If you want to enjoy more food from your home-grown produce, Katie Irwin from Waste Not Collective shares her advice for root to seed eating (with a delicious recipe at the end).

Over the last few years, we have seen a resurgence in the nose to tail eating movement as people return to how our ancestors ate by appreciating and using the whole animal.  This way of eating ensures nothing goes to waste and as a gardener and veggie lover, I take this same approach to eating plants!  Eating from root to seed is an incredible way to ensure nothing goes to waste, expand your tastebuds and cooking repertoire and provide your body with nutrients that it may ordinarily have missed out on.  If you have ever grown your own food, you will know how challenging and time consuming it can be. Knowing how to use the whole plant is the greatest way of respecting the time and energy you (and nature) have put in.  Root to seed eating greatly increases the amount of food available for consumption, filling more bellies and requiring less inputs. A root to seed garden is productive, diverse, resilient, self-sowing and a haven for wildlife and insects.

Unfortunately, our society’s disconnection with the food we eat and the people who grow it, means that we don’t have a great understanding of how herbs, fruits and vegetables grow and their full lifecycles. This can be seen by people trying to grow carrots from carrot tops on Facebook – you’ll get more green carrot tops (that may flower and seed), not another orange carrot for those wondering!  Due to this separation from our food and growers, we’re conditioned to think that the only edible part of the plant is what ends up on the supermarket shelf.

The reality is, almost all fruit and vegetable plants have other edible aspects, we just need to broaden our expectations and palates! Some common plants that we only see one part of sold on the shelf include beetroots (the leaves are also beautiful and delicious), coriander (entirely edible, leaf, stem, root, flower and seed), pumpkin (skin, flesh, flower, seed and leaf are all edible and nutritious) and zucchini (skin, flesh, flower, stem and leaf are all edible). Carrot tops and flowers are delicate and delicious, broccoli leaves and stems (one of my son’s favourites!) are all edible and great for bulking out curries and mustard greens are very fast to grow, the leaves are full of flavour, and the flowers and seed pods are totally delicious!

In my food garden, I try to focus on perennial plants or plants that have a multitude of uses or an extendable harvest time.  One of my favourite multi-use plants for our climate is the humble sweet potato. They grow so easily in Brisbane and can easily provide my family (and other families!) with kilos of greens throughout the warmer seasons which we use as a spinach alternative. Whilst we’re waiting for the tubers to develop, we continually pinch off the young leaves which are said to be far more nutritious than the sweet potato itself. As the vine sprawls it provides a dense living mulch to protect my soil and also acts as a wonderful sacrificial plant, tempting bugs away from my more delicate plants whilst providing habitat for lizards and skinks.

One of our favourite side dishes is sweet potato leaves in coconut cream. We grow all of these ingredients in our subtropical suburban garden except for the coconut cream, soy sauce and brown sugar!

Sweet potato leaves in coconut cream

Ingredients

  • Large bowl of sweet potato leaves, rinsed
  • 1 lemon grass stalk, chopped finely
  • 2 green spring onions, chopped finely
  • 1 tbsp of ginger, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp of turmeric, minced
  • 1 red Thai chilli, chopped finely
  • Olive oil to sauté
  • 2 tsp soy sauce, more or less to taste
  • 1 tsp brown sugar, more or less to taste
  • Squeeze of lime juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Boil a large pot of water, blanch sweet potato leaves for 60 seconds, remove and plunge leaves into ice-cold water.
  2. Heat olive oil in a fry pan over medium heat and sauté lemon grass, ginger, garlic, turmeric and chilli until fragrant.
  3. Add can of coconut cream and bring to a gentle simmer.
  4. Add soy sauce, brown sugar, lime, salt and pepper to suit your taste.
  5. Add blanched leaves and spring onions and stir through coconut cream to heat.

Serve as a side dish or bulk out into a full meal by adding extra veg, rice noodles and cubed tofu.

Learning how to grow, cook and eat from root to seed is a truly rewarding experience. As always, please make sure your plants are herbicide and pesticide free before eating and do your own independent research to make sure what you’re eating is safe. Once you start thinking root to seed, you will start to see the food in your garden multiply before your eyes!