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Edimentals – Why You Need to Grow Them and 80 to Try

I first came across the term “edimental” when I was looking up whether I could eat this mesmerizing little plant that I had bought on impulse. It’s called purple Shiso (aka Perilla frutescens var. crispa) and even though it looks ornamental, it is very much an edible plant. The leaves taste like cumin seeds with a light citrusy aftertaste.  

This is the entire point of edimentals, a word that describes plants that are both ornamental and edible.

The portmanteau term – popularized by gardener and writer Stephen Barstow – is becoming more and more common with home gardeners and garden designers alike. 

This is the purple Shiso that got me into edimentals. It’s an edible that works very well as an ornamental plant.

I think that gardening with edimentals is less of a how-to and more of a philosophy. Sure, we use them anyway when we scatter around beautiful edible flowers such as calendula, nasturtiums and pansies in our veggie patches. But there are so many more edimentals to discover (more on that below) and so many ways to incorporate them into our growing spaces and our meals. 

I’ve only just started to discover this fascinating world of edible ornamental plants, and I have to warn you that it’s very much a rabbit hole of information and knowledge. (But not the kind of rabbit hole that gardeners hate.) The deeper I dive, the more I want to know. 

Here are a few things you should know about planting more edimentals in your garden.

1. So many edimentals are perennials. 

I thought I’d start with the extra good news. A lot of these plants that are both edible and ornamental are perennials. I love gardening with perennials, and if I weren’t such a big fan of tomatoes and snap peas, I’d have perennials as my main source of food from the garden. 

It’s not just the money-saving aspect of perennials that I’m mostly interested in. 

My silvery shrub sage (‘Berggarten’) is not just perennial, but also evergreen in my gardening zone.

Even though I admit that the time-saving and energy-saving aspects play a big part – I don’t have to re-sow perennials – there are some other added advantages. 

Perennial edimentals are more likely to be resistant to droughts (because of their strong roots) and to pests (due to interspersed seeding). They also contribute to a healthy soil structure, since we don’t pull them out at the end of every growing season. 

2. Edimentals will benefit wildlife too.

Stephen Barlow also uses the term ‘entomentals’ to refer to plants that are edible, ornamental and beneficial for insects (entomology) and wildlife. So in addition to serving a decorative and a nutritional purpose, they also serve an entomological one.

The roots, the leaves and the flowers of valerian are edible. Pollinators love it, too. 

You’ll see that a lot of the plants on my list below produce a lot of pollen-filled flowers. That, combined with their perennial nature, means they’ll keep growing in our gardens and attracting more and more pollinator friends every year.

3. There is so much food variety with edimentals.

When you think of ornamentals that we can eat, you might just be thinking of edible flowers. While it’s nice to sprinkle violas, calendula, oxalis, nasturtium and borage flowers on our salads, there’s more to edimentals than just using them as a garnish. 

I harvest the tubers of my sun artichokes all winter long. Then the plant just starts growing again in spring.

There are ornamental herbs with edible leaves, such as tulsi, oregano and Salvia macrophylla. Then there are the edible bulbs, such as those of the perennial leeks (Allium babingtonii),  walking onions and sun artichokes. Let’s not forget shrubs, such as Sambucus nigra; Beans, such as scarlet runner beans; and the fleshy colorful stems of rhubarb and chard. 

It’s not just flowers, folks! 

4. You can weave edimentals into any existing garden. 

Chances are we probably already have some edimentals growing in our gardens as we speak. So we don’t really need a complete overhaul to start an edimental garden. 

Fragaria vesca is an excellent ground cover under shrubs and tall perennials. It also happens to fruit for months.

The way I’ve been doing it is by introducing a few edible ornamentals to the garden every spring and fall, usually to fill in a gap for a plant that didn’t make it that growing season. I built my garden over several years, and every time I created a new garden bed, I added some perennial edibles to it. 

My biggest success so far has been growing perennial wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca), an excellent ground cover with multiple juicy raspberry harvests a year. It’s followed closely by perennial greens such as red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) and perennial herbs, such as flowering sage.  

Everywhere I turn in my garden now, there’s something to pick and nibble on, whether it’s berries, roots, leaves or bulbs. It’s like foraging every day in my own back yard.

A little corner of my garden in November. Can you find the five edimentals? The purple flowers are those of the Shiso (see top image).

5. Edimentals will expand your palate. 

I was never what you’d call a picky eater, but neither was I very adventurous in my food choices. Until I started gardening, that is. 

Nowadays, I like to think of my taste buds as a work in progress. If given the chance, my taste will develop and widen alongside my edimental garden. It’s one of the most enriching experiences I can think of – the first time you eat something new that you’ve grown and go “hmm, yes, this tastes like …” 

I would never have guessed that magnolia petals are edible, but I love their flowery peppery taste now.

And the feeling of satisfaction I get when I share it with (usually unsuspecting) friends and family is off the charts. I’m not just an adventurous gardener now but an adventurous eater as well. 

It’s not always love at first bite, though. It took many tries before I’ve come to love (and crave) artichokes, for example. So if you’re still reluctant to munch on some of your edimental plants, I encourage you to try it at least three times, preferably prepared in different ways or accompanied by various other ingredients. 

6.  Edimentals can skirt HOA rules. 

I left this one last because, honestly, it makes my blood boil a little. I’ve never lived in a house under the rule of a Homeowners’ Association (HOA). But I know from friends and from various gardening groups that there are HOAs that prohibit growing your own vegetables. It’s ridiculous, but it’s a reality for some people. 

There’s echinacea, brassicas and anise hyssop in this “ornamental” garden.

One way to skirt this nonsensical rule is by planting edimentals instead. Your garden will look like it’s full of nothing but ornamental plants, but you can also sneakily harvest some food from it.   

A quick disclaimer

Before we dive into the list of edimentals, let me add this quick disclaimer. Before you buy or eat anything from the garden, please do your own due diligence. Make sure that you know exactly what you’re growing and consuming. Some plants are pretty easy to identify, while others need a double-check because they have non-edible look-alikes. 

It’s also super important to know what parts of the plant are edible and whether they can be consumed raw or cooked. Some plants may require drying, cooking or pickling to make them suitable for consumption. 

Plants for a Future (linked below) is where I found out about the edibility of Perilla.

A good source of information for edible plants is the database at Plants for a Future, a charity promoting ecologically sustainable horticulture. This resource also includes notes on preparation and possible toxicity of certain plants.  

There are also online nurseries that specialize in edimentals. And each nursery-bought plant should come with either an edible or ornamental label. 

And last but not least, have a look at Stephen Barstow’s website where he documents growing over two thousand edible plants in this garden in Norway. He also wrote a book called Around the World in 80 Plants: An edible perennial vegetable adventure for temperate climates which takes plants from all continents and explains how they fit into a temperate garden. 

80 Edimentals to Plant in Your Garden

Here are a few plants to get your edimental garden started. I’ve tried to organize them into categories, but there’s definitely some overlap. For example, for chives, the leaves and the flowers are edible, but I’ve added it under Alliums. 

Once again, I’ll direct you to the PFAF database to see what part of the plant is edible. 

Leaves or Greens

Caucasian spinach (Hablitzia tamnoides)  

Turkish rocket (Bunias orientalis)

Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris)

Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)

Miner’s lettuce is one of the first spring greens in my garden

Alfalfa or lucerne (Medicago sativa)

Perpetual kale (Brassica oleracea ramosa)

Hosta – Tracey shows us how to eat hosta shoots in this article. 

Garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa

Tree collards (Brassica oleraceae ‘Tree collard’)

Patience dock (Rumex patientia)

Scurvy grass (Cochlearia officinalis)

Sea kale (Crambe maritima)

Rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum)

Asturian tree cabbage

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) – only the stalks are edible.


Turmeric (Curcuma longa

Root ginger (Zingiber officinale) – Elizabeth wrote a super popular guide about growing ginger.

Chinese artichoke (Stachys affinis)

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) – both the leaves and the roots are edible

Sweet root or skirret (Sium sisarum) 

Black salsify (Pseudopodospermum hispanicum)

My black salsify. It grows beautiful yellow flowers in the summer and edible roots in the winter.

Ground nut or hopniss (Apios americana)

Sun artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) – have a look at Cheryl’s guide on growing and cooking with Jerusalem artichokes. 

Earth chestnuts (Conopodium majus)

Ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus )

Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius)

Cinnamon yams (Dioscorea batata

Arrowleaf balsamroot or Balsan sunflower (Balsamorhiza sagittata)


Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

Baby sage (Salvia microphylla

Shrub sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’)

The sage flowers are edible too, not just the leaves.

Holy basil or tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans

Purple Shiso or perilla (Perilla frutescens)

Garden angelica (Angelica archangelica)

Lovage (Levisticum officinale)

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Anise hyssop is one of my favorite edimentals. I wrote an entire article about it (linked below).

Anise hyssop (Agastache)

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

African blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum ‘Dark Opal’)

Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora)

Bee balm or wild bergamot (Monarda)

Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata)

Oregon ginseng or California ginseng (Aralia californica)

French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa)

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)


Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum)

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Wild leek (Allium babingtonii)

Chives blend well in an ornamental garden.

Perennial onion (Allium fistulosum) 

Nodding onion (Allium cernuum

Egyptian walking onion (Allium cepa proliferum)


Globe artichokes (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) and cardoons (Cynara cardunculus, also known as thistle artichokes)  

Daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva)

Sunflowers (Helianthus annus

False shamrock (Oxalis triangularis)

Saffron crocus (Crocus sativus)

The little red strands of Crocus sativus are the much-prized saffron spice.

Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)

Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) – the dry flowers of this variety make excellent teas. 

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Coneflower (Echinaceea purpurea)

Dahlias – the petals are edible

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) – Madison shares fifteen uses for this abundant plant.

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)

The more I harvest chamomile flowers, the more it blooms.

Mallow (Malva)

Meadow checker mallow (Sidalcea campestris)

Narrow-leaf mule’s-ears or California compass (Wyethia angustifolia)

Primrose (Primula)

Amaranth (Amaranthus

Borage (Borago officinalis)

Sweet violet (Violeta odorata)


Partridge berry (Mitchella repens)

Magnolia – you can even pickle magnolia flowers, but don’t eat the seed pods 

Forsythia – the flowers are edible

You can use forsythia flowers to make syrup.

Roses – most rose hips are edible, but I especially like those of wilder varieties, such as Rosa canina. 

Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacanthoides)

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles)

Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis)

Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)

Currants and gooseberries (Ribes)

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)

While you’re at it, have a look at Elizabeth’s article on edible privacy screens, most of which are shrubs. 

There are so many edimentals to discover and it feels like I’ve just begun to scratch the surface. But once I got into the mindset of combining beauty and function, it opened up a more holistic view of gardening. My purpose is shifting more towards getting the best of both worlds – the functionality of a kitchen garden combined with the beauty of ornamental flower beds. 

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Mickey Gast

I like to think of myself as a writer who gardens and a gardener who writes. I was hooked into this lifestyle more than a decade ago, when I decided that my new husband’s tomato patch had to be extended into a full-blown suburban veggie paradise. It was a classic story of “city girl trades concrete jungle for kale jungle.”

Before that, it was a humble peace lily that gave me the houseplant bug, so I have her to thank for 15+ years of houseplant obsession. I get a kick out of saving and reviving houseplants that others write off, although my greatest sin is still overwatering.

When we went back to renting in cities, I gardened in community gardens, campus gardens and post stamp-sized balconies. Setting up gardens from scratch in three different (micro)climates taught me to stay humble and to always keep learning.

Nowadays, when I’m not writing, you’ll probably find me pottering around my suburban backyard where I’m creating a pollinator paradise, complete with herbs, veggies and flowers.

If you’re nosy like me, you can follow my plant experiments on Instagram @greenwithpurpose. I also write about plants, gardens and books on my website,