Many gardeners are surprised to learn that hostas, a popular ornamental, are also a useful and delicious edible plant. These plants can find a place in a wide range of gardens.
There are a number of different varieties to choose from, which can work well in a range of settings. Read on to learn more about this interesting and surprising edible plant.
What Are Hostas?
Hostas are a well known ornamental foliage plant. Most also produce attractive clusters of white, purple or lavender flowers on tall stems.
They are herbaceous perennials, that will come back year after year if planted in an appropriate environment and cared for properly.
These plants come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. They can vary in terms of their leaf colors and shapes. You can find hosta options with variegated foliage. Ever more frequently, you can also find a range of mini hosta, that can be grown in the ground or in pots or other containers.
Why Grow Hosta On Your Homestead?
There are a range of reasons why growing hosta is a good idea. As mentioned, they are often grown for their ornamental appeal. The flowers can be pretty, and the varied foliage can bring interest and aesthetic appeal to a range of garden types and garden zones.
As ornamentals, they can help out homesteaders looking to create interest in a tricky, shaded spot. Their foliage can have ornamental value on their own, or as a backdrop for showier flowering plants.
Another reason to consider hostas for your garden is that they are incredibly easy to grow. They work very well in a forest garden, or other low-maintenance garden scheme.
These plants are also relatively long-lived. So if you treat them well, and place them correctly, they can enhance your garden for many years to come.
But without a doubt, the most useful thing about hostas is that they are also an edible crop. All members of this plant family are edible, and many have been discovered to be truly delicious!
If you already grow hostas in your garden, consider giving them a try. If you don’t, consider adding this intriguing additional perennial edible crop to your repertoire.
Choosing Hostas for Your Garden
Choosing hostas for your garden is not a complex business. If you are growing them for their visual appeal, you will just have to decide which ones you like the look of.
If you are growing hostas primarily for their ornamental foliage, then there are plenty of different options you could choose. Of course, you should also be sure to take into account the conditions where you live, and where you plan to grow them.
Generally speaking, when choosing a hosta, it is worth remembering that darker hued green/ blue hostas are best for shade, and yellow-leaved options do best with a little more sun.
If you are looking for a sun-tolerant hosta, some options to consider are:
- Hosta ‘Honeybells’
- ‘Dixie Chick’
- Hosta plantaginea
- ‘Blue Umbrellas’
- & ‘Sum and Substance’.
If you want a miniature type if space is tight, or you want to grow hostas in containers, then ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ and ‘Pandoras Box’ are two options to consider.
If you are trying to grow hostas in an area with drier soils, consider choosing varietals with thicker and waxier leaves as these are more tolerant of drier conditions.
While all hostas are said to be edible, those with the best taste are said to be:
- Hosta fortunei
- H. sieboldiana
- Hosta sieboldii
- H. montana
- Hosta longipes
So you may wish to choose plants of one of these varieties in order to take full advantage of the hosta as an edible crop.
Where to Plant Hostas
Hostas do best in nutrient rich and moisture-retentive soils. This includes heavy clay soils which have been improved with the addition of plenty of organic material, compost or well-rotted manure.
Most prefer to be placed in areas of partial or dappled, damp shade. However, some can thrive in areas of deeper shade, and others can even do well in full sun, as long as their water needs are met.
Hostas can thrive in many gardens, but will be harder to grow in areas with sandy and very free-draining soil. They may also fail to thrive in particularly windy or exposed conditions. So they are best placed in a sheltered spot.
Where exactly you choose to place your plants will, of course, depend in part on which varieties you have chosen. It is important to make sure that each hosta is placed in a position with conditions appropriate to its needs.
The considerations involved in correctly positioning a hosta are the same as those involved in positioning any other plant. It is important to think about the prevailing climate and conditions, sunlight, water and soil. But it is also important to think about the other plants in your garden.
Hostas do well in a forest garden ecosystem. They can be a beneficial companion plant for apple trees and other fruit trees and fruit bushes.
They can also be a good choice for a perennial polyculture border, whether you are predominantly growing edibles, or ornamental plants.
Hosta are generally purchased as pot-grown plants. If a friend or neighbour has an attractive, mature example, this can be divided to make new plants, so you might be able to source new plants in this way for free.
It is a good idea, whether new plants are wanted or not, to divide hostas every four or five years. So dividing a perennial plant like a hosta for propagation may also be helpful for the owner of the original plant.
Divide the clump by chopping through it with a blade, making sure that each section has 1-3 good buds.
Whether you buy a hosta, or ‘beg’ one from a gardening friend or neighbour, you can plant it out at any time of the year. However, it is generally best to plant in spring or fall.
Planting in mid-summer can put more stress on the transplanted plants, due to the lower rainfall and higher temperatures.
Plant hostas in the same way as you would any other herbaceous perennial. Be sure to allow for spacing that will accommodate the plants’ eventual sizes. Generally, standard hosta varieties should be planted around 3ft apart.
Dig your planting hole or holes as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Loosen roots with your fingers and then place the plant or plants into place. Then simply refill the soil into the space around the plant and firm it gently into place. Water well to settle the soil.
It is also a good idea to mulch well around the plant or plants with organic matter to conserve soil moisture and add fertility.
If you are choosing to grow your hosta in a container, choose containers with drainage holes that are around 1ft in diameter. Choose a peat free compost and, ideally, use compost you have made at home.
Make sure that the top of the rootball sits at the same level that it was at in its previous container.
Miniature hosta require good drainage. Add grit to heavier soils or to the growing medium in containers. Whether you place them in containers or rock gardens, mulching with gravel can be a good idea. It will stop water and soil from splashing up and spoiling the leaves.
Caring For Hostas
Hostas will have to be well-watered, especially during dry periods. Those in containers or in full sun will obviously have higher water requirements. Those in more shaded spots generally require less attention, especially in areas with reasonably high rainfall.
A hosta located in a suitable spot will often take little care or upkeep. However, it is a good idea to maintain fertility by mulching annually with organic matter.
In areas with poorer soil, or when growing in containers, it may also be a good idea to feed your plants with general-purpose liquid plant feeds. Pots in plants, for example, should be fed around once a month during the growing season.
You do not have to deadhead your hosta. You can leave the flower stalks in place and allow them to die back naturally. However, you can remove faded blooms if you wish, so plants do not waste energy on seed production.
These plants are fully hardy. But in temperate climate zones, your hosta will die back in late autumn. This should be of no concern. Plants will remain dormant over winter, then spring back into new life in the spring, when new ‘hostons’ (curled up leaves) will emerge.
Got a Slug Problem?
Growing hosta plants can often be blissfully trouble free. But one issue sometimes experienced by hosta growers is slugs. Slugs seem to love young hosta leaves, and it is not uncommon for plants to be decimated by these pests.
The best way to combat slugs organically is to ensure a good balance in the ecosystem. Encourage birds, amphibians and other wildlife that will help to keep slug numbers down. But another way to avoid slug problems is to eat your hostas before slugs get the chance to!
Harvesting Hosta to Eat
When you are cultivating hostas to eat, the main harvest time will be spring.
The most delicious part of the plants are the hostons that emerge in the spring. Simply cut or snap off these curled leaves at ground level soon after they emerge.
Eating hosta is more than just a novelty. These plants have potential to be a major productive vegetable. You can take the whole first flush of leaves from an established plant without destroying the plant. It should simply produce a second flush of fresh leaves.
Smaller hostons are delicious served raw in a salad, or stir-fried lightly. Larger ones are best boiled briefly and then served as you would another green vegetable. You can substitute hosta for brassicas such as broccoli, for example, in a range of recipes.
The hostons, however, are not the only part of the plant that you can eat. Open leaves can also be eaten, stir-fried or as a spinach substitute in a range of recipes.
Younger leaves are more tender, and less bitter than older ones. But even larger leaves can be cooked and eaten in a range of different ways. The flower buds and flowers from your hosta can also be eaten.
Hosta Recipe Ideas
Hosta are commonly cultivated and eaten in Japan. And increasingly, permaculture gardeners around the world are discovering this plant’s edible potential. But many people still overlook the culinary uses for this versatile plant.
If you want to explore ways to eat hosta, you may be inspired by this list of recipe ideas:
Tempura Hosta Shoots @ DearJuneBerry.com
Hosta Shoots Salad With Balsamic Reduction @ barbaraprice.wordpress.com.
Hosta With Vinegar Mustard Miso Dressing @ maplewood.worldwebs.com.
Pan Seared Hosta Shoots With Ramps Butter @ foragerchef.com.
Hosta Pan Fried With Sesame Oil, Soy Sauce, Sesame Seeds & Brown Sugar @ druidgarden.wordpress.com.
Wild Greens Stir Fry @ foragerchef.com.
Bacon Wrapped Hostas @ adamantkitchen.com
Roasted Hosta Shoots @ backyardforager.com.
Hosta Shoot Tart @ motherearthliving.com.
Pasta With Spring Greens & Hosta Shoots @ gardeningfordinner.co.uk.
Cream of Hosta Soup @ maplewood.worldwebs.com.
Hostakopita @ thejournal.ie.
If you use your imagination, you will find that you can use hosta in a huge range of different ways. The recipes mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg. Basically, almost any recipe for asparagus spears can be altered to include hostons instead.
Many brassica recipes can also use hostons or leaves. And the leaves from your hosta can be used to replace pak choi, other Asian greens or spinach in a further wide array of dishes.
If you grow them in your garden, you will soon discover just what wonderful plants they can be – both in the ground and in the kitchen.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer, permaculture designer and green living consultant. She is a practical, hands-on gardener, with a background in philosophy: (an MA in English-Philosophy from St Andrews University). She has long had an interest in ecology, gardening and sustainability and is fascinated by how thought can generate action, and ideas can generate positive change.
In 2014, she and her husband moved to their forever home in the country. She graduated from allotment gardening to organically managing 1/3 of an acre of land, including a mature fruit orchard,which she has turned into a productive forest garden. The yield from the garden is increasing year on year – rapidly approaching an annual weight in produce of almost 1 ton.
She has filled the rest of the garden with a polytunnel, a vegetable patch, a herb garden, a wildlife pond, woodland areas and more. Since moving to the property she has also rescued many chickens from factory farms, keeping them for their eggs, and moved much closer to self-sufficiency. She has made many strides in attracting local wildlife and increasing biodiversity on the site.
When she is not gardening, Elizabeth spends a lot of time working remotely on permaculture garden projects around the world. Amongst other things, she has designed private gardens in regions as diverse as Canada, Minnesota, Texas, the Arizona/California desert, and the Dominican Republic, commercial aquaponics schemes, food forests and community gardens in a wide range of global locations.
In addition to designing gardens, Elizabeth also works in a consultancy capacity, offering ongoing support and training for gardeners and growers around the globe. She has created booklets and aided in the design of Food Kits to help gardeners to cool and warm climates to grow their own food, for example. She is undertaking ongoing work for NGO Somalia Dryland Solutions and a number of other non governmental organisations, and works as an environmental consultant for several sustainable companies.