Jerry’s Top 7 Food Plants

Jerry Coleby-Williams’ Top 7 Food Plants

I had the pleasure of meeting Jerry Coleby-Williams during an open day at his highly productive suburban Brisbane garden Bellis in 2019.  

I asked Jerry to name his favourite edible plants (a bit like asking someone to choose his favourite child!).  He laughed and said this was impossible to do but shared 7 plants he wouldn’t be without in his garden.

The back garden at Bellis, May 2019.

1. Cocoyam – Xanthosoma saggitifolia

This is a water-wise relative of taro.  The new leaves can be used in curries (cook for 15 minutes before eating to neutralise the irritating crystals in the sap), and the baby cormlets or side tubers can be boiled like new potatoes.  The stems can be diced, boiled and mashed as a vegetable or for hearty soups, and the main tuber will store for 12 months.

2. Jackfruit – Artocarpus heterophyllus

This is a heavy producer that has the largest tree-borne fruit of any plant and multiple culinary uses.  When unripe the fruit can be used in savoury dishes as a meat substitute, when ripe it can be eaten at various stages from crisp to soft and very sweet, and the seeds are similar to nuts and are delicious roasted.

3. African White Yam – Dioscorea rotundata

This is a prolific climbing yam that produces large numbers of tubers in a small space that store very well.

4. Sweetleaf – Sauropus androgynus

The high-protein leaves and the top 15 cm of stem tips have a pleasant taste similar to fresh garden peas (but must be cooked before consumed).  The leaves are also an excellent source of vitamin K which is useful for chemotherapy patients.  The pink, ripe berries can be eaten like peas or tossed in salads and stir fries.

5. Mung Bean – Vigna radiata  

Mung beans are warm season, annual legumes that produce multiple crops each season.  The young pods can be used as a bean substitute, mature pods can be stored as dry beans for cooking and sprouting, and the plants are excellent green manures.

6. Banana – Musa species

Bananas are ornamental and highly productive plants.  Green bananas can be served boiled and mashed and used like potato mash.  Ripe bananas are a delicious and nutritious fruit, and flour can be made from dried bananas.  Cultivars for the home garden include Java Blue, Lady Finger, and Dwarf Ducasse.

7. Perennial Onion Family – Allium species  

Having many different perennial onion relatives in the garden means there’s always something available to flavour dishes.  The bulbs, stems and flowers are edible.  Grow Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum), Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), Welsh Onions (Allium fistulosum), Perennial Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) and Tree Onions (Allium cepa).

The back garden at Bellis, May 2019.
Jerry Coleby-Williams at Bellis, May 2019.

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