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.

Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) Photo: Carol Witham

Big saltbush (Atriplex lentiformis) — Big saltbush produces thousands of edible, salty leaves that are excellent mixed into potato tacos or baked in lasagnas. Young leaves have the mildest flavor.

Red maids (Calandrinia menziesii) — This is another easy to-grow annual with tasty edible leaves.

Red maids (Calandrinia menziesii) Photo: Barry Breckling

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!

Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) Photo: Steve Matson

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.

Cleveland sage hybrids (Salvia clevelandii hybrid) Photo: Calscape

Oreganillo (Aloysia wrightii) — Sometimes call Wright’s Beebrush, this is a desert oregano with a hint of citrus, perfect for flavoring frijoles, potatoes, and many other dishes.

Oreganillo (Aloysia wrightii) Photo: Keir Morse

Sweet Fruits

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.

Roger’s Red grape (Vitis californica ‘Roger’s Red’) Photo: Jim Wadsworth

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.

Golden currant (Ribes aureum) Photo: Gary Monroe

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.

Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) Photo: Zoya Akulova-Barlow

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.

Nevin’s barberry (Berberis nevinii) Photo: Aaron E. Sims

Mexican elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea) — The Mexican elderberry is a great small tree that provides pounds and pounds of elderberry clusters good for jams, jellies, or drinks.

Woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca) — The woodland strawberry is a gorgeous evergreen groundcover for slightly shady areas, producing sweet strawberries for months.

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!

Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) – A favorite desert patio tree, the honey mesquite produces pounds of edible seed pods with little care.

Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) Photo: Bob Sivinski

Antonio Sanchez is a native plant horticulture expert working at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.


    1. Most California native plants are adapted to growing in arid or semi-arid climates. I’m thinking that a hydroponic growing style would not complement these adaptations. If you’d like to experiment, though, look for species adapted to a riparian habitat where the species are accustomed to a wetter environment.

      1. mmhm i’d imagine that species that native people in Tulare Lake or the Delta used would probably be a good place to start 🙂

  1. Is there a book, or training resource for beginners wanting to include edible native plants to a backyard “kitchen garden”? Also where would one purchase seeds or pre-started plants?

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