Perhaps you remember these maxims:
“Waste not, want not”
I have always been a very frugal person, and that extends into my gardening. I appreciate knowing that I have gained every benefit possible from each plant I grow, especially the edible ones. We often think of one use for each food plant, but did you know that many, many edible plants have many edible parts and uses?
For instance, radishes are generally known for spicy, crunchy edible roots. They grow very quickly, often ready to harvest in a month from seed. As the plants grow, you can pick off a few leaves from each radish plant to add to a saute or stir fry. The leaves are a bit spiny, so I don’t enjoy them raw, but cooked, they are great. You harvest some of the roots when they are ready, but others you left in the ground a little too long and they grew flower stalks. Then what do you do? Well, you enjoy the cute little flowers in bloom and the bees buzzing around. Then, when the young seed pods begin to form, you harvest those for a snack, or to add to a salad. Yes, they are edible! And very zippy. In a tender pea-type pod. After a couple of weeks, those pods get too tough to eat as the seeds are maturing. Then what do you do? You wait for the seed pods to finish maturing. When they get dry and brown, you collect all the pods, and crush them to retrieve the seeds. These seeds can be used to grow radish sprouts to eat on salads, or topped on a stir fry. If you grow only one type of radish, the seeds can also be used to grow more radishes of the same type next year. In this way, you have just completed a full cycle of using this one plant.
Raspberry and blackberry brambles typically fruit on second year branches, and then that branch is spent and will fruit no more and needs to be pruned out. As the branches are pruned out, collect all the leaves off of them. Dry the leaves to use for raspberry or blackberry tisane (herbal tea). It is very healthy and tasty.
Sometimes, using all the parts of a plant requires some creativity, or learning a new recipe, or using a substitute ingredient for a meal you make often. For example, my children love greens layered into lasagna. I used to use spinach for this, until my son became deathly allergic to spinach. Since then, I have used mizuna or arugula or kale or swiss chard. They all worked equally well. We also like to have haystacks (cooked rice with a chicken sauce and toppings); really any vegetable or fruit that is ready to use could go on this meal. Tacos, stir fry and baked potatoes work in this way too. For me, it is worth the effort to find ways to use every bit of what I grow. The small amount I cannot use to eat is still used for compost and can go back into the garden to build the soil.
I have created a chart to help you (and me) know and remember all the parts of plants that can be used. These are the plants I currently grow or plan to grow, so I may add to the list over time. I collected my information from many web and book sources, my own experience, as well as garden catalogs.
For more information on using seeds you collect for sprouts or microgreens, see http://mvseeds.com
For more information on collecting seeds that will grow true to variety for the next year’s crop, see http://www.howtosaveseeds.com/seedsavingdetails.php
Note: For seeds used for sprouts or microgreens, it doesn’t matter if plants cross pollinate. For seeds for growing plants the next season that are the same type as last year, many plants do have to be isolated from other varieties so they don’t cross pollinate and create some new variety of fruit or vegetable.