JoAnne Skelly: Broaden your edible plant palette

  • Discuss Comment, Blog about
  • Print Friendly and PDF

The Coronavirus has made many people want to grow their own food. At the Foothill Garden, a partnership with the Greenhouse Project and Carson Tahoe Health, Will Pierz, the garden manager and farmer, is growing some unusual but hardy edible plants.

I’m a fan of honeysuckle, but I had no idea there was a species that produced edible berries that look and taste almost like blueberries. It is Lonicera caerulea edulis, common name sweetberry honeysuckle or honeyberry. It grows 4 to 6 feet tall and almost as wide. It has pointed bright green leaves and unscented small tubular flowers. It blooms in early spring and the berries ripen in mid- to late spring. They can be eaten right off the bush or made into jams. For the best pollination for fruit production, two varieties, such as ‘Edulis’ or ‘Haskap,’ should be planted in a sunny, moist location. Plants won’t fruit in the shade. However, don’t eat berries from other species of honeysuckle other than L. caerulea because most other species’ berries are mildly poisonous.

Orange-red Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, with their mild licorice flavor, can be eaten raw, dried or cooked, but only ripe fruit of this tomato family relative should be eaten. Young shoots of Lycium barbarum can be cooked as a vegetable, tasting like peppermint or cress. Leaves can be a tea substitute. The plant grows 8 feet tall by 11 to 12 feet wide. In Northern Nevada, it will probably do best in semi-shade for the hottest time of day. It does need moisture in a well-drained soil. It works well as an informal hedge and roots can act as bank stabilizers. In a fertile moist site, these plants can sucker freely and be invasive. It is slightly thorny. Fall berries follow light-purple late spring flowers. Will grows the “Crimson Star” variety at the Foothill Garden.

The goumi, Elaeagnus multiflora “Red Gem,”is another interesting edible. At maturity, it can reach 9 feet in height with a 6-foot spread. It, too, can be grown as a hedge. In addition, it adds nitrogen to the soil both for itself and surrounding plants. It is drought tolerant and wind-resistant. This hardy plant grows in a variety of soils and sun exposure. Flowers have a lilac scent. Its scarlet berries, which ripen in late summer, work well in jams or pies and are high in vitamins A and E.

Hardy perennial fruit-bearing shrubs – what could be better for a long-term edible landscape?

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment