergies, and whether some plants can interact with other medications. Or if lawn weeds have been sprayed. And I never ever recommend harvesting wild mushrooms, without specific guidance from respected experts. Too risky.
So. Edimental, or growing pretty stuff we can also tuck into as food, is now a thing, like permaculture - another newish term for sustainable ancient gardening practices.
Time to join the deer and browse away!