So, I’m turning 30 this year (wamp wamp… ok moving on) and everyone I know is settling down and buying a house! I’m getting a lot of questions about what to plant in this sunny spot, and that shady corner, along with my favorite question of all: What edible things can I plant in my yard?
I’m obviously all about edible plants – and with amazing reason. If you have the opportunity to plant something in your own backyard – your own special place – why not also have the opportunity to gain nourishment from it? Why not get to know your plants on a personal level? Why not enjoy them at every stage of life – from shoots to blossoms to fruits – and cook with them, infuse them, ferment them, tincture them, all the while regaining your health and your connection to our precious, magical, natural world?
The wildlife in your backyard will thank you, too. All of these plants sport gorgeous pollen-filled blossoms for honeybees to enjoy, and berries and seeds for birds and other animals to fill up on. Planting edibles will provide stable food sources for a large range of organisms, and will help build your own thriving, balanced ecosystem.
The things you can make with these plants is unlimited. I have only scratched the surface in my suggestions in the list below. All of these plants can be steeped in hot water for healing teas. All of them can be eaten raw off the vine (or tree, or ground, what have you – although I do not recommend eating raw rhubarb). All of them can be infused and tinctured. If you want to learn more about herbal preparations, I suggest reading Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health and allow your mind to be blown by all the plant wisdom.
The plants I’ve suggested here are all relatively well-known and easy to grow, so read this knowing you can have absolute success growing any and all of them! They are all perennial, so that means they will come back year after year. You only need to plant them once. You can do this! And if you have any questions about plantings, please comment below, I’m elated to help. This guide was written with USDA Hardiness Zones 5-6 in mind, so those of you in the Midwest are mostly covered here.
Elderberry / Elderflower / Black Elder
Growing Conditions: Zones 4-8 – Large shrub that grows 6-8’ tall x 6-8’ wide – Prefers Full Sun – You will need to grow two different types of elderberries in proximity of each other for cross-pollination. Plant bare-root plants anytime between May-August (in Zones 5-6).
Uses: Eat raw berries off the vine or add to meals (oatmeal! yogurt! muffins! smoothies! salads! the possibilities are endless!); use berries to make syrups, teas, cocktails, etc. Elderberry has high levels of antioxidants and is an incredible natural cold and flu medicine. The blossoms of this shrub, literally “elderflowers,” are also edible and amazingly medicinal.
Where to Buy: Stark Bros Elderberry Plant Collection (comes with 3 bare root plants of differing varieties)
Raspberry – Red, Gold or Black
Growing Conditions: Zones 3-11 – Canes shoot up from the ground and can grow 5-6 feet tall so they make a great hedge and grow well against fences and walls. Roots spread underground so give your raspberries their own separate patch in your yard. Super easy to grow – will do well in full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Black raspberries have prominent thorns, but thornless varieties are available for red and black. Raspberry plants are incredibly productive and will save you a ton of money at the grocery store if you’re a big berry eater! Plant bare-root plants anytime between May-August (in Zones 5-6).
Uses: Eat raw berries off the vine; use fresh or dry leaves in a tea to relieve menstrual cramps and heavy/irregular bleeding – raspberry leaves have been shown to tone the uterus but must be taken on a regular basis to have an effect!
Growing Conditions: Zones 5-11 – Full Sun (I’ve tried growing these in partial shade and it just doesn’t work well). Canes shoot up from the ground and grow very long horizontally. The overall plant stays relatively short (3-5 ft high) if you train it that way on a trellis. Blackberries make incredible statement pieces growing on trellises – and their leaves turn a rich color toward the fall. They will also grow really well along a chainlink fence. Plant bare-root plants anytime between May-August (in Zones 5-6).
Uses: Eat raw berries off the vine; blackberry is a strong astringent and diuretic so use fresh or dry leaves as a tea to relieve diarrhea (yes I just went there) and other digestive issues.
Where to Buy: Organic Blackberry
Growing Conditions: Zones 3-8 – Gooseberries are lower-growing shrubs that spread wider than they do tall. I suggest buying several plants for ultimate fruit harvesting! They do have thorns. These bushes bloom a mass of gorgeous bright yellow flowers in the spring through early summer! Plant bare-root plants anytime between May-August (in Zones 5-6).
Uses: Eat raw berries off the vine or make into syrups, jams or jellies – gooseberries are high in Vitamin C!
Where to Buy: Invicta Gooseberry
Growing Conditions: Zones 3-8 – Full sun or Partial Shade – Deer resistant and super easy to grow! Shrubs grow 3-5 feet tall and are the perfect “filler” bush that happens to also provide a delicious, healing food source. Red currants bloom a ton of mauvey-pink flowers in spring through early summer. Plant bare-root plants anytime between May-August (in Zones 5-6).
Uses: Eat raw off the shrub (tart!); use to make jams, cordials and syrups. Also high in Vitamins C and B and will regulate your bowels.
Where to Buy: Organic Wilder Red Currants
Growing Conditions: Zones 4-8 – Full sun or Partial Shade – Trees grow 30 feet tall and drop berries all over the place (yes, this is the tree that stains sidewalks! But I absolutely love them). Bursts tons of beautiful white blossoms in spring and unfailingly provides fruit through the summer. Plant bare-root trees anytime between May-August (in Zones 5-6).
Uses: Eat raw berries off the tree; use to make jams, teas, syrups, etc. If you’ve never eaten a mulberry, they have a very light floral flavor, much lighter than all the other berries.
Where to Buy: Illinois Everbearing Mulberry Tree
Rosa Rugosa / Hedge Rose
Growing Conditions: Zones 3-9 – Full Sun or Partial Shade – Hedge roses grow very tall and wide (6-8’ tall x 6-10’ wide) so they are perfect for creating natural privacy hedges, filling in large gaps in your plantscaping, etc. And they are so incredibly beautiful and smell amazing! The cultivar pictured above is the ‘Hansa’ variety. Plant anytime between May-August (in Zones 5-6).
Uses: The blossoms produce rose hips which grow to the size of small cherry tomatoes (see photo below). Rose hips may be dried and used in teas – they cleanse the kidneys and are diuretic.
Where to Buy: Hansa Rose
Growing Conditions: Zones 3-7 – Full Sun or Partial Shade – Lilacs are huge. They grow 10-15 feet high and up to 12 feet wide. They create amazing privacy hedges and will fill in even bigger holes than the rugosa rose! Plant bare-root plants anytime between May-August (in Zones 5-6).
Uses: Those exquisitely-scented, intoxicating purple flowers on the bush in your backyard? Those are edible. Amazing, amiright? Try infusing honey or making cordials or syrups with the blossoms. Pick them when they have just fully opened. This is also an amazing plant to have if you love displaying fragrant cut flowers in your home – a fully-grown lilac bush will never tire of fresh blooms.
Where to Buy: Fragrant Lilac from the Arbor Day Foundation
Growing Conditions: Hardiness Zones vary – Full Sun or Partial Shade – Juniper is an evergreen shrub that comes in many different shapes and sizes: from low-growing groundcover to taller columnar-shaped bushes. You’ll want to purchase an established plant at a nursery and plant anytime from March-August (in Zones 5-6).
Uses: Juniper berries can be dried and used for brining spices, marinating meat dishes, etc. The berries have a natural yeast on them and can be used to make smreka, a natural fermented probiotic drink originated in Bosnia. Needles/foliage on your juniper bush may be used for teas.
Where to Buy: Your local plant nursery will have nicely established juniper shrubs for sale that are appropriate for your Hardiness Zone.
Growing Conditions: Zones 4-8 – Full Sun or Partial Shade – Very easy to grow from seeds! Plant in the spring. Grows upright up to 6 feet tall and has beautiful bright green foliage. Will grow delicate, lacy flowers if left unharvested. And, made obvious from the photo above, it will tolerate really terrible soil 😉
Uses: Lovage is entirely edible from the roots, stems, leaves and blossoms. It looks like celery and has a taste very reminiscent of it, but is more floral/lemony tasting. If you love celery and use it a lot, this is an amazing (and honestly, a more delicious) alternative.
Where to Buy: Organic Lovage Seeds
Growing Conditions: Zones 3-8 – Full Sun or Light Shade – Rhubarb grows from a root “crown,” with long red stalks that shoot up from the ground and have large green leaves at the tops. It takes a bushy form, 3-4 feet tall x 3-4 feet wide. If left unharvested, it grows a stunning, gorgeous flower stalk that can be displayed as an unusual cut flower. Plant crowns in spring, in April or May (in Zones 5-6).
Uses: Stalks are edible (leaves are mildly toxic). Harvest is abundant in spring, but the stalks freeze well so they can easily be used throughout the year. Homegrown rhubarb is so much more flavorful than any you will buy in the grocery store.
Where to Buy: Organic Rhubarb Crowns (Bundle of 2)
Peppermint / Spearmint / Chocolate Mint
Growing Conditions: Zones 3-8 – Partial or Full Shade (will grow in Full Sun but don’t let it dry out) – People always say, DON’T PLANT MINT IT WILL TAKE OVER EVERYTHING. This is *kind of* true. Mint is a swift grower with an incredibly strong root system. It spreads under and above ground – but because of this, it is an amazing plant to fill up bare patches in your yard! Have a spot where nothing will grow? Plant mint!! And then eat it!! Mint is truly pretty when it fills in, and will adorn itself with pink, purple or white flowers come summer.
Uses: Mint is essential in my kitchen and medicine cabinet. I use peppermint essential oil every day of my life, to relieve stress and headache pain. Fresh mint leaves are delicious added to soups, smoothies, salads, pot roasts – literally everything. Fresh mint can be added to every tea blend you make!
Where to Buy: Grow this from a plant from your local nursery. Buy several plants and space them 12-24” apart – they will fill in quickly. PS: Mint does not grow well from seed!
Onion Chives / Garlic Chives
Growing Conditions: Zones 3-9 – Full Sun or Partial Shade – Chives, like mint, are impossible to kill. Literally impossible. They do not spread underground like mint does, but rather, stay contained to one little circular area and can be harvested all season long. Beautiful purple or white blossoms are also edible.
Uses: Onion chives and garlic chives can be used in literally any savory cooking. They are so handy to have on hand when you need quick onion or garlic flavors, or a bright green element in your dish.
Where to Buy: I suggest buying chives as plants from your local nursery. Buy several plants and space them 6-12” apart. Garlic chives may be harder to find, so feel free to try growing these from seed.
Growing Conditions: Full Sun or Partial Shade – Chamomile has a light, feathery green foliage with adorable little daisy-like medicinal blossoms on top. Easily grown from seed, chamomile is technically an annual in Zones 5-6 but usually self seeds and comes back every year. This plant is perfect to mix in a wildflower garden bed, or to grow as a small hedge along a walkway. The baby flowers are so adorable, how can you say no!
Uses: Chamomile has incredible medicinal uses – it is naturally antibacterial and is, perhaps, most well known for its stress relieving benefits. Try harvesting the blossoms for use in teas, or use them to infuse olive oil for a relaxing massage oil or base for a moisturizing lotion or diaper rash cream for babies. The uses for chamomile are endless – if you’re interested, I suggest reading up on it in this book: Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide.
Where to Buy: Organic Chamomile Seeds
Growing Conditions: Zones 4-8 – Full Sun or Partial Shade – Grow from a transplant. Sage has gorgeous velvety leaves, grows in a round form up to 3 feet tall and gains beautiful purple flowers in the summer. Sage is super easy to grow and an absolute must in your yard. It will unfailingly come back year after year and lends a unique color and texture.
Uses: Cook with sage, dry it to make smudge sticks, add to teas, infuse oils and liquors for gifts! When used in tea, it will stimulate your digestive system, or in nursing mothers ready to wean their children, will help dry up milk.
Where to Buy: Buy transplants at your local nursery. Sage does not grow well from sowing seed directly in the ground.
Growing Conditions: White clover is low-growing and is an amazing alternative to grass in your yard. If you have spotty patches of grass, start replacing it with clover. The blossoms feed pollinators, are inarguably adorable, and the roots fix nitrogen in the soil, which means they naturally work to provide sustenance for your Soil Food Web and nutrients for surrounding plants in your yard. Clover makes an awesome cover crop for your vegetable garden. A truly magical plant clover is, yet people constantly lament over it and try to get rid of it with chemicals… we should be celebrating and planting and eating this wonder!
Uses: Believe it or not, clover is edible and highly nutritious, leaves, roots, blossoms and all. Make teas, add to salads, make tinctures, vinegars, go wild!
Where to Buy: New Zealand White Clover Seeds
(Red Clover is also an option – Reds grow taller (12-24”) and would be absolutely beautiful planted among chamomile!)
Just look at this gorgeous red clover. Most people call this a “weed,” which I think is a really nasty word for such a graceful being. We all need to learn to be a little nicer to the natural healers.
So how do you decide which of these to grow? I suggest to first consider the situations you have in your yard:
- – How much sun do you have? If you don’t know, read this post to help you figure out your sun exposure.
- – How much space do you have? Do you have a long span of wall or fence you want to plant something in front of (raspberries, blackberries or gooseberries would serve this area well).
- – Do you want more privacy? (Lilacs and Hedge Roses would do best).
- – Do you like to experiment with unique food items or make fun gifts for people? (Elderberry, Currants, Lovage and Rose Hips would be good for this).
- – Do you want really pretty flowers but don’t have a lot of space? Do chamomile, red clover, or sage. You could also plant Echinacea, Yarrow, Feverfew, Black Cohosh, Bee Balm… the list goes on. I will eventually do a follow-up post with more edible medicinals!
Also, if you can’t decide between the berries: Just try a few different colors (Elderberries + Red Raspberries -or- Currants + Gold Raspberries -or- Mulberries + Gooseberries).
By growing edible plants with healing properties, we infuse some serious natural magic into our sense of place. Whether we eat the plants or use them as medicine or not, the option is there and the opportunity for us to gain a deeper connection with Earth has been planted. Thing is, they heal us just by being there.
Peace, Love & Plant Magic,