Just because it is 100°F doesn’t mean you can’t have a tasty, home-grown green salad. Well, it won’t have lettuce in it, because lettuce is a cool-season crop, but there are many tasty greens to include in your garden – more than 15, but I had to stop somewhere.
Greens for The Heat
You can cultivate a suite of greens long used by Native peoples, or try some of these new to us from other hot climates around the world. Many have “spinach” in their common name, but most are not even in the same plant family as supermarket spinach.
(Amaranthus species) There are weedy amaranth and amaranth that are garden flowers. Snag those tender leaves of any of them. Do give a nibble first because some of the wild ones are bitter. More on preparing amaranth – here.
2. Cowpea leaves
(Vigna unguiculata) Generally used as a cooked green in Asia. Don’t harvest too many or the plant won’t have energy to grow the tasty beans. Important note – not all beans have edible leaves! More about growing beans – here.
3. Jewels of Opar
(Talinum paniculatum) Related to purslane, small young leaves and roots are edible. Prolific flowers highly attractive to pollinators. It can be a pest in wheat fields, but needs good garden soil so not an escapee in the Southwest.
4. Jute Mallow
(Corchorus olitorius): Relative of hibiscus and okra, this traditional Middle Eastern cooked leafy green does well in our climate. Flowers and young seed pods also eaten. May be sold as molokhia.
5. Malabar Spinach
(Basella alba var. rubra) This is an Asian vegetable that requires a trellis, and is frost sensitive. In the Low and Middle Desert, plant on your pea trellises once peas are done for the winter. They may become perennial in a frost-free year.
6. Miners Spinach, Orach
(Atriplex hortensis) Often volunteers as a weed. Natives used it raw and cooked in stews. You can find seed in some catalogs.
(Moringa oleifera) This is a tree. Yes a tree! With edible leaves and tasty seed pods. Very frost tender, if you live somewhere cool it can be grown in large containers and brought indoors before night temperatures go below 45F.
8. New Zealand Spinach
(Tetragonia expansa) Related to the flowering iceplant – eat it before it flowers. Prefers sandy soils. Commonly available in Southern seed catalogs. Seed companies are listed – here.
(Abelmoschus esculentus) Another relative of hibiscus. I like to grow it because the flowers are pretty, great for pollinators, and #Kinjakat loves to play with the dried seed pods. At 2AM. On the tile floors. Okay – maybe you don’t want to share dried pods with the cat.
10. Onk I:Waki
(Atriplex wrightii) Southwest Natives taught the Spaniards to eat this tasty summer growing “weed” either cooked or raw. Found in all but the Cold Mountains, this green needs a soil pH of 7.5 or higher. I:waki is the generic O’odham term for “greens,” while onk indicates a naturally salty flavor.
11. Perilla, Shiso
(Perilla frutescens) Popular in East Asia as a potherb and in sushi, this mint family member is good in a water garden. Available in purple- and green-leaved varieties. Kitizawa Seed Company offers the seed – and some great recipes for using it. The featured or cover photo is perilla.
12. Purslane, Verdolagas
(Portulaca oleracea) Slightly sour and salty taste, purslane (known locally as verdolagas) is eaten throughout much of Europe, Asia, and Mexico. Stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible raw or cooked. Flowers good for pollinators. There are wild species and numerous beautiful garden cultivars. ‘Goldberger’ grows well in alkaline Southwest soils. (Covid note – out of stock in many seed companies – try Outside Pride.)
(Kali tragus) Better known as “tumbleweed,” this non-native kin to amaranth is highly edible when young. Native to Russia, it is sometimes called Russian thistle. Mentioned here because if you find some in your garden – go ahead and eat your weeds!
14. Sweet Potato Leaves
(Ipomea batata) Yes you can eat them, but not in salad (IMHO) I like them better steamed like spinach or in stir-fry. It’s not just us humans that eat the leaves. Quail think they taste great, and thus you might have to grow in a cage or indoors.
15. Strawberry Spinach
(Chenopodium capitatum): Heirloom from Europe with edible leaves, tender shoots, and edible red mulberry-like fruits. I’m going to try this one and get back to you.
Did you notice – no lettuce, no kale, no cabbage. Those are all for the cool season.
What I love about these tasty greens is that they grow in the heat and they help me “eat in season” and rely far less on the supermarket and shipped-in food. You can live more “green” with these greens!
As for how to grow all these greens – that will be in the post “Growing Great Greens in Summer.” Should be up soon. I sincerely advise you to subscribe to my newsletter to be informed when that post goes live (over on the sidebar → and at bottom of each post). Or follow me on Facebook – that works too.
Cooking and using these great greens is a topic for my sister site – Savor the SW.
More about vegetable gardening in this book: Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.
© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt – but you must give proper credit to Gardening With Soule. You must include a link to the original post on my site. No stealing photos.
Featured image: perilla, courtesy of Jean Pawek.
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