8 Self-seeding Edibles

Self-seeding vegetables are simple foods for busy people.

Self-seeding veggies are genuinely easy to grow

I visited my friend Bill’s garden in Nanaimo, full of spring greens of all sorts. I was quite amazed when Bill told me that he had not planted any of it. This lush forest of food had self-seeded from plants grown the year before. That’s when I realized how many food plants, left to go to seed, show up automatically in the garden. The best part is that these volunteers are usually the healthiest and most robust plants in the garden, because they are the most in tune with nature.

Imagine being able to harvest bunches of nutritious winter greens that you did not even plant. Kales, chards, spinach, salad greens, mustard greens, parsley and coriander all self seed freely, making them available for year-round harvesting. Just plant them once and let some go to seed – that’s it!


I relish the nutty, slightly peppery flavour of young arugula (rocket salad) in sandwiches and salads, and lightly sautéed in pasta dishes. As arugula matures it develops a pungent mustard bite, some prefer this taste, but I prefer the milder flavour of the younger leaves. In cooler months arugula maintains its milder flavour for a long time; there are always plenty of seedlings to be plucked from a patch of volunteers in spring and fall. Annual arugula is very ornamental when going to seed, with black and white flowers, rather than the typical bright-yellow flowers of the mustard family.

Protect your winter pickings

Winter salads are more abundant when protected under a sheet of glass. I use a recycled window on a metal frame on top of a cold frame. Providing this protection from winter frosts means regular pickings of small lettuces, mustards, endive, arugula, coriander, parsley, chard, spinach and kale greens for winter mesclun salads.



Mache or corn salad produces leafy rosettes of mild greens; the fresh taste is wonderful in winter salads and sandwiches. It sets seed as soon as the weather warms up in spring. The small round seeds lie dormant until the weather cools down, producing harvests from October until the following spring, when it sets seed again.


Purple orach, or mountain spinach, offers pickings of deep-purple leaves, which make a colourful accent in the garden as well as in the salad bowl. Purple orach can be grown as an effective contrasting border plant in a formal flowerbed. It becomes even more attractive by pinching the leaf tips, which causes it to bush out, producing even more leaves for harvesting. TIP: If grown in part sun/part shade it does not bolt to seed so fast and lasts longer.


Perpetual spinach is not technically a true spinach, although it is used in the same way. It is actually a cross between chard and beet greens, with a finer-textured leaf. It’s so tender that I tear the young leaves into salads, lightly steam it for a side dish, or use as a base for vegetarian lasagnas. Perpetual spinach grows year round without going to seed, and tastes even sweeter after a few hard frosts.


For chard greens I grow silverbeet, which I originally encountered in the United Kingdom. Silverbeet thrives in cooler conditions and is very winter hardy. It produces superior dark-green leaves with a succulent white midrib that is a whole other taste in itself, so you get two vegetables in one! I use the leaves as a replacement for cabbage in roll-up recipes and for steamed greens. The juicy white stalks are crunchy and sweet when steamed or stir fried, and hard to distinguish from celery when covered with a white or cheese sauce.

For a big splash of colour I go for five-colour silverbeet – there’s a lot to be said when serving up multicoloured vegetables! Rhubarb chard provides the same effect, but without the extensive range of colours. With this vegetable you can select the colours you like best, let these plants go to seed, and create your own colour mix the following year. These plants work well and look great in containers.


There are many great varieties of kale to grow, but because their leaves are tasty and tender in salads, I choose ‘Russian Red’ or ‘Green Curled’ kale for summer eating. Both varieties are easy to grow and self seed readily. The tender flowerheads can be eaten in lieu of broccoli spears, raw or lightly steamed, best done while still in bud, before the yellow flowers open.


I love the sight of radicchio seedlings popping up around the garden. Young leaves of ‘Rossa di Treviso’ and ‘Palla Rossa’ are the most intense dark-red colour, which is very striking. I’m going to use radicchio as a border plant this year –  it looks good for most of the season, as it is suited to the “cut-and-come-again” method of harvesting.


In my kitchen, winter dishes are seasoned generously with handfuls of chopped parcel, a variety of parsley with a pronounced celery flavour. This has become my herb of choice for omelettes, pasta dishes, pizzas, casseroles, salads and salad dressings. It’s a perfect way to keep your vitamin-C intake high in winter.

Carolyn Herriot owns The Garden Path Centre for Organic Gardening in Victoria and Seeds of Victoria. She is author of A Year On The Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide.

Check out Carolyn’s blog.

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