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Deliciously tempting: 10 unusual edible plants to try growing at home

Grow your own unusual edible plants

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The ‘grow your own’ habit is growing! Around one in three people are now thought to grow some sort of edible plants, from simple windowsill herbs through to full ’10-pole’ allotment produce. It seems that people love being able to control which fertilisers and chemicals, or lack of them, go into the food they eat. The desire to eat organic food seems to be an expanding one as more and more people are realising that ‘we are what we eat’.

Experimental eating!

So, we are used to edible plants such as carrots, potatoes, courgettes, runner beans, sweetcorn, apples and pears. But what about more unusual plants? Why not experiment with fruit, vegetables and herbs that fall outside the ‘normal’ range?

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Time for tea

Did you know, for example, that you can easily grow and harvest tea in the UK? Camellia sinensis is a completely hardy, uncomplicated plant that likes acidic soil. Not only can you pluck the young growth and brew up a cuppa, but you can use these edible plant leaves in salads, stir fries and general cooking.

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This is not a newly-discovered fact. Apparently, Winston Churchill had plans to plant tea estates in the south west of the country as he was concerned about being cut-off from supplies during the war. We now have commercial tea plantations in Cornwall and in Scotland.

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All tea requires is a sunny location,  ericaceous soil (even in a pot) and regular water. Once the plants grow to about 50cm high they will be able to cope with winter. When the shrubs produce fresh, young leaves, they are ripe for harvest! Don’t attempt to eat the older foliage as it will be tough and bitter. In fact, a general guide suggests that if you can pluck the young foliage off by hand, it’s great to eat. But if you need to resort to scissors, it’s past its best.

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Olives

Another plant that is proving to be immensely popular in the 21st century is the olive. Its appeal goes way back in time as it’s referred to as a symbol of the ancient world. This too can easily cope with the UK climate provided it is planted in a sunny, sheltered spot.

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Olives commence producing fruit after they are about five years old and most varieties are pollinated by the wind and are self-fertile. They need a cold spell in the winter and a marked differentiation between day and night-time temperatures to initiate their flowering and fruiting. Flowers will appear in early summer and these will turn into fruit. But the fruit might not ripen unless we have a hot summer. Even in Mediterranean climates the fruits aren’t harvested until at least November.

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Grapevines

Grapes are also a growing success. The UK has proved to be a great wine-producing region and it now has at least 500 vineyards in England and Wales. In fact, last year around one million vines were planted and there’s likely to be a similar increase this year. Vines like sunny slopes and regular water. Their yield is likely to be smaller than the major wine-producing regions such as France, Spain and Italy, but wine production is possible all the way up to Yorkshire and down to Cornwall.

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Going bananas!

How about bananas? Getting banana palms to fruit can be tricky, but not impossible! Musa basjoo is probably the hardiest of bananas but its enemy is wet weather. If you are going to leave this plant outdoors during the winter you will need to protect the roots from rotting in a bit puddle. The summer fruit, if any is produced, will be tiny, but given the right conditions it could happen! Bananas certainly make spectacular foliage plants as their fronds often grow to several metres long.

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And there's more

There are some really amazing edible plants that produce wonderful fruit. Want something a bit more reliable? Try the twining kiwi vine, Actinidia deliciosa, also known as Chinese gooseberry. There are several ornamental Actinidia plants but if you want to eat the fruit, be sure to go for the right variety. The fuzzy fruits have a high vitamin C content and although they are unlikely to ripen on the vine in the UK, you can harvest them around the time of the first frosts and they will ripen on the windowsill.

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There are plenty more unusual edible plants to enjoy growing in the UK including Chilean guava which taste like a cross between a strawberry and kiwi; Japanese wineberries; honeyberries; Lingonberries; Jostaberries and of course, mulberries.

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Grow your own unusual edibles and encourage your taste buds to fizz with summer joy!

Watch a video about patio peach and nectarine trees here:

https://youtu.be/YyMb3TACIJI