It’s no secret that home gardens have exploded in popularity of late – whether you opt for mood-lifting flowers or are partial to edible plant plots. When it comes to the latter, family physician and science journalist Daphne Miller, M.D., welcomes the move toward homegrown harvest: “I’m seeing this expansion of the terrace, front yard, backyard, side yard, and sidewalk farming movement,” she says.
But if you are going to start your own edible home garden, you may wonder: Which healthy plants are the most beginner-friendly? Below, Miller lists a few underrated superstars that are surprisingly easy to nurture. Consider them low-maintenance crops that pack quite a nutritious punch:
1. Herbs and Spices
Studies show that the flavonoids and phenolic acid in oregano can help manage inflammation and oxidative stress; thyme has well-documented immune-supporting powers; rosemary touts antioxidant and neuroprotective properties; finally, alliums (think garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives) are chock-full of antioxidant properties – some experts even recommend eating a clove of garlic a day, if you can tolerate the taste.
In terms of ease, herbs are notoriously low-maintenance: “Herbs tend to recede themselves,” says Miller, and they tend to be perennial (meaning, they live on for multiple growing seasons).
This Mexican squash is rich in antioxidants, fibre, and phytonutrients – namely, quercetin and myricetin (another powerful flavonoid). One study even found that dried chayote had an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect in older adults with metabolic syndrome. From the gourd family, the chayote has a flavour akin to a cucumber or jicama, and you can enjoy it cooked or raw – simply snap it right off the vine.
Miller also touts the ease of kale trees. For those without a yard, don’t worry – these trees typically grow 2 to 3 feet tall, and they’re pretty resilient: “[They] can really take everything from tons of water to a minimum of water,” says Miller.
She continues, “These perennial trees produce the most delicious, buttery, sweet kale leaves.” In case you need a refresher on the health benefits of kale, the cruciferous veggie is high in vitamins, antioxidants, and fibre. Often dubbed a “nutritional powerhouse,” this is one worthy plant for your home garden.
Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention cactus, as these “really take no water,” says Miller – they are perfect for the forgetful plant parents among us. Nopales refer to the pads of the cactus, and, according to Miller, are low-glycaemic players with tons of antioxidant capabilities; one study even found that the nopal cactus may have neuroprotective properties.
“You can just cut off one pad and actually eat it raw,” Miller notes. “Or you can prepare it raw and make a salad with it. [It’s] delicious with lime or lemon.”
In conclusion? “These are all vegetables that give a lot in terms of nutrition,” says Miller. They don’t take much to grow, and also pack in health benefits.