10 Unusual Vegetables for Adventurous Gardeners

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Watermelon radish

Growing our own food gives us the opportunity to taste produce as fresh and healthy as it’s possible to get. It also means zero food miles and, if we choose, fewer artificial fertilizers and pesticides. But the really exciting reason to grow more of your own is the chance to try something different. There are many quirky crops out there, just waiting to be discovered. So if you fancy growing something new, here’s our top 10 unusual vegetables to shake things up in the garden...

1. Cardoon

Let’s start with a real monster of a vegetable! Closely related to globe artichoke and with similarly striking thistle-like blooms, cardoons are in fact grown for their incredible architectural stems. Looking a lot like super-sized celery, the earthy stems are delicious served up in a gratin. Cardoon needs lots of space, sunshine and a free-draining soil.


2. Shiso Perilla

This leafy exotic is more commonly associated with Japanese cuisine, where it’s used in tempuras and sushi. The taste conjures up a curious mix of herbs, from mint to basil, as well as spices such as cinnamon. Red-leaved shiso perilla is a stunner, but it’s the green form that wins on flavor.

Shiso perilla

3. Oca

With its distinctive leaf shape, it’s easy to recognize oca as a member of the wood sorrel family. The leaves can be eaten in moderation but the real treat lies beneath the ground. Oca tubers are rich in vitamin C and may be eaten raw, or cooked in exactly the same ways as potato. Oca is planted in spring with the tubers forming in early autumn.


4. Celeriac

It tastes like a nutty version of celery but is more often mashed like potato – meet celeriac. This hardy, versatile winter root may also be grated raw, boiled or braised. Or cut it into cubes and drop it into stews or soups. With young plants going in from spring, this is the perfect follow-on crop for ground recently vacated by other winter staples.


5. Malabar Spinach

This culinary climber is Malabar spinach, an Asian vine with pretty red stems and delicious, fleshy leaves perfect in salads or stir-fried. A perennial, grown as an annual in regions prone to frost, Malabar spinach loves rich, fertile soil and grows best in full sun.

Malabar spinach

6. Kohlrabi

Next up: kohlrabi. Kohlrabi is an almost alien-looking vegetable that’s used in similar ways to turnip. The ‘bulbs’ are in fact swollen stems and taste like tender broccoli. They grow best from the second half of summer and should be harvested before they reach tennis ball size. We love them sliced then baked into healthy fries.


7. Seakale

Let’s take a look at another member of the brassica family: seakale. This quirky perennial needs a permanent bed like rhubarb or asparagus. Seakale is forced into growth in winter and early spring using special forcing pots to give one of the earliest harvests of the season. The tender, pale stems that follow are a real delicacy and cooked just like asparagus. This maritime native prefers free-draining soils.


8. Amaranth

Move over quinoa, there’s a new grain on the block! Also known as ‘love-lies-bleeding’ – you can see why in the picture below – amaranth seeds are full of hugely healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Amaranth grows well in most soils and prefers a warm, sunny spot. Look out for the variety ‘Red Callaloo’ too, grown for its versatile and nutritious leaves.


9. Winter Radish

Round, red radishes are a summer staple, but did you know there’s a whole other side to the humble radish? Just as easy to grow as their summer cousins, winter radishes include the mild-flavored daikon often used in Asian cuisines, the tender-if-formidable-looking ‘Black Spanish’ radish, and the almost-impossibly vibrant watermelon radish. What a stunner!

Winter radish ‘Spanish Black’

10. Salsify & Scorzonera

Two very similar vegetables take up our final slot. Salsify and scorzonera both enjoy light, well-drained soil and a sunny, open position. They don’t look like much above ground, but that’s no problem because it’s the super-hardy roots we’re after, which have a delicate, sweet flavor reminiscent of oysters! Lift them as needed from autumn onwards to enjoy boiled or grated raw.

Boiled salsify

I invite you to be adventurous and try a few of these tasty eccentrics. They’ll certainly bring something new to the dinner table. If you’ve grown any of them before please share your experiences below.

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Show Comments


"For the cardoon take note it needs to be eaten in the winter months. If you get past March it is too bitter to bother with. It is time consuming to prepare but it does give you something to eat in the winter when the rest of your garden is sparse. "
Theresa Capri on Saturday 18 May 2019
"Thanks for that advice Theresa. "
Ben Vanheems on Monday 20 May 2019
"Celeriac: We've eaten many times (shop brought) as an alternative to potatoes for a keto diet. Great sliced for a dauphoinse, ground to replace rice and roasted to replace chips and roast potatoes. Videos I have watched say it is a very fussy grower in the UK."
Deborah on Friday 14 June 2019
"Hi Deborah. Love your suggestions for celeriac! I've found that celeriac is okay if it has plenty of light and space and good consistent soil moisture. I'd definitely give it a go."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 17 June 2019
"I'm sad to say I had no idea what Oca was when I discovered some when digging the garden of the house we'd just moved into. I had to discard them as I couldn't identify them but I regret it now! But if I ever find them again, they'll be eaten for sure! "
Lynne on Friday 9 October 2020
"Hi Lynne. That is a shame, but now you know what they are you can be sure to plant it again at some point when you get the chance."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 12 October 2020
"Black Spanish Radish is the best Radish I have ever grown. Not only does it grow at a time of year when very few other crops are abundant, but it will grow large and still not become woody. The taste is mild enough to eat it on its own. "
Aleksandra on Tuesday 3 November 2020
"Salsify and Scorzonera seeds are hard to source. I grew them both many years ago and wasn't terribly impressed with the roots. However, my alootment wasn't as fertile as it is now so would love to try again. On the plus side, if you leave them to flower, they are very attractive. "
Aleksandra on Tuesday 3 November 2020
"Hi Aleksandra. Yes, the Black Spanish radish is great for it's hardiness. Salsify and scorzonera are certainly worth trying again though, in my humble opinion, it's hard to beat parsnips for taste and quality."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 3 November 2020
"Where can i buy seeds?"
Tilla on Monday 25 January 2021
"Where can i buy seeds"
Tilla on Monday 25 January 2021
"Hi Tilla. I'm not sure of the best sources of seeds for these crops in South Africa. The best thing to do would be to simply search for them online by name. Sorry I can't be more precise."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 25 January 2021

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