Pretty Tasty: Plants You Can Actually Eat

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Pretty Tasty: Plants You Can Actually Eat
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Growing your own vegetables, herbs and even fruits is a great way to supplement your diet as well as cut down on your grocery bill. But did you know there are many more edible plants available beyond those commonly found in stores? Dr. Douglas N. Graham, CEO of FoodnSport.com, in Key Largo, Florida, shares 10 plants found throughout the United States that add variety and optimum nutrition to your diet -- and sometimes interesting new flavors.

Chive Flowers
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Chive Flowers

Everyone is familiar with chives, and they are commonly used in many recipes as well as a garnish on dishes. However, the flower blossoms of chives also are edible. "Their taste is essentially the same as that of chives, but somewhat stronger," Graham said. "If you are sensitive to the oniony taste of chives, use the flowers very sparingly." Chive flowers are a great garnish for soups and salads, and they add a lovely flavor to tomato sauces, he added.

Hibiscus Leaves and Flowers
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Hibiscus Leaves and Flowers

Many gardeners love to include hibiscus in their flower beds as a beautiful pop of color. You also can use these large, colorful flowers to accent your next entrees. "The flowers are almost flavorless, but completely edible, and make beautiful garnishes," Graham said. "The leaves are also completely edible, although many people prefer the younger, more tender leaves to the tougher and more mature ones." Simply put, if you like including spinach in your salads, then you probably will like adding hibiscus leaves as well.

Nasturtium
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Nasturtium

A hardy perennial, nasturtium features green, flat, circular leaves and blooms in almost every color. Although the flowers, leaves and stems are edible, they offer a contrasting flavor experience. "The flowers are so mild as to be tasteless," Graham said. "The stems and leaves are extremely peppery in flavor. Many people delight in this pepperiness, while others find it impossible to consume." When using nasturtium, consider using the flowers for a colorful garnish and the stems and leaves to season your dish.

Decorative Kale and Cabbage
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Decorative Kale and Cabbage

While kale and cabbage are common members of many gardens, we generally think of decorative kale and cabbage as accents to flower beds. However, these plants also are edible with a similar taste to their cultivated garden counterparts, Graham said. "The main difference is that the decorative varieties are just a bit tougher than the others, but not so much so that they cannot be enjoyed in salads and other vegetable dishes," he added.

Wild Fennel
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Wild Fennel

For those familiar with fennel commonly found in stores, you know that variety known as Florence fennel comes with a bulb. Wild fennel produces a similar plant, but it produces no bulb at all. "The leaves are soft, wispy and grow something like ferns or peacock feathers," Graham said. This perennial herb produces a licorice flavor, which adds depth to pasta dishes and casseroles.

Rhubarb
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Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a gorgeous plant for any garden thanks to its tall, wide leaves atop thick stalks. It also provides an abundance of vitamin C to your diet. However, take care when harvesting this edible plant. Rhubarb leaves are highly toxic, so you want just the purple stalks. "Enjoy rhubarb straight from the garden, blend it as a tart salad dressing or use it anywhere you want to add an acidic bite to your food," Graham said. Or in that all-time favorite, strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Pea Shoots and Flowers
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Pea Shoots and Flowers

How often have you harvested sweet baby peas and tossed away the shoots and flowers? We all do it, but, in doing so, we miss out on an extra source of nutrition. "Including the greens -- shoots, leaves and flowers -- adds a world of enjoyable flavor and texture to almost any dish," Graham said. Be aware that the blossoms of plants that yield edible peas should not be confused with sweet pea flowers which are poisonous and cannot be eaten.

Sea Purslane
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Sea Purslane

If you live along a warm section of the coastline, you'll find sea purslane growing in clumps on and near tideline rocks. It has cylindrical leaves that are about an inch long and almost one-third as wide, Graham said. "This plant is crunchy, juicy and extremely salty in flavor. Many people say that eating sea purslane is like eating olives." He does caution, though, against eating too much of this extremely salty plant.

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