Although most vegetables are annual, did you know that many wonderful vegetable plants are perennial? Annual plants are those that only grow for one season die when the season is over. Perennial plants are those that will come back at the start of each new season again and again. Here are 28 fabulous perennial vegetables to add to your garden for annual, low-stress harvests.
Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is a leafy green vegetable that originates from Europe. This perennial is closely related to dock (Rumex) varieties, and has long, round-edged, light green leaves. They have a lemon-lime, tart flavour that increases in bitterness as it matures. Therefore, they’re used in salads when the leaves are young, then in stews and soups once fully matured.
It’s high in vitamin C, which helps to strengthen your immune system. It must be noted, however, that due to its high oxalic acid levels, sorrel can’t be eaten by everyone. It can be harmful to livestock, and people who suffer from arthritis or kidney issues. When growing sorrel, it prefers full sun, and cold to moderate climates. Sorrel wilts quickly upon harvesting, and thus should be used immediately.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is technically classified as a wild plant rather than a domesticated one. Regardless, it’s edible (and delicious) and can be cultivated easily. It’s a member of the succulent family—which includes aloe vera—and has small, thick, rounded leaves. These leaves grow on a vine that can reach about 10 cm in length.
If left to mature, purslane will grow small yellow flowers as well. It’s one of few perennial vegetables known to prefer poor soil conditions. In fact, you may have seen it growing in urban sidewalk cracks. Purslane is high in omega 3 acids, which can decrease stroke risk.
This Italian herb thrives well in the Mediterranean’s hot, moist conditions. With special care, however, you too can have this beautiful perennial in your garden. Agretti (Salsola soda) is also known as monk’s beard, opposite-leaved Russian thistle, land seaweed, and Barilla plant.
It’s also a member of the succulent family, and has long, dark green, thick blades with equally long, tawny roots. Agretti germinates at an alarming rate, so if you choose to plant it in your garden, make sure you’re ready for a huge harvest!
If you’re up for the challenge, then growing a crop of cardoons is for you. This Mediterranean vegetable is a member of the daisy family, which gives it long, green stems, with deep purple, spiny, thistle-like flowers. In fact, Cynara cardunculus is often referred to as the artichoke thistle, as it’s similar in flavor. Just spinier.
In order to grow cardoons, you’ll need to keep them blanched. This means that they must receive no sunlight at all in order to retain chewability. You can eat the stems after lightly boiling them as is, but the flowers must have all of their ridges removed, and only the hearts can be eaten.
Of course, you can always grow cardoons simply for aesthetic pleasure. Dairy fans can also boil their nectar to produce an enzyme that closely mimics rennet, and works well in cheese production.
5. Miner’s Lettuce
Although it’s sometimes called “winter purslane”, miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) has a very sweet taste, unlike true purslane’s tart flavor. Miner’s lettuce is native to California, so it needs full sun, warm weather, and moist soil conditions.
This perennial leafy green has long stems with one large, circular, green leaf that curls on the edges and folds itself around the stem. You can harvest each stem about 3 times per season. Just make sure you never cut more than 5 cm from the base of the leaf. Another note is that you should always pick miner’s lettuce leaves in their immature stage—before they sprout flowers.
6. Egyptian Onions
This perennial onion can survive temperatures as low as -29 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, the Egyptian onion (Allium proliferum) can also be known as the “winter onion”. This vegetable has its edible parts on top of a long, slender, dark green reed instead of in the ground like other onion varieties.
The Egyptian onion can create anywhere from 2 to 50 onion bulbs per harvest. They grow on parallel sides of the reed, but can only be harvested once a year. This perennial vegetable must be planted in at least 2 inches of soil, and spaced 2 feet apart from other plants.
If you have an urge to put on some romantic music and eat this vegetable at a fancy candlelight dinner, nobody will blame you. The ancient Romans believed that asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) was an aphrodisiac that could inspire love and passion.
Asparagus is usually one of the first vegetable crops to be harvested in early spring. It’s one of the perennial vegetables that’s a bit tricky to grow, but well worth the effort. Plant your trenches 6-8 inches deep (deeper in sandy soil), and about 12 inches wide. Mix in aged compost before planting anything.
Don’t try to grow this from seeds. Instead, soak 1-year-old asparagus crowns in compost tea for 15-20 minutes before you plant them. Make sure they’re at least 2 feet apart, then cover with 3 inches of soil. Since asparagus plants are monoecious, they’re either male or female. Male plants are more productive (since they don’t have to make seeds), so they’re better for high yields.
8. Good King Henry
Although it’s called Good King Henry, Blitum bonus-henricus can be quite difficult to grow. This perennial plant can be slow to germinate, and is picky about where it grows. It prefers partial shade, warm temperatures, and moist soil through constant watering.
Good King Henry has a thin, green stem, with many large, triangular, green leaves. Its flavor has been compared to spinach, and was popular throughout the Medieval and Tudor eras. If you’re patient, it’s well worth the effort!
Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.) has been getting a lot of attention recently. People who suffer from celiac disease and gluten sensitivity can eat this pseudo-grain in lieu of wheat or rice. Like quinoa, it can be used as a grain substitute in puffed cereal, rice, flour and more.
Its leaves are also edible as young shoots and can be added to salads, while mature leaves can be cooked. They’re popular in the Caribbean, where a dish made of cooked leaves is known as callaloo. Depending on the variety, high temperatures may deconstruct the amaranth’s leaf structure, rendering the leaf inedible.
Amaranth requires well-drained soil so it can mature into long, green stalks with dark purple, elongated flowers.
If you’ve ever travelled down through the southern USA, you likely saw okra’s pepper-shaped pods in markets or prepared dishes. Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) isn’t the most popular vegetable, as it’s pretty much inedible when raw. It has an abundance of sap (making it really slimy), and is very firm in texture.
These pods have a flavorful kick, making them ideal in Cajun and Creole dishes like jambalaya and gumbo. They need hot climates to germinate, or you can sow them indoors before transplanting the seedlings outside in late summer. Be careful, however, as some okra varieties are only annual—not perennial.
In my opinion, arugula (Eruca vesicaria ssp. sativa) tops the list of under-appreciated leafy greens. Like kale and Swiss chard, its tender little green give a huge power boost to your salad. They’re spicy and delicious, and great wilted on pizza or bruschetta.
This perennial plant helps to oxygenate your muscles, which lowers blood pressure and improves athletic ability. Arugula is also high in vitamin K, which reduces the risk of cancer and osteoporosis. This leafy green edible white flowers, and prefers moist, well-drained soil and full sun.
12. Chinese Yams
This perennial climbing vegetable originates from China. Chinese yams (Dioscorea polystachya or Dioscorea batatas) are also known as Shen Yao. They’re long tubers, up to 1 meter in length, with cream-colored flesh covered by a thin brown skin. They’re commonly used in Chinese baking, with a sweet flavor that’s delicious in cakes and dumplings.
They also have medicinal properties, such as detoxifying the liver, spleen and kidneys. In terms of spiritual properties , they’re said to balance the Yi, or soul. These yams can also be dried and ground into a powder to add to smoothies and soups.
Otherwise known as the sprinkles on top of your baked potato cupcake with sour cream icing. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are perennial vegetables (or herbs) that look like green shoots the size of wild grass. Their flavor isn’t particularly distinctive, basically tastes like a young green onion shoot.
If left to over mature, chives will develop small purple flowers. They’re alliums, which makes them cousins to onions, shallots, and leeks. In medieval Europe, they were believed to ward off evil spirits, heal sore throats, and decrease sunburn pain.
14. Gai Lan
Gai Lan, also known as “Chinese broccoli”, is a member of the Brassica family. This perennial leafy green has a thick, white stalk that separates into smaller branches halfway up the shoot. It also has upside down, teardrop-shaped, glossy, dark green leaves.
As it matures, Gai Lan (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra) becomes slightly bitter. Use young leaves in stir-fries, and save larger leaves for soups. Other names for this popular Chinese cuisine staple include “flowering broccoli” and “Chinese lettuce”. It’s high in vitamin C and iron, making it an excellent natural remedy for common colds.
Every year since before I can remember, I would celebrate the start of summer by picking a bouquet of wildflowers. If only I knew that these violet, multi-petaled flowers with thick, green stems in my bouquet were so useful! Chicory is high in inulin, which can aid in digestive operations and has been proven to lower high cholesterol.
Due to their weed-like behaviour, chicory can grow in a variety of conditions from hot to cold, damp to dry, and in many types of soil varieties. Dig up the roots in autumn, roast them, and grind them into powder. You now have a coffee substitute that tastes like toasted caramel.
What goes great with sweet strawberries in a crispy pie crust? Rhubarb! This perennial vegetable (Rheum rhabarbarum) consists of a semi-thick stalk that’s deep red at the base and shifts to light green at the top. Basically, the stalks look like reddish-green celery. It also has large, inedible, yellow-green leaves that resemble loose romaine lettuce.
If you decide to grow rhubarb outdoors, you’ll need full sunlight and well-drained soil. Their flavor is quite tart, so some farmers grow their rhubarb in blanched conditions. This allows the plant to develop a mild, sweet taste instead. You should only harvest a few stalks from each bundle at a time, and stop harvesting completely by early July. Then cover the plantwith a thick layer of moist compost to ensure its perennial ability.
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) was a huge staple in the ancient Roman world, and is still a popular green today. This small, circular, leafy vegetable is full of calcium (for strengthening bones), manganese (to lessen stomach pains), and phosphorus (to repair damaged body tissues ). It has a spicy flavor, and you can garnish any meal with cress to make it look very fancy. Even sandwiches.
This plant is easy to grow too. Toss seeds 6 inches deep in well-drained, acidic soil, and keep the seeds heavily watered. They require minimum sunlight.
18. Sea Kale
Sea kale received its name thanks to the fact that it grows along coastlines across most of Europe. As it’s packed with vitamin C, sailors would stock up on this leafy green before heading out to sea. It, along with citrus fruits, could prevent scurvy on long voyages. This perennial plant’s large, green, leaves are edible, as are its roots.
This plant (Crambe maritima) prefers to grow in cold climates, in rocky or sandy soil. It sprouts very early in the spring, but that only happens about 2 years after its initial planting. It’ll also produce white, broccoli-like flowers if left to fully mature. This isn’t recommended, however, as it can stunt leaf production.
19. Ostrich Ferns
Also known as fiddleheads, ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) create small, light green, tightly packed shoots. These develop in springtime blossom at the ends of long, fronded leaves. They’re often used as decorative plants, since their edible parts are on the leaves’ tips. You can grow this perennial vegetable indoors or outdoors, as they require minimal sunlight.
When planting your first ostrich fern, use shallow soil to improve root growth and watch environmental conditions as dormancy periods are common. With the proper care, these ferns can grow to a height of 6 feet.
Although wild ramps have gained in popularity recently, they aren’t among the perennial vegetables that people normally grow in their gardens. This wild onion (Allium tricoccum) resembles its cultivated sister, the green onion, almost to the tip. it’s just a touch larger and if left to full maturity, will develop purple flower bulbs on top of its hollow, green blades.
Ramps taste like a cross between garlic and onion. They prefer moist, partially nutritious soil, and full to partial sunlight.
21. Jerusalem Artichokes
These beautiful yellow flowers, which resemble their sunflower cousins, have more going for them than just their beauty. Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus), also known as “sunchokes”, have large, delicious, edible roots. They look like creamy white tubers, and can be eaten raw or cooked. This perennial root vegetable prefers neutral soil prepared with a generous layer of compost, and full sun.
Plant each sunchoke about 12 cm deep and harvest early for milder tasting roots. Less is more with this perennial flower as the flowers can reach a height of 3 meters tall and each individual Jerusalem artichoke can produce hundreds of root tubes.
Horseradish’s spicy flavor could leave even the most devoted heat-seeking foodies a little… “hoarse”. This perennial root vegetable is a popular ingredient in both Eastern European and Western Asia cuisines, used in both sauerkraut and wasabi. Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) has a thick, white root that requires a cold winter dormancy period.
This allows it to develops a chemical called isothiocyanate, which gives it its spicy flavour, and also helps to clear congested sinuses.
This perennial herb is useful from the tip of its leaves to the base of its roots. Lovage (Levisticum officinale) has a mild, celery-like flavor and can be a great substitute if you’re low on that vegetable. They attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies if allowed to flower, and herbivores such as deer avoid it.
Lovage was a popular herb in ancient Greece and Rome, and was brought to England by Roman invaders. It was then brought to America by New England colonists. This plant grows well beside all types of vegetables, as it neither releases nor soaks up too many minerals into the soil around them. Care for it well, with lots of compost and full-to-partial sun exposure, and it can grow several feet tall.
24. Stinging Nettles
Experienced campers are likely all too familiar with stinging nettles (Urtica dioica). These perennial plants have finely prickled leaves, which can cause a rash if touched by bare skin. Therefore, as a safety precaution, you should always wear gloves when handling them. That said, this wild plant has many medicinal properties, such as decreasing prostate pain as well as restoring vitamins and minerals to damaged hair.
Due to their wild nature, stinging nettles grow at a quick pace. Make sure that there’s enough separation between them and other crops that you might have in your garden so you don’t hurt yourself accidentally. If you choose to cultivate these, it’s a good idea to keep them in a fenced area to protect small children and outdoor pets.
25. Lamb’s Quarters
Also known as “White Goosefoot” and “Fat Hen”, lamb’s quarters have been eaten in Europe and North America for centuries. This perennial vegetable has a long, green stem and green leaves that are silvery white underneath. Considered a weed by many, it’s extremely easy to grow as they can tolerate cool to hot conditions, little, to excessive moisture, as well as poor to rich soil types.
Lamb’s quarters are high in riboflavin (which improves circulation), as well as niacin (which improves stomach functions). Its oxalic acid content can be neutralized by cooking it. Try sautéing or braising the leaves with a bit of garlic, olive oil, and salt.
Although peanuts are commonly referred to as “groundnuts”, these aren’t the plants we’re talking about here. Nope, in this case we’re referring to Apios americana: the common American Groundnut. Also known as potato beans, it was an important food source for Native Americans and early European settlers for centuries.
When cooked, the tubers taste like a nuttier potato, but with three times the nutritional value of regular potatoes! High in calcium and iron, they also protect against certain types of cancer. This plant takes 2-3 years to offer up a plentiful yield, but be patient. Like all perennials, they need time to establish themselves. They will come back, promise.
27. Black Salsify (Scorzonera hispanica)
Scorzonera hispanica goes by many names including “serpent’s root”, “viper plant”, and “viper root”, among others. This perennial root vegetable is white in color with a black, thick skin. It apparently tastes similar to oysters—a flavor which will deepen in sweetness after every year.
Black salsify can grow to over 3 feet long! As they’re originally from Spain, these roots must be initially planted in warm weather. Plant each seed 1.5 inch deep in rows that are 30cm apart. Once seedlings emerge, thin them so that each plant has 15 cm of space around them.
This perennial plant has thin, light green stalks topped by small, sparsely spaced, cream-coloured flowers. It tastes like a cross between celery and parsley, but is much stronger. Alexanders (Smyrnium_olusatrum) were a favorite vegetable in the Medieval era, but have since been ousted by celery. That said, they can still be found in old monastery and gardens, planted by monks a thousand years ago, or more.
The roots are edible and are commonly used for making soup broth, while its black seeds can be a pepper substitute, and the stalks can be eaten like celery. Alexanders produce a sweet-smelling fragrance through its flowers too. They prefer to grow in moist, damp conditions, in sandy soils.
At this point, I would usually ask you, the reader and gardener, if you’re ready to start planting. Considering the topic of this article, however, I think it would be more appropriate to ask if you’re ready to sit back and watch last year’s vegetables regrow. Please remember, though, the saying: “sleep, creep, leap”. This motto applies to perennial vegetables as they tend to follow a pattern of being dormant for their first year, slowly emerging during their second year, and then springing up to meet their third year. Y
our patience will pay off eventually and soon enough you will be able to enjoy your “plant it and let it be” garden!