Little Known Edible and Useful Plants for the Northwest

This week I attended the Focus on Farming Conference in Snohomish County as a volunteer with the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association.  I was lucky enough to hear a talk by Dave Boehnlein of Terra Phoenix Design.  His concept of permaculture was easy to understand.  To create systems and landscapes that provide things other than aesthetics.  He suggested some new plants  for this permaculture approach.  His idea is to to help people meet their own needs and create an integrated garden design.  Dave is a great speaker and shared his enthusiasm and new ideas with us.  Here is his list of Functional Plants for the Pacific Northwest. You might find a new favorite on his list!

1.  Cork Oak (Quercus suber)  From Portugal, Mediterranean.  Used for cork production.  Tough plant, can take poor soils and dry conditions.  Evergreen.

2. White Mulberry (Morus alba)  A permaculture all-star plant.  Produces fruit July through September.   Chickens can forage underneath.  Leaves are high in protein and a fodder crop for sheep and cattle.  When leaves are young and tender they are edible to humans as well.  Silk worms only eat mulberry leaves.

3. Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativas)  Can take poor soils.  Is the most expensive spice on earth.  It takes 30,000 plants to make one pound of spice.  Beautiful and useful.

4. White Currant (Ribes glandulosum) Birds will eat the red and black currants, but don’t see or eat the white.  This plant can grow and produce in the understory, in part shade.

5. Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana) From Chile, well-adapted to the Northwest.  Spectacular nut tree as well as timber tree. The nuts were the staff of life for the indigenous people.  Need male and female trees to produce nuts.  Nuts sell for $60/lb.

6. Fuki (Petasites japonicus) From Japan, shade tolerant and likes wet soil.  Huge leaves make a big statement in the landscape.  Can harvest stalks when tender for a food crop.

7.  Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) This is the pine that produces pine nuts.  It needs good drainage and is a tough plant.

8. Chinese Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) A hardy palm for the Northwest.  Because of the dissimilarity to our native plants it is a dynamic nutrient accumulator, drawing up micronutrients from the soil.  Used for fiber, building (roofs) and the flower stalks are edible.

9. Bladder Senna (Colutea arborescens) A nitrogen fixing shrub.  Reaches 9-10 ft. tall.  Orange/yellow flowers with pink seed pods.  Easy to manage, doesn’t spread prolifically.  No thorns.

10. Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) From the East Coast of the United States, aesthetic value, up to 6 ft. tall.  Fiddlehead fronds are edible.

11. Amole or Soap root  (Chlorogalum pomeridianum)  From California, tubers used for soap. Perennial, flower, resilient.

12. Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) Tuber forming, like potato.  A lost crop of the Incas.  Also a weed barrier.

13. Goumi (Eleagnus multiflora) From Japan7-8 ft. Beautiful bronzy new growth and stems.  Little berries high in lycopene.  Thorny, self-fertile.

14. Pineapple Broom (Cytisus battandieri) Nitrogen fixer, up to 12 ft. tall, clusters of yellow flowers with a pineapple scent.

15. Yuzu Citrus (Citrus ichangensis) From Japan, the most hardy of the citrus.  Like lime or lemon.  Needs good drainage, protection.

16. New Zealand Flax (Phormium) Fiber plant of the Maori people, use for plant ties.

17. Ground Nut (Apios americana) Nitrogen fixing vine, produces edible tubers, has nice flowers.

18. Sweet Birch (Betula lenta) Has a high sugar content, tastes like wintergreen.  Can be used for birch syrup or drinks.

19. Udo (Aralia cordata) From Japan.  Perennial to 6 ft. tall.  Harvest shoots when they are 6-8 inches,  like asparagus. An understory plant.

20. Azarole (Crataegus azarolus) As well as other Crataegus.  Drought tolerant, can take winter wet.  Has juicy, sweet fruit.  Ornamental and production!

For further information he listed a few resources:

Plants for a Future (

Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier

Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier

Creating a Forest Garden by Martin Crawford

Dave Boehnlein

6 thoughts on “Little Known Edible and Useful Plants for the Northwest

  1. I’ve already decided to try and grow a Bladder Senna next year after seeing one in a botanical garden here. This is an interesting list. Thanks for sharing!

    1. No, he didn’t really talk about our native plants, just what is adapted to grow in the Pacific Northwest. I agree, I love learning about the uses of our native plants.

  2. Hi! I so agree with his premis. Landscapes can be beautiful AND productive AND lasting! Very interesting plant list and I’m interested in a few but need to look up and see if they can live as cold as zone 6, since I know you are a little warmer. Also need to check the moisture requirements since it is semi-arid in these parts. Thank you for sharing.

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