Plant of the Month: Gooseberry and chocho, vibrant and edible

We are plant people. It’s in our name and in our hearts so we’re excited to share two Plant of the Month articles each month starting in March.

Between the large variety of native plants suitable for eye-catching gardens—along with added benefits like bringing pollinators, providing habitat, or nitrogen fixing—and so many edible plants, we have been hard pressed to choose just one for the newsletter. So why not have two!?

Fuchsia flowering gooseberry

This plant is showy, attracts beautiful hummingbirds, and is blooming in our nursery right now. 

A great benefit to your soil and to neighborhood wildlife, the gooseberry, or Ribes speciosum, boasts pendulous red flowers from January to May.

It’s a very attractive 4’, nearly evergreen shrub that can find a place in an oak woodland, a grassland garden under the canopy of oaks, or can stand alone in an Asian themed garden as a specimen.

Place it in a rock garden or near a small water feature. The hummingbirds pollinate this plant and it will brighten any corner of your garden on a grey day.



Our second plant choice will be an edible plant that we’ve been growing this year. Lupinus metabalis, or Chocho in Spanish, is a lupine found in the Andes. When harvested, a cook is left with what looks like a small, white bean.

This plant will be included in our menu for the new restaurant this year, called “Eating California.” 

That’s right, we told everyone in our December newsletter that we were the lucky recipients of a grant from Santa Clara County, which will pay for the construction and appliances of our outdoor restaurant.

So now we are busy at the nursery planting and germinating many suitable plants for our regenerative farm and gardens at San Jose’s first Urban Ecovillage at the Middlebrook Center.

Chocho grows at high elevations in South America and is an annual. With numerous rinsing, cooking or brining, its bitter alkaloids become neutralized and it can be eaten.

Once on a botanizing trip in Eucuador, we were overnight guests at an indigenous people’s village. For our evening meal, they served chochos. These Lupines were delicious. In addition to being edible, they have 40% amino acids, a protein called lysine and 20% fat. The people of the Andes have eaten them since ancient times.

Our own native lupines in California are poisonous. So we consider this a real treasure to grow in the Bay Area. It’s advantages are: drought tolerant, super food, nitrogen fixing with 12” long tap root, pollinator plant and rich culinary history of the Andean mountain people.

We’ll plant it along with our lupinus arboreus, a California coastal species, and lupinus albifrons, our chaparral species. We plan to study and report how they grow together in our native California meadow as we promote biodiversity and produce food using ecological principles.

We just have to train our chefs to know the difference in lupines and our patrons as well.

Ecosystems are complex. Thousands of species in the plant world have numerous strategies to repel the predator. Don’t you agree it’s time we begin educating people, especially children, to know and recognize the differences in plants?


You can read more about the culinary treasure that is chocho here.

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