Garden Q&A – Edible native plants for the home garden
CNPS Garden Q&A with Antonio Sanchez, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
What edible native plants would you recommend I plant for my home garden “foraging”?
Fall planting season is here, and most folks are sure to throw in some native plants that will help feed local bees, butterflies and other insects … but why let the bugs have all the fun?! Let’s feed our families too! Below are a few pointers for some edible California native plants that look good in your garden and even better on your plate.
Note from Anthony: Special thanks to local native folks who have taught many of us how to use and respect these foods and traditions. Buen provecho!
Edible Greens and Bulbs
Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) — Miner’s lettuce is our state’s easiest-to-grow (and eat) leafy green. Sow the seed of this annual in light sun/shade with winter and spring rains for months of lettuce.
Also, most of our native Allium and Triteleia are gorgeous in the garden and delicious in meals. Use all parts of Allium as you would chives and onions, and Triteleia corms make excellent small potato substitutes.
Herbs and Spices
Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) — The hummingbird sage is easy to grow and use! A few fresh leaves blended with honey or agave syrup are perfect on your morning waffles. A handful of leaves boiled in water make a light tropical tea. Fry fresh leaves in vegetable oil for 30 seconds for local hummingbird chips!
Cleveland sage hybrids (Salvia clevelandii hybrid) — Mild-flavored sage hybrids like ‘Aromas’ are perfect for everyday cooking. Use fresh leaves in recipes like Cleveland sage pesto or sage ice cream. Soak leaves in olive oil for a delicioso fusion, or use leaves to flavor your own beer.
Roger’s Red grape (Vitis californica ‘Roger’s Red’) — This is California’s easiest to grow (and eat) sweet fruit. One plant can produce dozens of clusters of delicious purple grapes for weeks in late summer.
Golden currant (Ribes aureum) — The golden currant is one of our earliest fruiting shrubs, with a heavy spring crop of sweet orange to purple currants. Plant multiple specimens for best production and flavor diversity.
Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) — Huckleberry is easier to grow in most California gardens than its famous relative, the blueberry. Following guidelines for blueberry plant pruning has led to better fruit production in huckleberries as well.
Nevin’s barberry (Berberis nevinii) — Nevin’s barberry produces thousands of tiny sweet fruits right off the shrub with no supplemental irrigation. And Oregon Grape (Berberis aquifolium) produces hundreds of tart purple berries good for jams, pies, and mixing with sweeter fruits.
Grains and Flours
Big saltbush (Atriplex lentiformis) — A quinoa relative, the saltbush has fruits/seeds that are salty and delicious. Try roasting and grinding for a smoky gluten-free flour, or soak and boil as a quinoa replacement. Plant at least one female and one male plant for fruit/seed production!
Antonio Sanchez is a native plant horticulture expert working at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.