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Plants from the Ground Up

Sea Kale—Eat your perennials!

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I love the idea of perennial vegetables, they take the toil out of preparing the annual garden. Sea kale is a wonderful vegetable plant that has it all! Attractive, wavy, silver-green foliage forms a 2 x 3′ mound with sprays of white flowers in June-July making it a nice ornamental garden addition while the entire plant is edible (perfect plant for the herb garden). Young tender leaves can be eaten raw as an addition to your salads, as can the young flower buds—they look much like broccoli florets.

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The stalks of older leaves are eaten like asparagus and even the roots can be steamed and eaten. Traditionally Europeans have covered the young plants with mulch or pots and blanched them, leaving the very tender white leaves and stalks as a delicacy. Crambe has been a common vegetable for centuries, its height of popularity was when it was featured in Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Garden Book of 1809’. If you want to have this unusual and tasty treat you must grow it yourself, as the tender stalks do not ship well and must be eaten soon after harvest.

Native to the coastal regions of Europe, the Northern Atlantic to the Black Sea and rarely in Ireland, sea kale is found growing wild at the high tide line and so is very tolerant of saline conditions. Crambe maritima does best in full sun to part shade and will tolerate just about any soil type. The flowers are hermaphroditic (meaning that the flowers have male and female organs), they are self-fertile and are pollinated by bees and flies. They can be propagated by seed or root cuttings (called thongs) and are USDA hardy in zones 4-8.

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