Grow cold-hardy perennial vegetables

11 Cold-Hardy Perennial Vegetables for Your Wild Homestead

How often have you heard about a perennial vegetable only to discover that it won’t grow in your climate? This seems to happen a fair bit. But there are actually a number of fantastic cold-hardy perennial vegetables. Keep reading to learn more about these great vegetables.

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Perennial vegetables are a fantastic addition to any garden and can save you a lot of time and energy over traditional annual veggies.

The rest of this post will dive into cold-hardy perennial vegetables. But if you want to learn more about what perennial vegetables are and how to get started with them, make sure to check out these blog posts all about perennial vegetables.

Perennial Vegetables Series

This is part of a multi-part series all about perennial vegetables.

Perennial vegetables can be grown in food forests, in traditional gardens, and just mixed in around your wild homestead.

Some are fairly common, and you likely have heard of them. Like rhubarb, sorrel and asparagus. But others are less common, like Turkish rocket and black salsify.

The perennial vegetables picked for this blog post are a mix of common and less common varieties, but they’re all cold hardy. In this case, that means hardy down to at least USDA zone 4, but I’ve made sure to include some that are hardy down to zone 3.

Check out the USDA plant hardiness zone map to look up what zone you’re in if you live in the United States. If you live outside of the United States, zone 4 is where the average annual minimum winter temperature is -30 to -25 F or -34.4 to -31.7 C.

Below zone 3, it does become a challenge to find perennial vegetables that will grow. If you live in zone 2 or even zone 1, then your best bet is to look for native perennial vegetables that are adapted to your climate and to create warm micro-climates.

With the right micro-climate, you can push your zone up 1 or 2 spots, which could support some of the cold-hardy perennial vegetables listed later on.

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If you’re new to perennial vegetables or just want to learn more about why you should plant these awesome vegetables, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet all about perennial vegetables. This cheat-sheet is a great introduction to perennial vegetable. Don’t forget to grab yours today!

Cold-Hardy Perennial Vegetables: Greens

Cut sorrel back to rejuvenate it

While French sorrel isn’t cold hardy down to zone 4, but a related type called English sorrel is. This is one of many great perennial greens that can grow in cold climates. English sorrel looks very similar and can be used just like the French sorrel shown in the picture.

The easiest perennial vegetables to get started with are the greens. Whether they’re cold-hardy or not, these tend to be easy to mix into your meals.

Some of the following cold-hardy perennial vegetables will be best used in your salads, while others are better cooked.

Let’s dive into these fantastic cold-hardy perennial greens.

1. Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale

I know this is a bit of a copout since you likely have this growing already on your land. But dandelions do have a lot of edible uses, and I’ve gotten in the habit of adding a few leaves to my salads, sandwiches or wraps.

They’re especially good in the spring and fall since they tend to be available when other plants are going dormant or haven’t woken up yet.

Dandelions are hardy all the way down to zone 4.

Look for ones with big leaves that are growing in some shade. The more toothy they are, the more bitter they seem to be—at least in my experience.

Try adding some leaves to your salad next time you make one. I think you will find they’re a great and easy cold hardy perennial vegetable to start with.

Learn more about dandelions and how to use them in your garden.

And here is a very interesting video all about the history of the complex relationship between humans and dandelions.

Info on Dandelions

  • First Harvest: 1st year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 3-9 
  • Sunlight Requirement: Full sun to partial shade. Less bitter when grown in partial-sun. 
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 3 inches high when not flowering, 4 inches to a foot across.
  • Purchase: seeds
  • Note: While it  may seem strange to buy dandelion seeds, the wild types tend to be more bitter.

2. Scorzonera / Black Salsify - Scorzonera hispanica

While dandelions may be a bit bitter, this cold-hardy perennial vegetable is a great mild green that can be eaten just like lettuce.

Black salsify is hardy down to zone 4. And in warmer climates, it can work as a winter green too.

And while I’m listing it here as a green, the root is also edible and can make another great harvest. Just know that harvesting the root will kill the plant, which is why I’m not listing it as a perennial root crop.

Learn more about how to add scorzonera to your garden.

Info on Scorzonera / Black Salsify

  • First Harvest: 1st year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 4-9
  • Sunlight Requirement: Full sun to partial shade
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 3 feet high and 1-2 feet wide
  • Purchase: seeds
  • Note: Has a sweet and edible root but harvesting the root will kill the plant.

3. Linden / Lime Tree / Basswood - Tilia spp.

Growing a tree as a perennial vegetable may seem a bit strange but linden trees can grow in zone 3, making them a great cold-hardy perennial vegetable.

Let your tree get established for 3-5 years, and then start coppicing it. This is where you cut it back down to the ground on a regular cycle—in this case every 2 years.

Linden trees will regrow from the stump, meaning that you can keep to the size of a large shrub instead of a 40-foot tree.

The leaves can be eaten raw and are supposed to have a nice mild taste.

Learn about the linden tree and how to harvest it.

Info on Linden / Lime Tree / Basswood

  • First Harvest: 3rd year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 3-9
  • Sunlight Requirement: full sun to partial sun
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 40+ feet high but can be coppiced down to 6 feet
  • Purchase: Seeds for Linden (Tilia americana) and Linden (Tilia americana) plants 
  • Note: Several different species growing 40+ feet tall but can be coppiced down to 6 feet on a 2 year cycle. Tilia americana is found in North America.

4. English Sorrel aka Garden Sorrel - Rumex acetosa

I find sorrels to be a nice addition to salads and they can be used in cooking. Sorrel soup is a fairly common recipe that is a classic dish throughout Europe.

Sorrel has a nice, tart lemony flavor and is very productive.

English/garden sorrel is hardy down to zone 3.

There are some other types of sorrels such as French, red-veined and sheep sorrel. Plus, there are a number of wood sorrels growing wild. But these other varieties aren’t as hardy as English/garden sorrel.

If you want an easy cold-hardy perennial vegetable English/garden sorrel is a great option.

Learn more about growing sorrels.

Info on Garden Sorrel

  • First Harvest: 1st year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 3-8
  • Sunlight Requirement: Full sun to partial shade
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 2 feet high and 1 foot wide
  • Purchase: Garden Sorrel
  • Note: Fully edible but best if mixed with other plants and not eaten in large quantities.

5. Turkish Rocket - Bunias orientalis

While I’ve enjoyed using Turkish rocket in some of my cooking, and even eating it raw, its taste isn’t for everyone. Some people like it and others aren’t so thrilled by it.

If you like mustard greens, you will likely be fine with Turkish rocket. But its flavor is distinctive so you will have to give it a try to decide for yourself if you like it or not.

But this plant is hardy down to zone 3 and very productive. You can harvest the leaves (the young leaves are best) in early spring. And then later, in late spring, you can harvest the flower buds before they open, just like you would broccoli.

The buds can be cooked just like broccoli, but they don’t taste like broccoli. I also like the smell of the flowers, and they’re quite beautiful. Plus, pollinators seem to love them.

I like this plant, but make sure to start with just 1 so you can decide if you like it or not before planting more.

Learn more about Turkish rocket and how to use it in your garden.

Info on Turkish Rocket

  • First Harvest: 1st year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 3-9 (potentially up to 11)
  • Sunlight Requirement: full sun to partial-sun 
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 4 feet high and 3 feet wide
  • Purchase: seeds - root cuttings / transplants (may not always be available)
  • Note: In some climates may become weedy due to large seed production. May be considered an invasive plant in some areas - check with your local conservation/soil district.

6. Lovage - Levisticum officinale

If you like celery and parsley then you will likely love lovage. It has a very strong flavor that is similar (but stronger) than both celery and parsley.

Lovage can also be used in a similar way to these two plants.

But it does get quite large, so make sure you put it somewhere that a large plant won’t get in the way.

Young leaves and stems can be harvested and used in cooking.

Learn more about lovage and how to use it in your garden.

Info on Lovage

  • First Harvest: 1st year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 3-8
  • Sunlight Requirement: full to partial-sun 
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 4-7 feet high and several feet across
  • Purchase: seeds
  • Note: Grows very tall making it good along the north side of the garden.

7. Ramps aka Wild Leeks - Allium tricoccum

Ramps are native to the woods of the Appalachian mountain range in eastern North America. While often collected out in the wild, you can find plants and seeds for sale.

They can be a challenge to grow. But once established, they can provide a fantastic harvest.

If you try growing ramps, make sure you pick an area that is shady in the summer, since they grow naturally in deciduous forests where they can take advantage of spring sun before the trees leaf out.

The soil needs to stay moist, but not wet. Seeds can take a couple years to germinate.

But ramps are hardy down to zone 4 (some sources say zone 5--so this might be a bit more tender than the other cold-hardy perennial vegetables in this post) and can provide a fantastic harvest once established. They can be used as a replacement for green onions or leeks.

The leaves are the first harvest in the spring. Then, once established, the bulbs can be harvested too. Check out the video to learn more about this great plant.

Learn more about ramps and how to grow them.

Info on Ramps

  • First Harvest: Greens in 2nd or 3rd year, bulbs once the patch has expanded
  • USDA Climate Zone: 4-7 (some sources say zone 5 so avoid cold frost pockets
  • Sunlight Requirement: Partial shade - needs spring sun before surrounding trees leaf out and then shade after. 
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) tall
  • Purchase: Plugs - Etsy is another good place to look for seeds and potentially bulbs
  • Note: Ramps aren't easy to get established and you need to give them time to expand and fill in at least a small area before you start to harvest them heavily.

Cold Hardy Perennial Vegetables: Roots

There are great cold-hardy perennial vegetables with edible roots

This is a native root called Wapato, or arrowhead. It grows wild across the northern part of the United States and southern Canada. It’s a great example of a cold-hardy perennial vegetable.

Root crops are an interesting option for perennial vegetables. Some of them are dug up each year, but you can replant parts of them at the same time. Is that truly perennial? Since it’s still the same plant, I think it counts.

The big advantage of growing perennial root crops is that they can provide you a source of calories which is generally lacking from greens.

This makes them well worth growing in my opinion.

Here are some cold-hardy perennial vegetables that will provide you a great root crop.

8. Arrowhead — Sagittaria latifolia

This great cold hardy perennial vegetable goes by many names including arrowhead, Wapato, Indian potato, or duck potato.

It thrives in areas that stay wet all year and can grow in up to about a foot (30.5 cm) of water. Though it can also grow in saturated soil.

If you have a pond or other wet area, this is a great plant to consider.

Arrowhead is hardy down to zone 3 and will produce an abundance of tubers. Some sources say you can get up to 40 tubers per plant.

The tubers have a flavor that is somewhere between a sweet potato and a yam, with a hint of sweet chestnut.

Learn more about how to use arrowhead.

Info on Arrowhead

  • USDA Climate Zone: 3-10 
  • First Harvest: 2-3 years after planting
  • Sunlight Requirement: Full sun
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 2 feet high and 2 feet wide
  • Harvest Technique: Harvest in October or November. Loosen the tubers from the soil using your hands, a tool, or your feet, (the traditional method.) Arrowhead naturally grows in shallows around ponds and wetlands. When you loosen the tubers they will float up but you can grow them in wet soil and just dig them up. Make sure to leave some behind for next year’s plants.
  • Purchase: Potted plants

9. Common Camas — Camassia quamash

Camas is another wild plant that also makes a great cold-hardy perennial vegetable. This plant produces a bulb that can be cooked and used in a variety of ways. You could mix them with other cooked root crops like beets or mash them up.

Here are some descriptions of how to prepare them. It does take a long time to cook camas (12 to 36 hours depending on the method).

Camas is hardy down to zone 3.

The bulbs are very high in protein and are a staple food for various native peoples in North America. Just keep in mind the long cooking time before you invest in this cold-hardy perennial vegetable.

Info on Common Camas

  • USDA Climate Zone: 3-7
  • First Harvest: 3-5 years
  • Sunlight Requirement: Full sun to light shade
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 1-2 feet tall
  • Harvest Technique: Dig down around the flower stalks to find the bulbs, which may be as far as 6 inches below the surface. Mid-late summer is the best time to harvest the bulbs.
  • Purchase: Bulbs

10. Sunchokes — Helianthus tuberosus

These are one of the more common cold-hardy perennial vegetables that you can grow as a root crop. Native to parts of North America, they’ve been cultivated since before Europeans arrived on the continent.

The plants look very similar to sunflowers and produce large amounts of sweet, edible tubers.

But they also have a habit of spreading—this can be good or bad. Just make sure you pick a spot where they won’t cause any problems if they start to spread.

Sunchokes are hardy down to zone 4.

There is the issue of eating sunchokes causing problems with bloating and gas. But if you make sure to cook them well and wait until after a few frosts to harvest them, you can reduce this issue.

Otherwise, sunchokes can be used like you would most starchy root crops like potatoes.

Learn more about how to grow sunchokes.

Info on Sunchokes

  • USDA Climate Zone: 4-9
  • First Harvest: 1st year
  • Sunlight Requirement: Full sun to partial shade
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 15 feet tall (likely shorter for most varieties) and 1 to 2 feet wide. Will spread.
  • Harvest Technique: Dig up the tubers in the fall (or later in winter, assuming the ground doesn’t freeze in your area.) Leave some tubers behind to regrow come spring.
  • Purchase: Roots for planting

11. Egyptian Walking Onions — Allium x proliferum

Egyptian walking onions are a great cold-hardy perennial vegetable that will provide you a never-ending supply of onions.

But they will likely be a bit smaller than regular onions.

They produce regular onion bulbs, but they also produce small bulbs at the top of their stems. These fall over as they grow. And where they land, a new onion will grow.

This is why they’re called “walking onions”.

While smaller, you can use them just like regular onions and they’re hardy down to zone 3.

Learn more about growing Egyptian walking onions.

Info on Egyptian Walking Onion

  • USDA Climate Zone: 3-9, maybe 10
  • First Harvest: Year 2 or year 3
  • Sunlight Requirement: Full sun to partial sun
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 2 feet tall, spreading
  • Harvest Technique: Harvest them just like regular onions. Since they spread quickly, you can easily leave some plants behind to continue the patch.
  • Purchase: Bulbils

Finding Other Cold Hardy Perennial Vegetables

Start looking for native wild vegetables in your area

Pacific waterleaf is one of my favorite perennial vegetables and can provide both greens and a root crop. It’s not a cold hardy perennial vegetable since it’s native to western Washington. But consider—what native vegetables are growing wild in your area that you could grow?

These 11 cold hardy perennial vegetables are a great place to start. But there are many more out there for you to try.

The first place to look is the wild land around you. There are likely wild native vegetables that you could plant on your own wild homestead.

While Pacific waterleaf isn’t very cold hardy, (see image caption for this section,) there is another similar plant called Virginia waterleaf or Eastern waterleaf that is native to much of the central and eastern parts of the United States and parts of southern Canada.

And unlike Pacific waterleaf, Virginia waterleaf is hardy all the way down to zone 4.

Waterleafs are a great example of wild native vegetables that could be growing on your land or nearby already.

Look up resources in your area on how to forage to learn more about these plants. There are likely YouTube videos, books, websites and local groups that can help get you started.

Since these perennial vegetables already grow wild in your area, you know they’re adapted to your climate. Once you find some, you can salvage them and bring them back to your wild homestead.

Check out my blog post—How to Salvage Native Plants for Your Wild Homestead—to learn more about how to successfully salvage native plants.

Another great resource for cold hardy perennial vegetables is Eric Toensmeier’s excellent book covering these and other perennial vegetables. The book covers a wide range of perennial vegetables for all climate zones found within the United States.

Another resource you should check out is a website called Useful Temperate Plants. At the time of writing this, there are 8,457 plants covered on this site. Not all of them are cold-hardy perennial vegetables. But it’s a great place to look up native plants and other plants you see growing in your area in order to see if they’re edible.

Do you have any great cold-hardy perennial vegetables to add to this list? Leave a comment below to share which ones you’re growing and your experience with them.

Perennial vegetables are a great addition to any wild homestead—and not just for warm climates. Give these great vegetables a try so you, too, can get easy vegetable harvests year after year without having to replant.

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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, a lifelong gardener, and the founder of Wild Homesteading. He manages the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he applies restoration and sustainable gardening techniques on his family’s own wild homestead. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children. In addition, to running this site Daron manages the restoration program for a local non-profit and is a husband to an amazing wife who makes this site and the homestead possible and daddy to 2 perfect kids.

  • Skandi says:

    Horseradish is a nice addition to your list, the leaves and flowers can also be eaten not just the root. Angelica (down to 4) is eaten as a vegetable in some places with not many other choices, a bit strong for my tastes but hey I’m sure one can get used to it.

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