When people talk about vegetable gardening, it’s almost always regarding annual vegetables. But perennial vegetables, once established, require less work than annuals, improve soil health and biodiversity, and provide food for years to come. In this article, I’ll list twenty-five cold hardy perennial vegetables you can grow in your cold temperate climate garden or food forest for a low-maintenance food supply, right outside your door. Most of these plants thrive in zones 4, 5, 6, and 7, and some will survive down to zone 3 or even 2.
It’s crazy to me that more gardeners don’t put emphasis on edible perennials over annuals. Let’s change that by learning about, and spreading the word about these unusual perennial vegetables.
Aren’t Most Perennial Vegetables Only For The Tropics?
Most perennial vegetable cultivars are tropical and subtropical plants, and it’s easy to get discouraged as a cold temperate gardener. But there are actually a lot of perennial vegetables for cold climates that tolerate cold winters and even hard frosts. Some are well-known and readily available, such as asparagus and rhubarb. Others you may have never heard of before.
Growing Perennial Versus Annual Vegetables
Growing perennial vegetables is quite different from growing annual vegetables. Annual gardens require much more work from the gardener—planting, weeding, fertilizing, irrigating and fall cleanup. Perennials require much less intensive care. Once your plants establish in your garden, they produce food year after year, with only periodic watering, pruning, and mulching.
In cold climates, many of the “annuals” we grow are actually frost-tender perennials that we grow as annuals. So some tropical perennials, such as sweet potatoes and artichokes, grow as annuals in colder climates; and some temperate perennials grow as cool-season annuals in hotter regions.
Even though there are plenty of tropical and sub-tropical perennials that can grow as annuals in cold climates, in this article, I’m focusing on edible cold hardy perennials grown as perennials in colder climates.
A Note on Food Safety
As my site disclaimer says, I’m not an expert on edible plants, nutrition, or any medical field. I have curated this information for reference and informational purposes.
Remember to use caution when acquiring new plants to consume, and ensure that they are in fact edible, correctly identified, and that you follow proper preparation methods, as some of these foods may be toxic when improperly prepared (for example, eaten raw).
Additionally, always exercise caution when eating new foods. You never know when you’ll have an allergic reaction or food sensitivity to something new. Start with a small amount and observe your body for reactions before eating a lot of any crop.
25 Unusual Perennial Vegetables for Cold Climates
Common Name (Botanical Name)
Camass (Camassia spp.)
not all species are edible; moist to seasonally wet soil; requires long, high-temperature cooking
Chicory (Cicorium intybus)
young leaves, roots
full sun to light shade
Caucasian mountain spinach (Hablitzia tamnoides)
shoots and leaves
vining plant; not bitter like many other greens
very heat tolerant
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
young leaves, roots, flowers
keep from going to seed to prevent weediness
Day lily (Hemerocallis spp.)
2-10 varies by variety
flowers, flower buds, tubers
Giant Soloman’s seal
grows up to 7 feet tall
Good King Henry
shoots, greens, flower buds, seeds
Groundnut (Apios Americana)
use like a potato; must be cooked
Linden tree (Tilia spp.)
tree; tolerates sun to shade
Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
similar to celery but much stronger, so use less
Musk mallow (Malva moschata)
4-9 (or colder)
easy to grow; also ornamental
Oyster leaf (Mertensia maritime)
distinct oyster flavor
(Brassica oleracea ramosa)
some varieties are hardy to zone 6 or lower
more hardy and desirable varieties are in development (eg. Grex)
Plantain lily (Hosta spp.)
shoots, leaves, flowers
toxic to dogs because of saponins
Ramps (Allium tricoccum)
also known as wild leek
Scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica)
4-8 or 9
also known as black salsify
Sea Kale (Crambe maritima)
shoots, leaves, flower buds
4-9 or colder
grows best in rich, moist soil
French sorrel (Rumex spp.)
sun to shade
Mountain sorrel (Oxyria spp.)
1 or 2
sun to shade
Stinging Nettle (Laportaea canadensis)
3 or 4
sun to shade
Sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus)
also called Jerusalem artichoke; slow cook to reduce inulin and improve digestibility
Turkish rocket (Bunias orientalis)
leaves, flower buds
low maintenance, buds resemble broccoli raab
(Allium cepa proliferum)
Sourcing Unusual Perennial Vegetables
You may not be able to walk into your local nursery and find many of these plants I’ve listed here, and friends and neighbors aren’t likely to have these unusual plants to take cuttings, root divisions, or seeds from.
So the question arises, where to find these cold-climate perennial vegetables? I have a few ideas for you below.
- Specialty nurseries sometimes carry the more unusual perennial vegetables. I’ve found sea kale plants and perennial kale grex seeds at One Green World Nursery in Portland, OR.
- Online seed companies sometimes carry these specialty seeds. Fedco Seeds has carried several of these seeds, including Caucasian mountain spinach, ramps, sea kale, sorrel, Turkish rocket, and stinging nettle.
- Etsy. I’ve seen many of these plants available as seeds, bulbs, and cuttings on Etsy (affiliate link). When ordering from Etsy, take to time to review the seller’s reviews and check the botanical names to make sure you’re ordering what you think you are.
- Books such as Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier (affiliate link), where many of these plants are discussed in more detail, also have resource lists in the back that can be useful for sourcing unusual plants.
Learn More About Perennial Vegetables
Check out my list of books about edible perennial gardening on bookshop.org below.
Growing perennial vegetables, even in cold climates, is easier than maintaining an annual vegetable garden, and it’s a simple way to increase your food security and diversity. Not to mention diversifying and strengthening your backyard ecosystem.
Fortunately, there are many exciting possibilities to plant and grow and experiment with when it comes to perennial food crops, and even the coldest climates have options to try. I hope you’ve learned about a new perennial vegetable or two today that you’ll find and plant in your garden.