Amazing oriental vegetables

You'll love these cool-season, edible, ornamental beauties for their flavour, nutritiousness and hardiness.

Credit: Terry Guscott

You’ll love these cool-season, edible, ornamental beauties for their flavour, nutritiousness and hardiness

Oriental vegetables are loaded with fibre, iron, calcium, minerals, and vitamins and provide lots of nutritious, tasty, colourful foliage. Performing beautifully in coastal climates through the year or in cold frames during the cold months in chillier zones, they fill in perfectly when other vegetables are a challenge to produce.

Harvest when young and tender or as larger, more mature plants; the earlier the harvest the more tender the plant. Baby leaves can be used in salads, stir-fries or sandwiches, larger leaves can be stuffed and used as a healthy alternative to taco shells or simply steamed and served as a side dish.

These cool-season beauties are edible and ornamental, with a variety of texture, foliage and colour. Fill up garden beds and cold frames, and tuck a few into ornamental containers to brighten up fall planting.

Oriental cole crops are particularly suitable for growing in cooler weather, as they tend to bolt in summer heat. Direct-sow seeds when the ground thaws, or get a jump on spring planting by starting seedlings indoors three weeks before the last frost. Seeds planted in June will be ready for fall and early winter.

Like many other vegetables, cole crops prefer a sweeter soil with a pH of 6.5. They can be susceptible to pests and diseases, so rotate crops and don’t plant in the same soil for at least three years. Common pests are flea beetles, which create shot holes in leaves; root maggots, which tunnel into roots; and cabbage worms, which devour leaves. A sure way to prevent all of these pests is to use floating row cover on garden beds when seeds have germinated.

Another common ailment is clubroot, a fungus that causes the roots to thicken into a club shape. If you notice this, do not compost or till in infected plants; destroy them immediately, lime the soil heavily and do not plant a cole crop in the area for at least five years, though it will be safe to choose another vegetable family. To prevent clubroot, inspect transplants with thick club-shaped roots, wash contaminated tools, and use only sterilized manure and compost.

Prior to seeding and transplanting, dig some organic fertilizer and lime into the top 7.5 cm (3 in.) of soil (use the amount recommended on the package). As the plants develop, the roots will “tap” into it. These plants grow so quickly that I recommend spraying organic 4-2-3 fertilizer on the foliage weekly.

Below are a few great choices available in nursery seed racks or from seed catalogues. Include a package of seeds in a gift card to inspire the gardeners on your holiday list.


Red Giant mustard (Brassica juncea var. rugosa): Ready in 45 days, this has a deep purple-red, thick, tender leaf with a mild mustard flavour that adds a tang to stir-fries and salads. Ornamental and cold hardy, it can tolerate a medium frost. Enjoy it raw for a proper pepper punch!

Mizuna (Brassica juncea): Ready in 35 days, its serrated, ferny green leaves are crisp and mild. Tolerant of cold and rain. It comes back like mad when cut, producing hundreds of leaves. Use as you would spinach.

Shanghai pac choi (Brassica rapa Chinensis Group): Hand-sized, pale-green leaves and stalk have a tender quality and mild taste. Wonderful steamed with a dash of soy sauce. Tolerant of rain and cold, this one will also take some summer heat, so enjoy and harvest in all three seasons.

Komatsuma Tendergreen (Brassica rapa): Ready in 21 days, this Japanese mustard green has a bright-white stem and vein. Its slightly spicy flavour is excellent in soups. This is a “cut-and-come-again” vegetable in warm or cold weather. It is a milder form of traditional mustard greens.

Flowering purple choy (Brassica rapa var. purpurea): Ready in 40 to 60 days, this is a beautiful plant with purple stems and foliage. Cut the stalks as the buds begin to open. Colour intensifies in cooler weather.

Japanese mitsuba (Cryptotaenia japonica): Ready in 75 days, this 60-cm-tall (2-ft.) green has a unique taste and aromatic flavour. Loaded with iron and vitamin C, it’s great in salads and stews; use it like parsley. This plant is a member of the carrot family.

Mandarin cabbage (Brassica campestris): Ready in 70 days, this excellent Oriental cabbage is very tender, with large oval heads. Cook as traditional cabbage or use along with other Oriental greens.

Sorrento raab Brassica rapa (Chrysanthemum coronarium): Ready in 45 days, this produces deep-green, tight florets above tender stems and dark-green leaves. Harvest this nutritious green with a wild broccoli taste before the florets open.

Shungiku (Chrysanthemum coronarium): Ready in 45 days, this edible chrysanthemum is delicious steamed or tossed into stir-fries, soups or salads.

Dwarf Grey Sugar Pea (Pisum sativum): Enjoy the pea shoots at 32 days; serve them as a healthy garnish or add to soups. Allowed to mature, the red flowers develop into snow peas.

If you have never grown Oriental vegetables and are interested in dedicating garden space to experimenting, the Oriental greens blend from West Coast Seeds is a good starter. It’s a mix of five easy-to-grow favourites. Ready to harvest in 45 days, this “cut-and-come-again” blend will fill your salad bowl or wok all spring.

Horticulturist and Arborist Sheena Adams embraces her passion for gardening organically at her nursery, urban greenery, in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, and at home in her huge veggie garden. Send your questions and queries via email.