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Published on Thursday, April 04, 2013

Edible Shoots

Perennial Vegetables


Asparagus is usually the first--and only--shoot that people know.  It is actually in the Lily family, and is very ancient.  The easiest way to grow asparagus is in a permanent strawberry patch.   Prepare the ground  well, double-digging it and putting compost in the bottom, as well as mixing compost with the soil as you replace it.  The asparagus roots are set about 8'' below ground level and on 12'' centers in the bed.  Add soil as the shoots emerge, but do not bury them.  Water twice weekly.  Do not harvest until the third spring. Asparagus is usually harvested until June and then allowed to rest until the next year, but you can get two crops if you cut half the patch from April to June and the other half from September to frost.  [In late August, cut off the stalks in the autumn half to induce more shoots to emerge.]  

There are two types of Asparagus:  Green and Purple.  Purple Passion has a slightly nutty taste, and contains 20% more sugar, which makes them more tender than green asparagus, but Jersey Giant, a green variety, has very thick and tender spears.   Most local nurseries carry asparagus roots, but be sure to get only male plants as females have thinner shoots.  The male plants are considered hybrids, and include all the Jersey types.  A good Asparagus website is                                                               


Giant Solomon's Seal--Polygonatum biflorum commutatum--has large, thick shoots which DO taste like asparagus.  This is a woodland native, which has leaves, rather than the feathery tops of asparagus.  It, too, is in the Lily family.  [The fragrant flowers look like Lily of the Valley, although the plants do not.]  Polygonatum roots and shoots are edible; the rest of the plant is poisonous, which is probably why it is deer-resistant.  The roots, which have been used for medicinal reasons for centuries, are actually a rhisome, rather like Iris roots.   [Polygonatum is propagated by roots as the seeds sometimes take two years to germinate.]  The plant likes a loose, moist, sandy, acid soil in the shade.  It will benefit from a top dressing of compost as the snow melts.  It is a lacy plant, about 4' tall and 3' wide.  Water it three or four times a week.

Giant Solomon's Seal is available from several local nurseries, including Mel's, Judy's, and NW Seed & Pet.

You might find P.sibericum roots in a Japanese grocery store, labled ''Huan Jing'' as they are considered both medicinal and food starch.  Polygonatum is not mentioned in Ratsch's Encyclopedia, or in Santillo's herbal, or in ''Trees, Shrubs, and Flowers to Know in Washington'' by Lyons, but it is found on the web in such places as Dave's Garden, and  


Bamboo is really a giant grass which produces edible shoots.  Clumping Bamboo tastes best but is not as hardy as Running Bamboo.  There are four kinds of Clumping Bamboo, and none of them are hardy to zone 4; the hardiest one, Bambusa textilis, dies at 5* so they are not an option except in a warm greenhouse.  Running Bamboo is sweeter.  Phyllostachys nuda is the best and can be eaten raw.  The shoots taste best before they emerge from the ground; you can feel the tips with your bare feet.  For longer shoots, mulch the plants.

It is very important to control bamboo plants.  It is said, LOL, that the best way to do this is to plant them in a steel box on a 3'' thick concrete slab!  Otherwise, surround the planting with a 4' deep barrier of sheet metal, overlapped at the seam by at least twelve inches.  Good websites on growing bamboo are and http://www.ehow  

Edible Bamboo is grown by by Olympia, as well as by Shweeash.  For local nurseries, call and ask for ''hardy'' bamboo. 

Sea Kale -- Crambe maritima -- also has edible shoots, but they must be blanched by covering, with either mulch or with and upside-down flowerpot [plug the hole], for good flavored shoots.  They resemble purple asparagus in taste as well as color.  One variety is named ''Lily White.''  You can purchase roots or seeds; be sure to plant them where they will stay as you cannot get rid of them.  They thrive on seaweed fertilizer, and love loamy soils, compost, and full sun.  In autumn, remove the dead leaves and mulch well.  The flowers have a honey fragrance.   Sea Kale forms clumps about three feet high by one foot wide.    Harvest the third year after planting.  The leaves and flowerbuds are also edible.

Sea Kale is available from several local outlets, including Mel's, Judy's, and NW Seed & Pet.  Thompson & Morgan has seeds.

Jinenjo -- Discorea japonica -- is a true yam.  The shoots are eaten like asparagus; the plant also produces small aerial tubers which are edible, as well as clusters of sweet-potato-like roots at the base of the vines.  It will grow from seed, divisions, or roots.  [If the flowers smell of cinnamon, the plant is not Jinenjo, but is still edible.]  Jienjo has medicinal properties; a good website is

Jinenjo -- Yamaimo--or Kanji -- might be found at the Oriental Market, 1403 N. Division, Spokane.   I found no place to order it on the web.

Fiddleheads  are the shoots of the Ostrich Fern --Matteuccia struthioptera-- which grow in moist, shady places.  They are propagated by plant division as the ''seeds'' are spores and are hard to sprout.  Set the plants three feet apart and expect them to spread.  [They can be controlled by a barrier such as used for bamboo.]  The plants grow as tall as six feet.  Harvest the fiddleheads in early spring, when they resemble the end of a violin; they taste best tightly curled.  Boiled ten or fifteen minutes, they will taste like purple asparagus.

The Ostrich Fern grows wild in huge plantations along the shady roads--especially Burroughs Road--SW of Deer Park; it is also available at local nurseries.

Pokeweed -- Phytolacca americana -- must be blanched by mulching because if the shoots turn pink from sunlight, they are poisonous.  Actually, the entire plant is poisonous!  It grows to be a large bush, about 8' tall.  The shoots have been used for food for centuries.  They are prepared by harvesting at 6'' or less; put into cold water and bring to a boil.  Discard the water.  Cover with fresh boiling water and boil again.  Discard the water. Repeat.  Finally, simmer til tender, about ten minutes.

Phytolacca can carry viruses which attack the plants in the Lily family and the Nightshade family.

Pokeweed, also known as Poke Sallet, can be ordered from http://www.Plant  Sometimes the seeds are available on the web also.  No local nurseries carry it, however.

Good King Henry --Chenopodium bonus-henricus-- or Lincolnshire Asparagus--is a spinach relative from Europe, which will grow in the shade.  It will produce shoots 20 days before asparagus if given a rich soil with plenty of compost; it produces shoots for about three months.  The plant resembles a large spinach plant; it does need to be watered.  Seeds are available from

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Author: Earthchild

Categories: Vegetables




Since childhood, I have been interested in creating my very own Garden of Eden. This used to be called ''homesteading'' and I have a roomful of books and magazines on the subject, [as well as a subscription to] which includes natural medicine and preparedness.

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3 comments on article "Edible Shoots"



4/6/2013 8:31 PM

oops! I left out Good King Henry, or Lincolnshire Asparagus...



4/6/2013 9:42 PM

Also, when your sunchoke tubers begin to sprout because you have too many of them saved to eat, just snap off the sprouts, wash them and dump them in a pan of boiling water. Cooked a few minutes, they have the taste and texture of bean sprouts.


Mike Hagar (website host)

4/7/2013 10:43 AM

WOW! Thanks Earthchild for a wealth of information on Edible Shoots. Especially by including references to where to buy seed or roots locally or even the roads in our area where you can find them.

Please keep it coming. This is exactly what this website is intended to do. You are my star of the week... not that that means anything. :)

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