Over the years, many edible plants have risen in popularity as the latest must-have superfood and then have fallen by the wayside whilst a new and exotic ingredient becomes the new superstar of the table. It can be hard keeping up with the changing trends as the kale patch languishes uneaten in the garden as it is no longer “cool”.
Recently though, the trends that have emerged are less individualistic and more of a rising culture, not looking at a specific food but a group of foods, a philosophy or a way of life. Food is more than just fuel to sustain us but sends a message about who we are based on how we eat. It is a lot less superficial these days so embracing the ideas that accompany the latest trends can, not only provide the excitement of the superfood days, but improve the quality of your diet, your life, and even go so far as to improve the quality of our planet.
This may have a less-than-ideal reputation as it has already been exhausted by influencers, but as a home gardener, you are probably already doing it. Clean eating is essentially eating food as fresh and simple as possible. As home gardeners, you learn quickly that asparagus, sweet corn and carrots are sweeter when eaten moments old. A fresh lettuce salad needs little more embellishment than a squeeze of lemon juice and a kiss of olive oil to be outstanding and a sun ripened tomato straight from the garden brings the most amazing depth of flavour to a dish that it often needs nothing more than a pinch of salt. When you go to a lot of effort to grow something, you want it to be the star and don’t want it to get lost in an ocean of unnecessary sauces and seasonings.
Along with clean eating, what we are drinking is under scrutiny. Overly sweet and brightly coloured drinks are being shunned. Botanical drinks are seeing a rise in popularity. Growing herbs for making syrups or to infuse in water – still or fizzy puts you right on trend. Consider using lavender, elderflower or even purple basil for a refreshing summer drink. Experiment with different herbs and blends of herbs for something unique.
Alternatives to coffee are also gaining in popularity so take a second look at that dandelion in the lawn or grow some chicory for a caffeine-free option.
While some plants are nice to eat, others have known beneficial properties and after the last few years, enhancing the diet with something that adds more than fuel is always welcome. If we had to call out one healthy superfood Moringa oleifera is one whose star is shining. Not only is it said to be nutritious and rich in antioxidants, but it also has many more proven health benefit claims that makes it worth growing. It likes warm conditions and if left unchecked, can become a 12m tall tree. However, it can be kept within 2m with regular pruning.
As gardeners, this can be easier to control as we get to decide what happens in our gardens. Anything from reducing the use of plastic, being responsible with the use of sprays and regenerating the soil as we go, puts us firmly on trend for being sustainable. So long as we are constantly improving our gardens for the good of the environment then what comes out of it can be declared sustainable.
Plant Based Eating
Having a garden full of fresh produce is a great way to reduce your consumption of meat, but to ensure your diet is balanced consider growing plenty of grains and proteins. Wheat and barley can be grown over the winter months for a harvest in the spring and the straw can be turned into the soil like a cover crop to return the nutrients.
Sweetcorn is a commonly grown vegetable, but its relative Flint corn is a good, dried corn grain that can be used to make cornmeal. Painted Mountain Corn looks pretty as well as being practical. Buckwheat, while not technically a grain, is used in the same way and is a fast-growing summer crop that doesn’t even need great soil. There are plenty of other grain type crops to try in the home garden.
For protein, look no further than beans and peas. As legumes, they are protein rich and can be dried and stored long term for winter stews and casseroles. Sunflowers are also having a moment in the sun with their seeds being considered a protein rich superfood, and they are so cheerful to grow.
Mushrooms are also very popular as a meat substitute, and they can easily be grown at home with many varieties available in kit form to get you started.
As far as trends go, you can choose to ignore them completely and just grow what you love, or you can jump on board and ride the trendy wave.
If we had to call out a couple of plants that would be considered ‘must-haves’ for the ‘who’s-who’, it would be yuzu and finger limes. If you see these plants in the garden centre, don’t walk on by, pop them in the trolley – they may be a little costly, but popularity always comes at a price.
Yuzu – Described as a ‘Japanese lemon’, this citrus is the talk of the town and has acquired superfood status. It has three times more vitamin C than the mighty lemon and is loaded with antioxidants. It isn’t as juicy as a lemon, but its zest is where the magic happens. You can grow a yuzu tree as you would any citrus.
Finger Limes – Staying with citrus, the popularity of these elongated little fruits is due to their delightful pulpy centres that have been dubbed ‘citrus caviar’. They are little pearls of tastiness that burst in your mouth releasing a sour tangy citrus flavour. Once again they can be grown as you would any citrus.