Experimenting with the exotic


One of the pleasures of growing your own is experimenting with unusual crops. They add colour and interest to your pots and new flavours for your taste buds. Even in a small space you have so many possibilities. Here are a few you might try.


African blue basil, Vietnamese coriander, red perilla, achocha ‘fat baby’, mitsuba (Japanese parsley), chrysanthemum greens


Basil, African blue: this is a perennial basil, with variegated leaves and beautiful purple flower spikes that bloom for several months. Looks handsome on the window sill. The leaves are tougher than annual basil but the flavour is good – ideal for cooking. One plant will provide many leaves once established. Needs sunny spot.  Stocked by the wonderful Poyntzfield Herb Nursery in Scotland and Herbal Haven.

Vietnamese coriander: Ru at Hawkwood Nursery put me on to this. Not related in anyway to conventional coriander, but with a great pungent oriental taste – superb in stir fries and spicy soups. One plant, once established, will give you a regular supply of leaves. Needs sun and plenty of water – but otherwise  easier to grow than conventional coriander. And it doesn’t go to seed. Needs to be kept indoors over winter. Stocked by Herbal Haven and Poyntzfield Herb Nursery.

Red Perilla: a Japanese herb with an interesting – not too strong – flavour that’s hard to describe. Somewhere between basil and parsley? Grow from seed like basil – stocked by the Real Seed Catalogue amongst others.

Fat Baby Achocha:  the Real Seed Catalogue put me on to this.  My two experimental seeds shot up like rockets. They are now over 12 foot tall and  producing plenty of alien like fruits with soft spikes. Our 16 month son is regularly intrigued by them. The taste is reminiscent to green peppers. Good climber for a small space.

Mitsuba:  hardy herb, important in Japanese cooking – Joy Larkcom (author of Oriental Vegetables) describes the taste as a cross between parsley, celery and angelica. Grows well in light shade so useful if you have a spot to fill without much sun. Sometimes known as ‘Japanese parsley’ but its not related. Seeds available from Suffolk Herbs.

Chrysanthemum greens: another oriental that grows fast and easily. The attractive leaves have a strong, unusual, tangy flavour (not to every-body’s taste) that are good in salads. They can also be lightly cooked (its other name is chop suey greens).  Leaves are best eaten before the pretty yellow flowers appear. The flower petals are also edible – sprinkle them over a salad to add colour. Also available from Suffolk Herbs.

Achocha in foreground: vigorous climber with fruits that taste like green peppers.

African blue basil (centre) – sends up pretty purple flower spikes for several months

2 comments… add one

  • That’s really interesting, Fabiana, thank you…

    I’ll look up a black bean stew recipe for my remaining crop – unless you have one?

  • The Fat Baby Achocha is called Maxixe in Brazil and it is used widely in the North East (arid) region. It is cooked with black bean stew.


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