Growing organic vegetables in your own garden can be incredibly fulfilling and beneficial for your health. While common veggies like carrots and tomatoes are great options, expanding your garden repertoire to include uncommon plants can provide even more benefits. Not only will you have access to unique and interesting produce to incorporate into your meals and snacks, but many uncommon vegetables provide nutritional benefits not found in typical produce.
1. Shiso Perilla: The Exotic Favorite of Tempura and Sushi
If you’re looking for a unique herb to add to your garden, Shiso Perilla is definitely worth considering. This herby and spicy leafy exotic is a favorite ingredient in tempura and sushi.
Stunning red-leaved varieties are available, but the green-leaved varieties are the best-flavored. Shiso is a staple herb in Southeast Asian countries and can be used in a variety of dishes, from cold noodle dishes to hot ramen, and from desserts to beverages.
It has antioxidants, vitamin A, iron, and calcium, and can attract many pollinators to your garden with its beautiful flowers. Shiso is heat tolerant and is only slightly picky when it comes to soil quality, making it a fairly easy plant for beginner gardeners to grow.
2. Oca Tubers: The Vitamin C-Rich Potato Alternative
If you’re looking for a vitamin C-rich alternative to potatoes, try Oca tubers. Also known as Oxalis tuberosa, these South American roots are one of the Lost Crops of the Incas, grown for centuries and still popular in the Andean region today. Despite their vibrant colours, Oca tubers are often overlooked in North America, but that could change as more people discover their delicious and distinctive flavour. Oca tubers need a long season to grow, so they may need protection from frost in cooler climates. Once harvested, they can be boiled, fried or even eaten raw. Try growing Oca tubers in your garden for a colourful and flavourful addition to your meals.
3. Malabar Spinach: The Tender Climbing Leaf of Salads and Stir-fries
If you’re looking for an alternative to true spinach that can thrive in hot weather, try growing Malabar spinach! This heat-tolerant plant is native to tropical Asia and is unrelated to true spinach, but its leaves are remarkably spinach-like in taste and form. Its oval to heart-shaped leaves are thick and semi-succulent with a mucilaginous texture, and can be eaten both raw and cooked.
Malabar spinach is also an eye-catching plant with red stems and dark green glossy leaves that contrast wonderfully. It can grow up to 10 feet long as but generally remains smaller in most gardens. This plant requires consistent moisture and fertile, well-drained soil in full sun.
4. Kohlrabi: The Tender Broccoli-Tasting Swollen Stem
Kohlrabi may not be the most familiar vegetable to many, but it is definitely one that should not be overlooked. With its swollen stem that resembles a tennis ball and ruffled foliage, kohlrabi is an eye-catching addition to any garden.
This plant is a combination of cabbage and turnip, but its flavor is unique and deviates from both. Once peeled, the juicy flesh of kohlrabi is crisp and has a delicate sweetness that can be described as a cross between apples and turnips. Best of all, kohlrabi is easy to grow and highly productive. It is a cool-weather plant that thrives in both spring and fall. With its low-calorie content and richness in vitamins C and A, calcium, potassium, and fiber, kohlrabi is an excellent choice for anyone looking to add a healthy and unusual vegetable to their diet.
5. Amaranth: The Eye-catching Plant with Omega-3 Fatty Acid Seeds
Amaranth is a gorgeous plant that can add variety to any vegetable garden, and it has the added bonus of producing seeds that are packed with healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
This unique plant comes in a variety of colors, including deep red and green, making it a visually appealing addition as well. There is even a variety of amaranth called ‘Red Callaloo’ that is grown for its nutritious leaves.
Amaranth is easy to grow in a sunny spot and will thrive in most soils. With its impressive nutritional profile, eye-catching appearance, and versatile uses, amaranth is definitely worth trying out in your garden this year.