Plants of the month: wild and edible California crops you can grow at home

Plants of the month for May are two edibles: Malva rosa (Tree Mallow) and Amaranth.

Flowers and leaves of malva rosa
by Zak

Malva rosa, formerly known as Lavatera assurgentiflora is native to the Channel islands of California and is a wonderfully edible plant, with the leaves, flowers and seeds good for consumption. It is a shallow-rooted plant that does well in all kinds of soil as long as they are well drained, and it can tolerate full sun.

It is fast growing and can reach heights of 14 feet and up to10 feet in width. It also serves well as an ornamental, windbreak or privacy screen. The flowers are in bloom for most of the year except for a few months between late fall and early winter. One of my volunteers told me that the original genus name, Lavatera, is an indicator of the plant’s sudsing ability—meaning the leaves can be used to make bubbles, but I have not tried this yet myself.

Amaranth (Amaranthus found around the world as a common weed, it is a self-seeding annual that perennializes for a short-lived season in California. The plant can grow to be 6 feet or taller depending on the variety and comes in many beautiful shapes and colors.

a small amaranth

The young leaves of most species are edible as a salad green or sauteed. Nutritionally they are similar to or better than beets, Swiss chard and spinach, with the leaves having three times the amount of calcium and niacin (Vitamin B3) as spinach leaves. The plant is much closer genetically to its wild ancestors than our over-selected and nutritionally depleted vegetable crops and the leaves are also an excellent source of carotene, iron, calcium, protein, vitamin C and trace elements.

Bunches of the greens can be found at farmer’s markets but don’t keep well, so it’s much easier to grow the plant and cut as needed.

We have both these plants and their seeds in the nursery at CNGF, come by and get yours!


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