Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A Taste of the Unexpected

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Craetagus Azarolus
Forest Gardening certainly seems to be taking off in the UK right now, with new edible ecosystems cropping up all over the place... but it's still such early days and with few long established examples around, it can be hard to find many sources of information on many of the unusual plants that we're putting our faith in for future harvests. For me, the most important factor is what will actually taste good!

Of course everyone's palate is different, so lets share our experiences to get a better picture of what will be really worth growing. Please do write in to share your own experiences!


Cornus Kousa - Chinese Dogwood - Deliciously sweet squishy pulp inside, reminds me of banana. The fruits are fairly small however and the skin tastes disgusting. The best way to eat them is to make a hole in the skin and suck the insides out! - I'm still looking for one of these!

Actinidia Arguta - Hardy Kiwi
Actinidia Arguta - Hardy Kiwi - About the size of a large grape. Sweet and delicious, much like a full sized fuzzy kiwi but with smooth, tender skin, yum!

Hippophae rhamnoides / salicifolia - Sea Buckthorn and Himalayan Sea Buckthorn -  Most will find these tiny fruits far too sour to eat raw but I love to nibble them! They have an intense taste that I can only compare to a very sour passion fruit. I'm sure they'd make wonderful juices and jams. The two species taste very similar.

Arbutus Unedo - Strawberry Tree - Don't believe the myths that these fruits taste disgusting! Once they're ripe they can be sweet, soft and nicely tangy. You may find tiny crunchy particles inside that are fine to eat.

Diospyrus Virginiana - American Persimmon - I tried a few of these that were still hanging on the trees at Plants for A Future in Cornwall in December. Perhaps they were too far gone, very mushy, but still had a nice very sweet, almost caramelly taste. A little like cherry sized versions of their cousins the kaki or sharon fruit.

Cephalotaxus - Plum Yew - Not my favourite this one - it has a bizarre resinous taste that is not quite like anything else. Juicy and sweet but impossible to describe the flavour - better for you to try this one and decide for yourself. Perhaps an acquired taste - some people love them!

Decaisnea fargesii - Blue Bean / Blue Sausage Tree - Open up the pods and you'll find a lot of hard black seeds covered in slimy translucent flesh. The only way to eat them is to take a mouthful of the flesh and seeds and then spit out all the seeds! The flesh has a subtle sweet flavour, a tiny bit like melon.

Rosa Rugosa - Ramana's Rose - A nice tangy tomato-ie taste when grilled but it does take hours to get all those tickly seeds out

Craetagus - Sweet hawthorns - There are many species of hawthorn with nice sweet fruits, like the Azarole (Craetagus azarolus) for example. I find they all taste quite similar, with a fragrant appley taste and nice squishy texture when ripe. Reputed to be good for the heart.

Medlar - Can be wonderful, maybe they need lots of sun to be at their best . I tried some at Permaship in Bulgaria which were so sweet, almost like a squishy date or dried banana. 

Myrtus Ugni (Molinae) - Chilean Guava - Tiny, tiny fruits that are absolutely exquisite! Like aromatic strawberries with a beautiful pine like fragrance.

Vegetables and Salads

Oxalis tuberosa - Oca - I've tried these baked - a very nice lemony taste, can be quite sharp. I'd prefer to mix them up with more bland flavours, or in a salad. Texture like potato.

Tropaeolum Tuberosum - Mashua - Amazing vanilla like fragrance once baked. The flesh inside is sweet and fragrant, the skin has quite a strong peppery/cress taste. A strong taste so better mixed with other ingredients. The leaves of the plant are one of my favourites for salad, tender and with a mild peppery taste.

Acocha - easier to grow than peppers!
Smallanthus sonchifolius - Yacon - I've only tried these raw. Crunchy and sweet, halfway between a fruit and a vegetable. Intriguing more than delicious, and like Jerusalem artichokes, may cause jet propulsion.

 Achocha / Caigua -  This is a climbing annual from the cucumber family. Very easy to grow- I harvested this basketful from one plant growing in average soil with a little shade. The raw fruits are fluffy and tasteless but fry them hot until they're dark and they take on a taste not unlike green peppers!

Epilobium angustifolium - Rose Bay Willow Herb - Anyone can try this for themselves - it grows everywhere. I've found the flavour of the shoots interesting but pretty strong and bitter - they soon get tough and stringy too so best to eat them in April when they're small. The leaves are agreeable in small doses, good in salads. It'd be great for someone to do breeding work on these weeds to get them tender and sweet!

Sedum Spectabile / Telephium - Ice Plant / Orpine - The leaves are fleshy and juicy, quite bland with a curious 'green' taste. Great refreshing salad ingredient in moderation. Brilliant flowers for butterflies too.

Chenopodium album - Fat Hen  - Can tickle your throat when raw but great once cooked - much like spinach. Cultivated in India and known as 'Bathua'.

Allium ampeloprasum - Babington's Leek - The bulbils are like little garlic bombs, great fun in salads.

Claytonia sibirica - Siberian Purslane - This one is quite special, with a wonderfully sweet, earthy taste and crunchy texture. Sadly the raw leaves can really bite at the back of your throat so I prefer them steamed and then to my tongue, they taste better than spinach!

Hablitzia tamnoides - Caucasian Spinach / Spinach Vine - A pleasant mild taste when steamed, similar to spinach or fat hen.

Hemerocallis - Day Lillies  - Both the leaves and flowers have a characteristic sweet musky taste that can cling to your tongue for hours - not everyone's cup of tea! It's been noticed that they're more popular with men than women...


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Gingko Biloba - Inside the smelly fruits you will find a tasty nut!
Quercus Ilex - Holm Oak - These can be nice and sweet roasted on a fire, tasting a bit like chestnuts but others can be bitter. Seems to vary from tree to tree. 

Araucaria araucana - Monkey Puzzle - I've only tried them raw - they're good, a bit like a big peanut. Others say Brazil nut? I'm sure they'd be delicious roasted.

Gingko Biloba - The nuts are quite small but very sweet and tasty once roasted on a fire. Similar flavour to chestnuts.


  1. Useful info, Charlie. Thanks. The mashua plants you gave me are doing brilliantly!
    Do you have any Good King Henry plants? I can't get the seeds to germinate and have been unable to find plants anywhere.
    And yes i agree, edible systems cropping up everywhere in the UK. I'm currently taking Geoff Lawton's online PDC course, which is quite exceptional in the breadth of it's vision, global reach and quality of course material. Very exciting

  2. No Good King H at the moment, sorry Marianne. Fat Hen self seeds everywhere for me so I eat that instead! :)