Unusual Edibles – Seeds Share Project

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
Aztec Broccoli, Seeds share projectCan 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.

Purple Shiso

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.

Finger squash, Seeds share projectEsiah 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!


7 Replies to “Unusual Edibles – Seeds Share Project”

  1. I have grown shish. The Green one is nice, I used it as a kind of edible plate for eating savoury mince. I’ve grown the purple one and i think it has a faint taste of cinnamon. Last year I grew the bi-colour one but it wasn’t one of my favourites. I’ve grown them in my polytunnel. The trick to germinating the seeds is to sow them in a tray and keep them in total darkness. I put the tray inside a black shoe bag, kept them watered and once they had broken the surface I put them in a sunny spot and when big enough to withstand the dreaded slugs I dug them in. I had great success with them.

    1. Hi Polly, great advice on germination! Thank you! I will follow it and report on my progress.

  2. Wow! What a weird and wonderful bunch!

  3. Thanks Sasha for sharing these weird and unusual edible plants! I knew that the Amaranth leaves were edible, but after reading your blog, I also learned that the seeds are too. It seems that it is more nutritious than wheat ! The other plants..?… I don’t know any except by the name ‘Shiso’ that I never tasted… maybe a day?

    1. Hi Fred, I am a bit concerned about growing Aztec Broccoli and Callaloo as they prefer warm climate, but really looking forward to Shiso. My Japanese friends were saying Shiso is very easy to grow and they like it a lot. It grows as a perennial herb in Japan.

  4. I am also in London and I have achocha seedlings waiting to go in to the garden bed. I found them hard to germinate; which I found surprising because growing them sounds easier than cucumber or melon. Do you have any tips for germination? HSL and real seeds always have interesting heirloom and uncommon varieties to try – my seed container is getting too full.

    1. Hi Fiona, Nice to hear from a fellow London gardener! I haven’t tried growing Achocha yet. I will be sowing my seeds in April-May as I guess they like warmth 🙂 Good luck with your seedlings! Fingers crossed!

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