Dual- and multi-purpose plants are ideal for home gardens because you can get so much of a return on your gardening investment. Some plants have fully edible roots, shoots, leaves, flowers, and fruits. Others have both edible and medicinal qualities.
Food security is incredibly important right now, so choosing species that can double, triple, or even quadruple your harvest yield is a really good idea. We’ve put together a list of several species to add to your growing list this year.
1. Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas)
Not only are sweet potato tubers delicious, their leaves are edible, tasty, and incredibly nutritious. They’re known as camote tops in South America, and are packed with vitamins A and C, iron, folic acid, potassium, and more.
Plant your sweet potato slips as soon as you can after the last frosts have passed. They thrive in heat, in sandy, well-drained soil, and need several months of consistent warm weather and sunshine to thrive.
Harvest the leaves any time, and blanch them lightly to soften them and remove any bitterness. Then cook them as you would spinach.
2. Amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor/Amaranthus hypochondriacus/Amaranthus caudatus)
This gorgeous plant’s leaves taste a lot like chard/silverbeet when cooked, and its ripe grains can be cooked like rice or oatmeal. Alternatively, you can process the dried grains into a fabulous gluten-free flour with a grain mill or clean coffee grinder.
3. Turnip (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa)
A lot of people are unsure of how to use turnips, but they’re remarkably versatile. These hardy root vegetables are delicious when roasted with garlic, olive oil, and herbs, or they can be grated to add to potato pancakes. You can even mash them into potatoes to make a more nutrient-dense topping for shepherd’s pie.
Best of all, their greens are an absolute delight. They’re quite fiery when raw, but sweeten beautifully when steamed or braised lightly.
4. Beet (Beta vulgaris)
This is another root vegetable that has edible greens. Beet leaves are highly antioxidant, and are even more nutrient-dense than the roots.
The roots themselves can be eaten raw or cooked. Try them grated raw into salads, or cooked into soups like borscht. They sweeten when roasted, and pair well with goat cheese, pears, and walnuts.
5. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum spp.)
These aren’t just great companion plants that attract pollinators to your garden: they’re fully edible. The flowers are spicy, the leaves are delicious both raw and cooked, and you can brine new flower buds into capers.
6. Mint (Mentha spp.)
There are many different mint varieties, with some having more uses than others. Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is ideal for stomach upsets, while spearmint (Mentha spicata) is delicious in salads, and perfect for mouthwashes and toothpastes.
Just make sure to grow your mint in pots, otherwise they’ll take over your entire garden.
7. Beans (Phaseolus and Phaleous sp.)
The humble bean might not seem like a dual-purpose plant, but remember that with most varieties, you can eat the young pods as well as the mature beans. You can also allow the pods to dry on the vine and save the dried beans within to rehydrate in the future, for winter soups and stews.
As an added benefit, beans will fix nitrogen into your soil. Aren’t they fabulous?
8. Burdock (Arctium spp.)
You might be familiar with this plant because you’ve had to pick its annoying, sticky seed heads (burrs) off your clothing (and pets) in autumn. What you might not know, however, is that it’s a tasty and medicinal ally to have on your land, if you have the space.
Burdock roots can be cooked and eaten like potatoes, and their young flowers taste like artichokes when steamed. The root also has many medicinal properties.
Additional bit of hilarious info: those sticky burdock seed balls were the inspiration for Velcro.
9. Pumpkins (Cucurbita sp.)
Pumpkin flesh can be used to make both savory and sweet dishes, ranging from soups and stews to pies and muffins. You can also stuff and cook the blossoms like other squash varieties. In Korea, the leaves are often used in kimchi as well.
While your soups and pies are simmering or baking merrily, you can eat the dried and/or roasted seeds (pepitas) as a great protein source that’s loaded with zinc and magnesium.
*Tip: If you’re short on garden space, aim for a smaller variety, like the small sugar pumpkins from Seeds Now. This variety is a semi bush plant, so it doesn’t sprawl everywhere, and the sweet, 7″-diameter fruits are perfect for pies.
10. Sunflowers (Helianthus)
These bright, cheerful Asteraceae family members are edible at several different stages of their lives, making them one of the best multi-purpose plants for your garden.
For example, their juicy, meaty sprouts are gorgeous raw in salads, and the young leaves can be eaten raw, or cooked lightly like any other green.
Sunflower stalks are edible too! Cut them while they’re still young and pliant, and eat them raw or cooked. They taste a bit like a cross between celery and asparagus.
Once buds form, pull off the bitter sepals and then steam or boil them like artichokes. If you manage to leave some buds on the plant, try picking some of the petals to add to summer salads.
Finally, the mature flower heads develop luscious, fatty seeds. To harvest, cut off the heads and place them in a well-ventilated, dry room to mature. Once the disk on the back of the flower turns dark brown, the seeds are ready to be removed.
Rub the seeds free into a large bowl, then eat them raw, or roasted are 350F for 10-12 minutes. Let these cool, add salt to taste, and either devour or store in airtight glass jars until you’re ready to eat them.
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