Native plants in a food garden: Options for the northeast

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Overgrown blueberry bushes at a local blueberry farm

Hey folks, you may have noticed that I’ve been missing in action the past month or so. Honestly I have no excuse except that a lot has happened. I’ve been traveling some (camping mostly), and I’ve been doing lots of harvesting at work (I work at a local organic farm), in my own garden, and at local u-pick places. I haven’t had much time to write anything so instead of throwing quick, useless posts up here I just left things alone.

Anyway, I’ve been interested in incorporating more native plants into my garden, if not now then definitely in the future. I’ve been exploring the options for my area. Initially it seemed like there wasn’t much, but I decided to expand my search to species that are not necessarily commonly cultivated. Here’s what I’ve found:

Herbaceous annuals:

  • Redroot amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) – the greens of this species can be used as a salad green and the seeds can be ground and used as a flour substitute
  • Bird pepper (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum) – this wild parent of modern chili peppers can be harvested and used like any other chili pepper
  • Field pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) – many squash species were introduced from South America, but this species appears to be native to the northeast
  • Common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – I’ve always loved sunflowers and now I have another reason to keep them around

Herbaceous perennials:

  • Wild garlic (Allium canadense) – this wild bulb can be used as a flavoring in all sorts of dishes, just like other varieties of garlic. It’s easy to cultivate, too
  • Wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) – this woodland species can be cultivated. The bulbs look like scallions and can be used in the same way
  • Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) – this herb is used as an immune booster
  • Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) – this is the native ancestor of the strawberries you see at the supermarket. These are often smaller than commercial berries but just as delicious
  • Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) – this delicious root vegetable spreads like a weed

Shrubs:

  • Serviceberry/juneberry (Amelanchier arborea) – this early-fruiting purple-red berry tastes a little like a blueberry
  • Black and red chokeberry (Photinia melanocarpa; Photinia pyrifolia) – these shrubs produce beautifully scented flowers and tart berries that have high antioxidant content
  • Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) – most people know the fruit of this species, but the leaves are edible as well
  • Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) – this species has long been used as a folk remedy and is still used as an immune booster due to its high antioxidant content. Stick with the black-fruited species of elderberry, as the red-fruited species will make you sick.
  • Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium; Vaccinium corymbosum) – who doesn’t love blueberries?
  • Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon; Vaccinium oxycoccos) – these wetland species thrive in acidic soils and produce edible, tart berries

Vines:

  • Groundnut/indian potato (Apios americana) – this perennial vine produces both edible beans and tubers
  • Wild grapes (Vitis aestivalis, Vitis labrusca, Vitis riparia) – these species of grapes grow wild in the northeast

Trees:

  • Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) – this northernmost representative of the custard-apple family produces greenish-yellow fruit which are the largest fruits indigenous to North America
  • Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) – Native Americans have been eating this wild nut for thousands of years. The husks of these nuts can be difficult to remove, but are tasty and can be eaten raw or cooked
  • American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) – this species is native to southern New York State and produces orange to reddish-purple edible fruits in the fall
  • Black walnut/Butternut (Juglans nigra; Juglans cinerea) – these common tree species have nuts with incredibly hard shells and not much meat inside.
  • Common juniper (Juniperus communis)- the berries of this common species are used to flavor gin and are also a good flavoring for game and other meat. These berries take two years to mature.
  • American plum (Prunus americana) – these native plums are edible and delicious in jams/jellies and pies, although they are a little too acidic to be really enjoyable raw
  • Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) – these native cherries are much more sour than black cherries, but are good in jams and jellies. Like the black cherry, the leaves of this species are poisonous so stick to the berries
  • Black cherry (Prunus serotina) – this species is common in the northeast, but many people overlook the dark, edible berries this species produces. Be careful, though, the leaves are poisonous

Do you know of any other native plant species that can be used in native plant food gardens?

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One thought on “Native plants in a food garden: Options for the northeast

  1. Pingback: 7 Factors that Affect Seed Germination | living on a green thumb

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