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Drought Tolerant Edible Garden

April 22, 2014

A majority of our gardening clients ask for drought tolerant edible gardens. Usually, they tack on a request for low maintenance as well. Achieving all three goals: low water needs, edible and easy care doesn’t quite fall into lock-step with a traditional, seasonal vegetable garden filled with (say) tomatoes, spinach and carrots.

Dandelion

Dandelions are colorful, edible & low maintenance plants, but are they ideal for your garden aesthetic?

While you could reach this trinity with a neglected yard lush with edible “weeds” like purslane and dandelion, your neighbors might not see the value as much as you do. Certainly, an herb garden might begin to fit this bill, but you would still need to provide supplemental water to get the garden growing, plus a few flavorful, woody herbal shrubs aren’t likely to truly fill your family’s belly. So, what’s the key to creating a beautiful garden that you can eat and you don’t need to heavily water in a drought or fuss with every day?

Enter noted plant expert Arthur Lee Jacobson, author of several books including Trees of Seattle and Wild Plants of Seattle. Also, he is the author of over a hundred articles on weeds and the former curator of the Weed Garden at Seattle Tilth. In his own garden, he cultivates all sorts of fun plants — from natives to weeds to the rare and unusual. And, he’s tasted many of them and happily shares what he’s eaten. In one of his recent newsletters, he mentioned that many sedums are edible; he knows because he has eaten them.

Sedum Suaveole & Sedum album

Sedum suaveole looks like a Sempervivum, but look at the flowers! (Shown with Sedum album).
Image courtesy of Arthur Lee Jacobsen

If you read this blog or have worked with Garden Mentors® on a garden design or consulting project, you know there are any number of hardy, beautiful, drought tolerant, perennial sedums. These plants come in a range of colors and sizes, and their blooms are magnets for honeybees and other pollinators. And, the seed heads that remain into winter are food for foraging songbirds.

Turns out, according to Arthur Lee in our recent email exchange, many are also food for our plates. He does warn that while, “Hundreds of Sedum species exist, I have tasted only dozens. Most are unpleasantly astringent, or even acrid.” But there are several he does favor including one of our favorites for the garden: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and a Great Plant Picks favorite Sedum ‘Sieboldii’.

Arthur Lee’s Top Tasting Sedum List:

Sedum Autumn Joy & Beekeeper

Pink Blooming Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ makes Arthur Lee’s list of top-tasting Sedum. If you don’t eat it all, bees and other pollinators will feast from these pretty flowers & songbirds will snack on the seeds in winter.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (‘Herbstfreude’) Europe (Autumn Stonecrop)

Sedum præaltum DC., Mexico (Mexican Bush Stonecrop. Green Cockscomb)

Sedum rhodanthum Gray, W. USA (Queen’s Crown)

Sedum Rosea (L.) Scop. = Rhodiola Rosea, Circumboreal (Roseroot)

Sedum ×?rubrotinctum R.T. Clausen = S. guatemalense hort. 1975, Mexico (Stonecrop. Christmas Cheer. Pork & Beans. Jelly-bean Plant)

Sedum rupestre L. = S. reflexum L., W & C Eur. (Jenny Stonecrop. Stone Orpine)

Sedum sarmentosum Bge. = S. lineare ‘Golden Teardrop’, E Asia (Stringy, Trailing or Whorled S. Gold, Graveyard or Yellow Moss. Star Sedum)

Sedum sieboldii Sweet ex Hook. = Hylotelephium S. (Sweet ex Hook.) H. Ohba), Japan, (October Daphne Stonecrop)

Sedum suaveolens Kimnach 1978 = Graptopetalum s. (Kimnach) R.T. Clausen 1981, NW Mexico on shaded cliff faces

If you would like to learn more about (or from) Arthur Lee Jacobson, visit his website or visit his garden. Turns out I got in touch as he was preparing for an open garden day on Sunday, April 27, 2014 from 12pm-6pm. He will have all of these sedums (and much, much more) on display, open for discussion, and much more.

Be sure to ask about his up-cycled bike wheel edible succulent garden while you’re there!

(Please note: Garden Mentors® has not eaten any Sedum species, but we’ll be trying a few bites soon.  And, we’ll be trying them sparingly as we do with every new food.  Remember: Not all edibles work for all individuals, so try eating sedums at your own risk. According to Arthur Lee’s newsletter, the best bites come with new growth in spring, which is right now. And, he suggests they’ll taste better picked in the morning.

Update: Robin gave a tender new leaf of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ a nibble, raw. Her verdict: It’s bitter, but not terrible, and that tiny bite didn’t make her sick or kill her. Cooked might be interesting or with a bit of of dressing. But, for now, she’s taking her consumption slow, as with all new foods.)

5 Comments

  1. Cat says:

    Gives a whole new meaning to the raw food diet!

  2. Yep…let us know if you eat any Sedum, please.

  3. […] hardy, big leaf sedum suffered pox mark damage from hail. The leaves will look cruddy all […]

  4. Marc Bett says:

    was just learning and read somewhere that sedum (no variety state per se) was edible. Well, that led to my search. I thought I would give it to my chickens to try, but they seem to not want it. I haven’t tried it myself, and was not sure if it truly is edible. I think I have the pink/purplish flowering, or the reddish flowering. Looking to find out if anyone truly tries it.

  5. Marc, thanks for writing in. Hope this post helped you narrow down some answers about eating sedums!

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