Category Archives: Featured plants

Yacon Syrup

A while ago we were given a little 250ml jar of yacon syrup. The price on the lid was $19.50, but as its best before date was passed we were given it for free with our bulk food shopping. It was thick and gooey, with a strong molassery taste. I wasnt that impressed but tried it in a few recipes.

Later on we were given a yacon plant, which sat in its pot for a year waiting to be planted. Finally last spring we had a place for to go in the ground. It grew to about 1.5 metres tall, with lovely big leaves and little yellow flowers. Generally you harvest them after the first frost, but as our frosts this year ( have only had a couple so far) have been pretty mild ours is still growing and flowering in June. But a friend down the road has some and hers have died down, so we were given a bucketful to try. I’m not really a fan of them fresh, though the crispy juicy texture is quite nice. But we like to experiment and even though we eat low carb a little bit of sweetness is nice occasionally. Even better is knowing how to make your own homegrown (or neighbour grown) and home made natural sweeteners.

Making Yacon Syrup.

We washed the yacon tubers, peeled them and cut them into long pieces which would fit into the hand mincer.

The tubers are very crisp and juicy so mincing was an easy task, but you could use a food processor instead.

Mincing the yacon

Once minced the pulp was tipped into a colander lined with cheese cloth, over a pot. We allowed the juice to drain, then gathered up the cloth and squeezed the pulp to get all the juice out, twisting the cloth into a tight ball.

The juice was brought to the boil and then simmered on the woodstove for most of the day. Any scum that formed on the surface was removed.

Once it had reduced to a fragrant syrup we removed it from the heat and poured the syrup through a fine sieve into a sterilised hot glass jar.

There was a small amount of ‘debris’ left in the sieve, if you were doing a larger amount this could probably be saved for baking etc.

The finished syrup

From 2.66kg of fresh yacon, we ended up with 208g of syrup. I did notice some condensation it the jar as it cooled, so we probably should have reduced the syrup a bit more, which would have resulted in a lower yield. However we will store it in the fridge so the moisture content should not be an issue.

We were impressed with the flavour, kind of like a mild golden syrup. certainly not as thick and molassery as the commercial jar we were given, which is another reason why we think it may not have been reduced enough. But our syrup was much nicer tasting than the commercial product, we are not sure whether that was due to it being fresher, runnier or just because homemade often tastes better!

Would we make it again? Definitely. The process was easy and once its on the stove its just, check it occasionally, skim it if needed and wait for it to thicken.

Growing Yacon.

Yacons produce the edible tubers and smaller reddish rhizomes, its the rhyzomes which you need to grow the plant or a whole ‘crown’ which is the rhizomes attached to the plant base. As Yacon are frost tender wait till all frost have passed before planting or plant in a frost free area. Otherwise they are a very easy care plant, resonably well drained soil and plenty of compost and mulch should ensure a good crop. But give them a bit of room as they can get to 2m tall, 1 metre spacings are often recommended. Harvest by digging up the whole plant after frosts and when the plant dies down for maximum sweetness. You can set aside the rhizomes or crowns, which can be kept in a paper bag in a dark place or potted up in the greenhouse ready for replanting once the frost have finished, though in warmer areas you can replant and cover mulch the crown over winter.

Yacon crown

The edible tubers should be brushed off without damaging the skin, and air dried, before laying them in a cardboard box with newspaper between the layers and over the top. Store in a cool dark place for about 3 months, they can go wrinkly but are still edible.

Yacon can be roasted or boiled, used in stews and casseroles or in salads, juiced or used in smoothies. It has been said to treat it like a juicy, crunchy potato or a mild apple. The leaves are also apparently edible used like spinach or to wrap food and also as a tea. Yacon is considered to be good stock fodder, both the leaves and the tubers, and the plant is thought to encourage healthy bacteria both in the soil and in the human gut.

An interesting plant with many uses and easy to grow, this year I think we will devote a whole garden bed to it!

Harvested yacon tubers.

Rosa Rugosa

The Rugosa Rose is one of the easiest roses to grow and in a wide variety of conditions. With its beautifully scented magenta blooms and large rose-hips it is a stunning addition to the garden or hedgerow. As it is extremely hardy the Rugosa Rose is often used in coastal plantings and on road verges. However, it is just at home in colder high-country landscapes and has been used as hedgerow plantings in many countries, though in some areas it is now considered a pest species. The robustness of these roses has been utilized in the cross breeding of them to develop disease resistance in garden hybrid roses and they are often used as root stock for standard roses.

The Rugosa are a suckering shrub which creates a dense and very thorny thicket, usually reaching 1 –1.5 m tall, though we also have a taller 2 m specimen. The leaves have a distinct crinkled appearance with pronounced veins, hence the name Rugosa which means wrinkled in Latin. The single magenta blooms are produced in late spring and can continue through summer. (While other colours, ranging from dark pink to white, and double blooms are found in this species we currently do not stock them.) The flowers have a strong pleasant fragrance and are followed by large, 2-3 cm diameter, tomato shaped rose-hips which are high in vitamin C, antioxidants and flavinoids. Both the hips and the flowers are edible, though care must be taken not to ingest the hairs inside the hips as these are an irritant. Rose hips are most commonly used in herbal teas and syrups. The leaves of the shrub are used medicinally in teas and all parts of the plant are astringent and good for the heart and circulation.  The slight bitterness of the hips and petals aids digestion.

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Hips collected from several different Rugosa.

The Rugosa like other rose family plants e.g., hawthorn, raspberry, and strawberry, have similar herbal actions. These include, Astringent, Tonic, Laxative, Antispasmodic, Anti-inflammatory, Antidepressant, Sedative, Increases circulation, Heart tonic and Nutritive. Rose seeds can be dried and ground into a fine powder which is used as a diuretic and for relief of urinary tract disorders.  in Chinese medicine an infusion of the flowers, known as mei gui hua, is said to promote blood circulation, stimulate the flow of energy, and provide relief for stomach distress, liver stagnation, dysentery, mastitis, and leukorrhea.

This rose is a very useful addition to any edible garden or in a fodder forage hedgerow. Sheep, goats and cattle love this sweet-smelling plant and will happily ‘contain’ it for you.

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Globe Artichokes

20181208_182141The Globe Artichoke is a stunning perennial suitable for both the edible and ornamental garden. It’s large grey-green leaves add an architectural element to the garden and the large globe shaped buds open into an attractive purple bloom, which is loved by the bees. Vigorous, prolific, and hardy, this perennial is also edible and medicinal. The globes are harvested at about fist size and before they open, but the stems and fleshy leaf parts can also be eaten. Medicinally the artichoke is thought to have the one of the highest antioxidant levels of all vegetables. Cynarine is a chemical constituent in the Artichoke which is traditionally used to enhance liver function and as a digestive aid. It has also been used to treat chronic liver and gall bladder diseases, jaundice, hepatitis, arteriosclerosis and symptoms of diabetes. While the whole plant contains Cynarine, it is mostly concentrated in the leaves. 

Artichokes are best grown in full sun in reasonably fertile and well-drained soil. They may flower in their first year but fully mature in their second year with the plants lasting 3 – 4 years before needing replacing. However, they can continue from side shoots and dividing every 2 –3 years will keep them producing. Cut back the stems in autumn and use in the compost or as mulch around the plants returning the nutrients to the plants. In cold areas mulching the plants well in late autumn can help protect plants from the cold winter weather. Globe artichokes can reach 1.8 m and have a spread of about 1 m so give them room to grow, planting about 60 cm+ apart in a group creates a stunning mass planting.  

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Seedling Fruit and Nut Trees

Drive down most rural roads and you will see naturalized fruit and nut trees along the roadsides and fence lines. These are scattered here and there by the toss of a core or stone from a passing car or spread by bird, possum or rodent. Left to develop, these natural plantings can evolve into wilding hedgerows or thickets, providing shelter, erosion control and food. Traditional hedgerows would, typically, have regenerated themselves with this same process, fallen or bird-spread seed would have sprouted to fill the gaps left by dead or damaged trees and shrubs. This creates a continually changing and varied landscape, full of plants which are naturally adapted and suited to their local environment. Your location and what grows well there will dictate which edible plants establish in these sites, for us, in the upper Manawatu it is Apples, Plums, Hawthorns, Elders, Blackberry and Walnuts which thrive in these wilding areas (though walnuts due to their production of juglone, which is toxic to some plants, tend to be isolated specimens). While some of these plants are now considered pest species there is still value in their existence. Hawthorns are a valuable medicinal plant with edible young leaves and fruit, and are also a spring nectar source. Elders are sort after for their edible flowers and the ripe berries which are often made into cordials and wine. While harvesting wild blackberries is a common summer past time for many New Zealanders. It is these simple acts of seed dispersal which have resulted in a diverse collection of food, ripe for the taking, be it for human foragers or animal.  

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Wilding Apples and Elder grow together along a fence line

 

In the home garden many of the fruit and nut trees are grafted, this allows the purchaser to be sure of what the tree produces and how it grows. But these trees also have a significant cost if you are looking at planting an edible, fodder/forage hedgerow or food forest and may not be suited to a mixed planting. They have been bred for an orchard or stand-alone type planting not for robustness to compete with other vigorous plants, though some vigorous heritage varieties may do well. It is in these situations where growing your own or purchasing cheaper seedling trees can not only allow for a larger planting at a low-cost but also assist in creating a truly diverse landscape. 

 

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Cherry seedlings

Many fruiting and nut plants can be grown from seed and produce true to type (apricots, peaches etc) while other others result in variations of the parent plant. Apples and Pears are less likely to produce plants similar to the parent but that does not mean the trees are without use. Planted in a hedgerow or similar they can provide fruit and edible leaves for the livestock, a diversion for the birds away from your main orchard, fruit for cider or cider vinegar or pollen for the bees. Sometimes the fruit can be nicer than the parent, many of the common and heritage fruit trees today are the result of a chance seedling, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Gravenstein and  Braeburn are good examples of this. Others have been bred through controlled cross-pollination, but the result is the same, many seedlings with only a handful selected to develop further. So many trees would be discarded, but that does not mean they didn’t produce, it simply means they didn’t have the characteristics that particular grower was looking for mass production. Seedling nut trees also can produce variable results not necessarily true to the parent plant. But if you have grown a seedling which is vigorous and healthy in your soil and climate then you have the option of grafting on to it. Scion wood can be easily sourced from trees you know produce the fruit or nut you want or purchased online.  

 

We have many wild sown apple trees along the roads in our area, one of which produces large ‘Granny smith’ like apples which are brilliant for cooking, another usually carries masses of ‘Gala’ like apples. Both of these trees grow in difficult areas and yet thrive, while in the home orchard we can have no end of problems with the grafted fruit trees. Our favourite peach is from a tree growing in semi-shade on the bank of a creek, it was not a big tree but had large tasty white flesh peaches each year. Someone threw one of these peach stones into the garden near our front gate at the time. A couple of years later a small peach tree had grown, we only lived there for four years and yet when we left this little peach tree was bigger than the grafted plums we had planted near-by and had been covered in fruit that summer. We still have the off-spring of the original tree and though our climate now is not the best for peaches the trees have grown well in their new home. 

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Three to four year old seedling peach tree in a mixed planting.

While it is said that grafted trees produce fruit much faster than seedling, this is not always the case and you must remember that these grafted trees are already several years old. The act of grafting and often bare-rooting the plant for sale can set it back and removal of fruit is often encouraged to allow it to develop good root structure. While a seedling tree, allowed to grow en-situ or planted young, can put on rapid growth and when it reaches fruit production stage it is well able to handle the load as its roots are fully established.  

So, in the small garden or orchard, grafted apple and pear trees allow you certainty about your trees, but seedling stone fruit are worth considering. In the larger garden, orchard or hedgerow situation you have the space to really experiment and develop a truly unique collection of fruit and nut trees which, if locally sourced, are well adapted to your area and climate. 

 

 

Common Linden or Common Lime 

Tilia × europaea

The Common Linden or Lime is a large, broad, cold hardy deciduous tree, able to reach heights of 35m or more. With its deep spreading root system, it is a robust plant well suited to shelterbelts and hedgerows, as it with stands wind well and tolerates regular cutting. A naturally occurring hybrid between Tilia cordata  (small-leaved lime) and Tilia platyphyllos  (large-leaved lime), it is the result of cross pollination between the two parent species in the wild. While the Linden prefers well-drained moist soil, it can grow in nutritionally poor and/or wet soils. It will also grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade and can tolerate strong winds but not maritime exposure.

Its heart shaped leaves are edible when young, often used raw in salads and sandwiches, they are mild and mucilaginous.  The plants can be kept shrubby through coppicing or pollarding to allow for easier leaf harvesting. Young leaves are produced throughout the growing season on coppiced plants making the Common Linden a handy perennial  vegetable. This also allows for harvesting of fodder for livestock or controlled foraging. The foliage is much relished by cattle, both green and dried and made into hay, however it can apparently taint the milk of lactating cows. The leaves are high in nitrogen and phosphorus, similar to those of nitrogen-fixing trees like alders and black locust. They can improve soil structure and fertility over time, acting like a green manure, and increase the earthworm population; they also thought to reduce acidification, raising the pH.

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The highly fragrant yellow-white flowers, occurring in late spring to early summer, are well liked by the bees and have long been used for medicinal purposes. Lime-flower tea has been used for many centuries as an antidote to fever in cold and flu sufferers. It is often used in herbal medicine for hypertension, hardening of the arteries, cardiovascular and digestive complaints associated with anxiety, urinary infections, fevers, catarrh, migraine and headaches. The flowers are also used commercially in cosmetics, mouthwashes and bath lotions. They should be picked and dried as soon as they open as they reputedly develop narcotic properties with age.

The immature fruits can be ground up with some flowers to, apparently, produce an edible paste much like chocolate in flavour. The sap is also considered edible, it is tapped and used in the same way as maples. While the tree is prone to suckering, these suckers are straight and flexible, and can be used for basketry (particularly for making handles).