Modern agriculture depends on the
large-scale production, harvest and
preserving of plants that are used for
the nutritional needs of the population.
Thousands of years ago the human
population depended on hunting and
gathering to provide nourishment.
Because there were winters, droughts,
heat waves and other unfavorable weather
conditions that affected the food
availability, the humans had to rely on
whatever they could find to get them
through these tough times.
Today we don't have to be concerned
about finding food during the winter.
The miracle of modern agriculture allows
us unlimited food for the whole year.
But we are still dependent on planting
each spring. But what if there were
vegetables available that don't need to
be replanted each year? Wouldn't they be
a good supplement to the garden?
The good news is that there are some
plants that can be labeled as "perennial
vegetables" A perennial is defined as an
herbaceous plant that comes back year
after year. They die back during the
cold winter and emerge the following
spring. So a perennial vegetable is an
edible plant that comes back each year.
In our temperate climate there are about
40 perennial vegetables and culinary
herbs that can be used in our gardens.
While perennial vegetables are not meant
to replace our existing foods, they make
a nice treat in addition to our
residential vegetable gardens. I would
like to highlight a few of the important
Asparagus is one of my favorite
springtime treats. Asparagus grows wild
throughout Europe and the Middle East.
It was first mentioned by the ancient
Greeks. There are male and female
asparagus plants, but the males make
more of the spears for consumption.
Asparagus spears emerge in the early
spring and are most tasty when small. It
is easy to grow asparagus from roots.
Dig a trench about 1 foot wide and about
6 inches deep. Spread out the roots
about 18 inches apart and cover with 2
inches of humus rich soil. When the
sprouts grow about 4 inches high,
top-dress with about 3 more inches of
soil. Repeat again so that you have a
slight mound. Allow your plants to grow
the first year without allowing weeds to
grow in between the individual asparagus
plants. The following year you can take
a limited harvest. Subsequent years will
yield larger harvests of succulent
Rhubarb has a history of use as a
medicinal plant. A native of Mongolia,
the root is a powerful laxative. Dry
powdered root was traded throughout
Europe and Asia before the French
started using this plant for food
consumption. By 1830 rhubarb was
commonly used as a winter vegetable in
London. Only the leaf stalks are edible.
The leaves are poisonous and can lead to
illness or death. Rhubarb has many
applications such as breads, cakes,
pies, tarts and sauces. Planting is as
easy as division of existing roots in
the fall. I have seen plants get large
enough to split into a dozen or more
plants. Of course, a rich humus soil is
Horseradish, while not grown by the
individual gardener in large quantities,
is a perennial vegetable. This 3000 year
old plant has been used as an
aphrodisiac, a treatment for rheumatism,
a headache cure, a bitter herb for
Passover Seders and a flavor
accompaniment for beef, oysters and
ketchup. It has also been used in
smelling salts to awaken unconscious
people. March is a good month to plant
horseradish in the garden.
The Jerusalem artichoke is another
perennial vegetable. While not from
Jerusalem and not even an artichoke,
this edible tuber has many flavorful and
healthful benefits. Some doctors
prescribe its use as a substitute for
potatoes for diabetics.
Since there is a strong interest in
perennial vegetables, there are also
cabbages, kales, spinaches and herbs
being developed to be used as perennial
vegetables. You might give some of them
consideration for your garden. Remember
that since they will be in the ground
for many years, it is definitely
important that they are given a sunny,
well-drained soil full of organic
matter. You will find that planting
perennial vegetables will be a true