Today I’m going to teach you how to find rare edible plants.
I got this idea thanks to a somewhat negative review of Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening I noticed a few weeks back. Every once in a while, I get a less-than-positive review that makes me think, “hey, that’s worth answering!”
Joseph makes a good point. Some of the rare edible plants in my book ARE hard to find. You won’t be able to get them from most mail order catalogs or from your local nursery.
The reason my book contains these plants is because it’s a book on TOTALLY CRAZY EASY FLORIDA GARDENING!
I hate having to work really hard at growing food… so to get out of all that work, I looked for serious shortcuts.
What I did in the years before I wrote the book was gather together a wide variety of edible plants and test them to see which ones were the easiest and most productive, regardless of rarity.
Some plants which are widely reported to be “easy,” like comfrey, are NOT easy to grow in Florida. It grew like a weed in Tennessee. Not here!
Many other plants are stupid easy to grow – but I never see them covered in Florida gardening books, even though they should be well known. Crops such as true yams and cassava rarely make the grade – but you can bet they’ll have lots to say on tomatoes, which are one of the harvest things to grow in a Florida garden.
I tested crops that grow in similar conditions to Florida. Regions with hot summers (such as Southeast Asia), occasional freezes (like the Mediterranean) and plenty of humidity (like the Caribbean) featured prominently in my hunt.
Snake beans and kang kong from Asia… yams from Africa… chaya from Mexico…
Most Florida gardening books are focused on mostly European crops, because that’s where most of our gardening traditions originated from. Many of those crops, which thrive in the New England states, are harder to grow down here.
So – where do you find some of these rare edible plants? Here are five sources.
Ebay is GOLD for Rare Edible Plants
Ebay is a good source for a variety of strange and esoteric plants. I’ve gotten some good things there – and I’ve gotten some flops. You can find more than you think by searching the listings.
Go – take a look. Right now the Plants, Seeds and Bulbs section has over 200,000 listings. That’s a lot of rare plants.
Here’s what I got when I typed in “edible plant”:
You could blow your life’s savings collecting rare plants from ebay. Just watch out for all the weird, scammy plant sellers on there, as I cover in this video:
There are some great sellers in the US and Canada, but if you see stuff coming from China, Indonesia, India, etc… beware. A lot of those seeds are junk.
Mail Order Nurseries
Mail order nurseries are a good place to find some rare edible plants.
I’ve gotten some really cool plants from Peaceful Valley, from Burnt Ridge Nursery, and from Woodlanders, which carries some REALLY rare edibles. They even have Abelmoschus manihot, the rare edible-leafed hibiscus I mention in the book as being great for salads.
There are also some well-known nurseries I DON’T like, like Willis Orchards, Gurney’s and TyTy Georgia. They offer a lot of stuff; and, in my humble opinion, most of it stinks. TyTy Georgia nursery seems to put a lot more effort into pics of half-clad teens caressing fruit than they do into actually growing good stuff.
Baker Creek has a great seed catalog with some cool heirlooms in it.
Territorial Seed is a great one company as well, especially for those of you in the upper left quadrant of the country. The owner is quite knowledgeable.
I also like Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
Burpee Seeds is a reliable company with great quality control.
On the other hand, I’ve had bad luck with Seedman.com selling seeds that just won’t germinate. Great list, but man…
Intead if hitting Home Depot or Lowes or Walmart for buying plants, I highly recommend you hunt down good local nurseries. Chances are, there are some niche nurseries which share your particular plant interests. A reader contacted me and said that Quality Green Specialists was a good nursery for Florida. You’ll find their edible plants here – including olive trees. I haven’t been there, but in Florida, I like the Mosswood Farm Store in Micanopy, Blue Star Nursery in Hawthorn, Taylor Gardens Nursery in Sparr/Citra, Spyke’s Grove Nursery in Davie, Pietro’s PawPaws in Ocala, and Chiappinni’s Native Farm and Nursery in Melrose. There are probably more I’m missing, too, but look around. Hit the local places and support small nurseries. Or start your own!
You all know how much I like hunting through ethnic markets for rare edibles I can grow and propagate.
You can also buy squashes and save the seeds, not to mention interested bags of dried beans and seeds. Pigeon peas, moth beans, favas and herb seeds are common finds.
I’m a member of the Gainesville Gardening & Preparedness group…
…and I’m also friends with the organizer of Permaculture Ocala (there’s a Facebook group but I’m not on Facebook or I’d link it). I’ve also joined a half-dozen other gardening groups on Meetup.com.
You can also join rare fruit groups and other local gardening clubs to find people growing interesting and delicious plants.
Gardeners are well-known for sharing seeds, roots and cuttings. Make friends. Go get ’em!
I’ve also seen some exchanging take place at the excellent Permies.com website.
Go and hunt!
My friend Josh Jamison at H.E.A.R.T. in Lake Wales (see my video tour from a few years back here) has informed me that they now have “a sales nursery at H.E.A.R.T. featuring any rare perennial edible anyone could want.” Check them out here.
What it all boils down to, my friends, is that if you’re having a hard time finding rare plants, you need to join ebay and start bidding, go make some friends in the plant community, hit up some ethnic markets, or just spend some more time searching with Google.
Yes, I cover some hard-to-find stuff in my book, but it’s by no means impossible to obtain.
Consider Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening: The Secret to Growing Piles of Food in the Sunshine State to be your Florida treasure map, taking to you to a place of delicious edible gardening with little or no work.
I love Florida and I love Florida gardeners.
I want you to have such ridiculous success that you garden for the rest of your life.
I’ve tested the crops already and many of you have already written to share your successes. The wheel has already been invented… you just need to go hunting and get it rolling.