Perennial vegetables are an important part of a permaculture system, as they don’t require much work after planting and, with occasional pruning, provide almost year round production.
In the photo above you can see some of what we picked for today’s lunch. The white flowers of sesbania grandiflora, shoots of moringa, acacia pennata, ivy gourd and (I think) katuk, as well as some home grown mushrooms, small round eggplants and lemongrass.
There are many others, we have also planted chayote, chaya, malabar spinach, mint, coriander, winged bean and kang kong, all of which produce edible shoots or leaves, there are some that I forgot and some more whose names I don’t know for sure. When Nok’s mum was here she would go out every morning and come back with handfuls of stuff, some we have planted and some just grow by themselves, often at the edge of a waterway.
An added advantage of some of these is that they are also nitrogen fixers, this is the case for sesbania, acacia and leucaena, which produces bean pods that eaten green have a sort of weak sweet garlic taste. We have read of a recommended synergy between sesbania and katuk, where the sesbania’s nitrogen fixing action helps the growth of the katuk bushes nearby. Another plus point of some of the common perennial roots used in Thai cooking, like galangal, turmeric and ginger is that their leaves and flowers look quite good at times and can also be used in ornamental gardening.
In Thai cooking vegetables and herbs can be eaten raw, steamed or as part of a cooked dish that includes some meat, curries tend to be sort of soupy. A northern Thai meal is generally served in a kantoke, a large plate that holds a number of dishes as well as some raw or steamed vegetables piled alongside, people help themselves to the food, with a spoon or by hand when eating sticky rice.
I am not known for being a great green vegetables lover, but some of these are actually quite tasty, katuk (pak waan in Thai) is much better than most green leaves I was used to eating before, apart from rocket of course… People say greens are also good for you.
Bamboo is also a perennial vegetable I suppose, but the shoots appear only during the rainy season. The traditional way of preserving bamboo shoots is by fermentation, in our area this is done by slicing the shoots, adding salt and sealing them in large plastic bags in a tank for up to a year. The process produces the smelly fermented bamboo shoots, an acquired taste.
Papaya, mango and jackfruit are also used as vegetables when the fruits are still green, papaya and mango are eaten raw in spicy salads, whereas jackfruit has to be boiled first and is then used either in salads or curries. Pigeon pea beans are eaten raw when green or are boiled when older and used in salads. Pigeon pea, cajanus cajan, is the easiest to use nitrogen fixer, as the young branches can be chopped and dropped as mulch, they grow back very quickly and don’t need any care at all, the trees are quite weak and branches will easily snap, that way they save you the chop and you just have to drop. The dried beans can be easily used for replanting, a job we routinely do at the start of each rainy season in June or July.
Suggestions about other plants and herbs and about recipes will be gratefully received.
PS. I almost forgot… asparagus!! They take a little work at the beginning but they are worth it and also sort of perennial, hopefully quite long lived. We planted ours from seed in small bags and planted them out when about 15/20cm high, they are on a south facing slope, to prevent waterlogging in the rainy season, and were covered with a mixture of sand and rice husks after a feed of bat manure from our local temple.
Here you can see two brave new spears, blissfully unaware of the impending chop….