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January 11, 2012
Growing Exotic Cold Hardy
Plants For Food

Growing fruits and vegetables in Alaska can be difficult due to the cold temperatures.  I live in the Kenai peninsula which is around hardiness zone 4-5.

Today I just found a website that sells exotic seeds, and some of them were for fruits (such as grapes and banana like things) that will grow in my area.

There were also other interesting plants that will yield awesome edible ingredients that most people have never heard of!

I love the idea of being perhaps the only one in Alaska growing unusual plants like Pawpaws, Riverbank Grapes, Chocolate Vines and Sacred Water Lotus to name a few.  If I'm successful at producing these, I will feel a great sense of accomplishment.
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The website to give thanks to is SeedRack.com and without further adieu, I give you the following possibilities of plants to grow and eat within your cold temperate zone (-20 to -30 being the extremes).  Enjoy:

Edible Plants my zone 4
Chocolate Vine

Chocolate Vine

Chocolate Vine [Wiki]
Akebia quinata

SeedRack.com says, "Here is a very interesting vine that is hardy to -22°F and evergreen in zones 8 - 9. Red-purple flowers in spring followed by purple, edible sausage-shaped fruits. It's 5" fleshy fruit pods split open when ripe revealing a white gelatinous pulp with a unique tapioca-like flavor. Chocolate vine grows well on a trellis and smells of white chocolate when the flowers are in bloom. A fun gift for the chocolate lover who can‘t get enough of all things chocolate or for the chocolate lover who for whatever sad reasons is not presently eating chocolate and needs this sweet-smelling reminder."

Zone 4-8



Pawpaw [Wiki]
Asimina triloba

SeedRack.com says, "Originating from the Southeast U.S., Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is the only temperate (cool-climate) member of a tropical family that includes such delicious fruits as chirimoya, sweetsop and soursop. The fruit is the largest edible fruit native to America, from 3" to 6" long and resembling a short, fat banana or mango. It is very sweet and tastes like bananas with a hint of pineapple and mango. Whereas the flowers are perfect (i.e., each flower is both male and female), two or more plants are needed for fruit production as pollen must come from a second plant to be effective.

Asimina triloba is usually 8 to 10 feet tall, and will sucker, forming loose colonies. However, if grown in the open, in a sunny location, the tree will develop a single trunk, often reaching 25 feet -- fruit production is also better. Its small size and attractive cone shape make it suitable for residential landscaping. Fall color, which is usually a soft, butter-yellow, can be outstanding. The tree is virtually disease and pest-free."

Zone 4-9

Dandelion [Wiki]
Taraxacum officinale

SeedRack.com says, "The Dandelion is an herb, native to Southern Europe. It was brought by early settlers to North America where it has become widely naturalized. While the Dandelion can be a pesky weed in lawns and gardens, it is also very versatile and can be put to good use. Young dandelion leaves are used in salads, vegetables and soups. Dandelion flowerheads are used to make wine. The roots, dried, roasted and ground, make a delicious drink. And the herb is also used as a tonic. Easy to cultivate."

Zone 3-9

Hops [Wiki]
Humulus lupulus

SeedRack.com says, " Hops are a main ingredient in beer and lend beer its distinctive bitter taste. Grow your own hops for home brew and you'll have the freshest, tastiest hops possible! The vine itself is highly ornamental, extremely vigorous (can grow 20 feet or more in a single season) and hardy in zones 4 - 8, meaning hops will grow back each year without reseeding."

Zone 4-8

Sacred Water Lotus

Sacred Water Lotus [Wiki]
Nelumbo nucifera

SeedRack.com says, "The lotus is one of the most beautiful and best known of wetland plants, growing in still waters all over the world. The species seen in southeast Asia is Nelumbo nucifera. The lotus is a symbol for the Buddha and also represents purity. It blooms briefly and represents the power of the soul to rise from the muddy waters of the lower realms of consciousness into the sunlight of a better life. Seeds have been found that would still germinate after 1,300 years.

Lotus are spectacular plants with vibrant blossoms and luxuriant waxy-green foliage that cups upward. They are revered in China as both sacred symbols and edible food items. Lotus is one of the easiest plants to care for."

Zone 4+

American Ginseng
American Ginseng [Wiki]
Panax quinquefolius

SeedRack.com says, "High quality, pre-stratified seed of American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) ready for sowing. The root of this herbaceous perennial is harvested for its well-known medicinal properties. About 18" in height, white flowers appear from spring to mid-summer and bright red berries follow. Prefers moist soil and shady location. Roots require several years to reach harvestable size. "

Zone 4+
Purple Shiso
Purple Shiso [Wiki]
Perilla frutescens nankinensis

SeedRack.com says, "Purple or Aka Shiso (Perilla) is a delightful, ornamental herb that is used as a striking bedding plant and to make Japanese dishes such as sushi and Kyoto pickles. The leaves have a strong, pungent flavor suggestive of cilantro or cloves. The purple to near-black leaves are wavy or frilled at the edges. Perilla is a self-seeding annual that will readily re-appear year after year. Grows to about 30" in height, prefers a sunny location and moist soil. Very happy on the bank of a stream or pond."

Annual (all zones)
Chinese Lanterns

I could only fine information on Wikipedia on physalis alkekengi. But I guess it's close enough.
Chinese Lanterns [Wiki]
Physalis franchetii

SeedRack.com , "Chinese lantern, Physalis franchetii, grows to two feet tall and bears small, white flowers followed by large, balloon-like husks in July and August. Inside each 2-inch long husk is a small edible but tasteless scarlet fruit. The Chinese lantern plant is valued for its inflated orange-red seed coverings which resemble miniature Chinese lanterns. For winter bouquets, cut the stems in fall just as the lanterns turn color, remove the leaves and hang them, right side up, to dry in a shady, airy place. Easy to grow from seed."

Zone 3-9
St Mary's Milk Thistle

St Mary's Milk Thistle
St Mary's Milk Thistle [Wiki]
Silybum mariana

SeedRack.com says, "Don't dismiss this plant as just another thistle - it is a striking and most attractive foliage plant with flat rosettes of large, prickly leaves, most strikingly lined and marbled with broad white veins - indeed variegation probably not surpassed for beauty in any other plant - and bearing large heads of sweet-scented, rose-purple flowers. Not only that, but you can eat it: the roots boiled, the flower-heads like Artichokes, and the leaves in salads - which just leaves the prickles! This is indeed an impressive plant with its 6 foot flower stalk and white-streaked leaves. The annual or biennial plant is easy to grow and has many uses. Said to have a powerful regenerative effect on the liver."

Annual (all zones)

Stevia [Wiki]
Stevia rebaudiana

SeedRack.com says, "Stevia is a remarkable plant that is used in many parts of the world as a natural herbal sweetener. In Japan, for example, about 40% of the sweetener market is stevia-based. Stevia leaves are 30 times sweeter than sugar but contain virtually no calories. It is native to South America, where its use as a sweetener has been known for at least 1,500 years. In the U.S., due to pressure from the powerful sugar lobby, Stevia is regulated by the FDA and until recently could be offered only as a dietary supplement (or skin care product) but not as a food additive or sweetener. Stevia is a tender, perennial herb that is usually grown as an annual but may be overwintered indoors. Full sun to part shade, grows to a height of about 30 inches."

Annual (all zones)
Strawberry, Yellow Wonder
Strawberry, Yellow Wonder [Wiki]
Frageria vesca 'Yellow Wonder'

SeedRack.com says, "Sweet and tasty, these non-trailing Alpine strawberries are great for planting in containers or along borders. Very productive. And birds are less attracted to these than to the red strawberries. Unique and well worth a try."

Zone 4-9

Cattail [Wiki]
Typha latifolia

SeedRack.com says, "Cattails can be found in marshes and wetlands on almost every continent. Indeed, cattails are a familiar sight along creeks, riverbanks and country roads througout the world. They are easy to spot -- their distinctive seedheads resemble tall, brown corn dogs atop sturdy stems reaching up to 8 feet in height. Cattails add interest to pond settings and make excellent dried cut flowers, either alone or in mixed arrangements.

Cattails are a very important food for wildlife and are supposedly quite edible and tasty for humans, too (Euell Gibbons devotes a whole chapter to Cattails in his book, "Stalking the Wild Asparagus."). Cattails require moist soil, such as the edge of a pond, or can be grown in shallow water up to about 6" in depth. They are easy to grow in any climate if given sufficient water, though they can become invasive if not contained.

Zone 3+ 
American Cranberry

American Cranberry
American Cranberry [Wiki]
Vaccinium macrocarpon

SeedRack.com says, "The American Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) offers tremendous potential for the home gardener. Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not require a bog or wetland for successful culture. The plant is a low, spreading evergreen with a fine texture. Pinkish flowers appear in spring and are followed by the red fruit in the fall. The small leaves can become purple or bronze in the winter. Plant 2 feet apart for a solid ground cover or use in hanging baskets and planters for a delicate cascading effect. Plant in full sun or partial shade in acidic soil. Protect from spring frosts for most consistent yields. About 9" in height."

Zone 2-8
Riverbank Grape
Riverbank Grape [Wiki]
Vitis riparia

SeedRack.com says, "Riverbank Grape is native to North America.and can be found growing throughout a large area. The vine is extremely cold hardy and easily survives temperatures as low as 40F below zero. The grapes are sweetly acidic and have a lovely flavor when allowed to fully ripen on the vine -- excellent for winemaking and jellies. A stunning small vine, up to 15 or 20 feet, displaying beautiful autumn colors. Highly valued by wildlife and perfect for naturalizing woodland areas or along fences."

Zone 2+

If you know of any other types of edible plants that are unusual and exotic and will grow in colder places like Alaska, please let me know:

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exotic rare unusual seedrack.com wikipedia cold hardy alaska plants vegetables fruit root berries leaves Chocolate Vine Pawpaw Dandelion Hops Sacred Water Lotus American Ginseng Purple Shiso Chinese Lanterns St Mary's Milk Thistle Stevia Yellow Wonder Strawberry Cattail American Cranberry Riverbank Grape hardiness zone

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