A couple of weeks ago an envelope landed at my doorstep. It was full of unusual edibles seeds Esiah from SeedsShare project sent me. Heirloom squashes, black runner beans and some names I had never heard before: Huauzontle, Purple Shiso and Custard Apple. Immediately I was eager to share news about this amazing project!
Esiah Levy is the founder of SeedsShare project who distribute edible plant seeds all over the world for free. Over 1000 packets of seeds were sent so far to 150 countries/cities, including Japan, Peru, Indonesia, America and many more. The aim of this project is to help people grow free organic food and improve food security in communities where fresh produce is scarce.
Like me, Esiah grows squashes, tomatoes, painted sweetcorn and runner beans in his London garden but there are also some rare plant varieties in his seedbank. I am a big fan/collector of unusual seeds and was excited to find Chilean guava, Mallow and Giant Chard among SeedsShare offerings. The prospect of growing something new, and often unexpected, makes Esiah’s project fun and gives people that extra bit of motivation to sow seeds! Usage of recycled materials is another aspect I like about this project. Access to the City of London, allows Esiah to source materials for his garden, like cocoa shells and coffee grounds, which otherwise would be wasted.
Here are some of the seeds I found in my envelope and I must admit I had to do a little research on the Internet to understand what I had received.
Huauzontle aka Aztec Broccoli
Can you tell this plant is from Mexico? When I heard this name, I remembered a book “Montezuma’s Daughter” by Rider Haggard and all the incredible adventures of the main hero in New Spain during the conquest of the Aztec empire. Huauzontle, which literally means hairy amaranth, was an important crop during Montezuma’s rule, together with maize and beans, and many towns paid tribute to the Aztec empire in Huauzontle. (Aztec Broccoli image credit – Seeds Share Project)
No wonder this plant is celebrated, it is so versatile: red tinted green stems, leaves and flower shoots are edible and you can collect grains to grind them into flour. The flowers shoots are the most delicious and taste something between broccoli and spinach or at least Google says so! I am personally looking forward to making Tortitas de Huauzontle filled with cheese, topped with tomato or chilli sauce (my Aji Lemon chilli could be a tasty addition to this recipe!) and Huauzontle scrambled eggs.
Callaloo, another plant from the Amaranth family, is very popular throughout the Caribbean islands. The name Callaloo actually comes from the famous Jamaican dish made from amaranth leaves combined with other seasonal veg. I am a spontaneous cook and like the idea of mixing and matching homegrown veg in curry cooking so I am confident I will find a use for callaloo. I will be sowing both of these leafy greens in May, considering their natural hot climate origins.
Ok, you have guessed Huauzontle correctly but do you know where Shiso plant is widely cultivated? It is highly prized in Japan and I have a soft spot in my heart for the country and its native plants so I am super excited to try this new Japanese herb from the mint family. Shiso is also known by several other names including perilla, beefsteak plant and Chinese basil.
I contacted my friend Seiko san who lives in Nagoya and also practices Aikido to tell me more about this wonderful herb and why Japanese people value it so much. I discovered that there are green Shiso and Akajiso, which translates as Red Shiso, but the plant leaves are actually purple. 🙂 The green variety is very common and used in many Japanese dishes. Raw leaves are nice in the summer for their refreshing taste and often picked fresh before the meal to be added as topping on somen or udon noodles, tofu and seafood or veg tempura. Leaves are also a perfect size to fit inside spring rolls bringing a delicate flavour and aesthetically delightful appearance to the dish when cut. Purple variety is considered to be atypical and not so flavoursome and is generally not grown at home but used instead for coloring pickles such as umeboshi (pickled plums). Another popular recipe is to make Akajiso juice drink from the leaves.
So why is Shiso so special to Japanese people? My colleagues from Japan say it is because of Shiso’s unique flavour – tangy but not spicy, with a hint of mint, basil, cumin and anise; they insist that no other herb can replace it. I will definitely be growing lots of Perilla plants to share in my office this summer.
Esiah might have also successfully created a squash overload in my London garden by sending me seven varieties of squashes! There are some really interesting and rare winter squash seeds in his collection. I will be trying Japanese Kabocha and Green Kuri; acorn Yugoslavian Finger Squash and turban Ute Indian Squash, ancient variety originally cultivated by Ute Indian tribe in Colorado. (Finger squash image credit – Seeds Share Project)
What unusual edibles are you growing this year? Pop in to SeedShare website to find your special seeds and let me know in the comments about your adventures in cultivating something different and extraordinary!