Monday, 20 February 2017

Do you Eat Your Pumpkin Greens?


Believe it or not, pumpkin leaves are delicious. They are now one of my favourite greens that I forage for in my permaculture kitchen garden. I understand that the prickly texture of the leaves can be initially off-putting. I used to think this too. However, with just light steaming, the prickly texture softens and the leaves become a wonderful addition to my meals.

I use pumpkin leaves in so many things - in omelettes and quiches, in soups and stews, in stir fries, in spinach and feta parcels, as a gluten free wrap for rice/quinoa and veggies, as an alternative to grapevines for a dolmade wrap.

Pumpkin leaves and other types of edible self-seeding and perennial greens are a fabulous resource for school gardens, community gardens and verge gardens - robust, easy & productive! Where space is a premium, it is also really great to know how to use more parts of each plant to extend harvest times. It's also great to stack these types of plants - using different growing heights to increate the use of space.

From a health perspective, pumpkin leaves are very low in cholesterol and are a good source of calcium, protein, vitamins A & C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese.


As you can see, pumpkin leaves are really healthy, incredibly versatile and super abundant - but so typically overlooked. Actually all of the pumpkin plant is edible - the leaves, the seeds, the fruit, the skin, the flowers and the young shoots.

Just imagine how much food is growing on those pumpkin vines and when you harvest some leaves, more and more keep growing - just like sweet potato leaves, choko leaves, carrot leaves, broccoli leaves and so on. 

In hard times of the year, when things are too hot, too dry or otherwise inclement for lush gardening, I have always looked to my hardy perennials and self-seeding vegetables as my main source of food. After many years of doing this, especially looking for food after extended trips away, I have come to rely more heavily on these most of the time. It simplifies gardening so incredibly.


Cranberry Hibiscus is another favourite perennial green in my subtropical permaculture kitchen garden. I love the colour and taste - a bit lemony like sorrel. (Photo: Morag Gamble)

My planted annual garden is small. At the moment (after 2 months of heatwave), I am nurturing just few lettuces and rockets, and a small patch of corn. The rest is hardy self-seeding annuals, perennials and trees. 

Essentially, my kitchen garden is a food forest system and it works! There is just so much food.

With this way of thinking about your garden, can you see how easy it can be to create abundance? We don't need to fight to grow if we work with nature.  

I simply cannot keep up with the amount of food that is growing in my garden. In fact, I don't try to - most of it is for maintaining the system balance - for the the bees and other pollinators, for shading and feeding the soil, for nourishing the chickens, for providing food and hiding places for insect predators.... If I harvested and ate everything, there would not be food available for all of this, and without this diversity, resilience and system health, there'd be little food left during extreme weather conditions like there is now.


Right now, I am also relying on the abundant and shiny leaves on the Brazilian Spinach plants scattered throughout the garden. This is definitely one worth having. It is a compact plant that is robust and versatile too. Soft new growth I love in salads, while the older ones I use in all sorts of meals that I include a spinach-like green. (Photo: Morag Gamble)

I love learning about new parts of plants I can eat and discovering new edible types of hardy plants. I find it fascinating and incredible just how much food is around us all the time if we know where to look.

What unusual plants, leaves, herbs, fruits, nuts, roots do you eat? 





8 comments:

  1. Thanks Morag- another great article!

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  2. I live in Florida in the US. Any idea where I can purchase Brazilian spinach seeds?

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    1. I did a quick google and found www.growplants.org - hope that helps.

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  3. last year I ate young zucchini leaves, very good! But can you also eat the older ones?
    This year I will try sweet potatoes, can you also eat the leaves?

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    1. I learned from our African gardeners a couple years ago to eat sweet potato leaves. They are delicious! They taste like a sweeter/slightly nutty version of spinach.

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  4. Hi Morag,
    how often can you pick leaves without stressing the plant too much?
    Is is maybe even beneficial to pick young leaves, so the plant would grow more roots? What's your experience?

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    1. Hi Tim, These plants are super abundant, and if you just pick what you need for that meal, then in my experience, it's hardly noticeable what you harvest - a few leaves. If it's a smaller plant - I'd recommend taking a bit from here, and a bit from there - not always the same spot, and if you have multiple plants, not from the same one each time. :-)

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  5. Hi Morag,queensland arrowroot and casava I eat also ,Madagascar beans would be my favourite bean to eat

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