Perennial greens are great to grow

11 Perennial Greens You Will Love to Grow

Imagine going out to your garden and harvesting a bowl of fresh greens for cooking, or for a crisp afternoon salad. Sounds fairly normal, right? But what if you could harvest your greens year after year without having to plant after the first time? Perennial greens can give you this reality—where your salads and cooking greens grow and produce without you having to do anything but harvest.

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Ahh, the bottomless salad bowl. Perennial greens sound pretty amazing, right? But my guess is that you could use some help figuring out which perennial greens to grow, and which ones you would enjoy eating.

Sound about right?

Then keep reading, because this post covers 11 perennial greens that you can grow in your garden. They’re broken into two groups based on overall taste.

  • Spicy, Tangy, or Bitter Perennial Greens
  • Mild Perennial Greens

Perennial Vegetables Series

This is part 2 of a multi-part series all about perennial vegetables.

In addition to the taste, I’ll tell you what you need to know to see which greens would work for you. For each one, you’ll find:

  • Common and Scientific Name
  • Timing of First Harvest
  • USDA Climate Zone
  • Sunlight Requirement
  • Size at Maturity
  • Links to purchase
  • An overall description of the plant

I made sure to include at least one perennial green for each USDA Climate Zone ranging from 3 to 11 and most can grow across the continental United States.

Wild Tip: What's in a Zone?

Perennial greens are the hardy winter warriors that survive the cold and live to fight another day, year after year. But of course, “winter” varies quite a bit from one place to the next. A perennial in southern California might be an annual in the Pacific Northwest.

The USDA Climate Zone helps you match up your winter conditions with the what the plants need to survive, so you can see which greens will work for you.

And don’t worry about taking notes—I’ve created a free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet with all the information you need to get started with these 11 perennial greens, plus some extra resources.

What Are Perennial Greens and Why Should I Grow Them?

Native perennial greens are a great option for your garden

Don't forget about native plants when selecting perennial greens. This is Pacific waterleaf which is native to Western Washington and is a great salad or cooking green with a great mild flavor. Image by Walter Siegmund CC BY 2.5

Do you know what perennial greens are? 

At their most basic, perennial greens are vegetables that you can harvest to make salads or to cook with. Basically, you can use them just like traditional greens (lettuce, spinach, chard, kale, etc.).

What’s awesome about perennial greens is that once you plant them, they come back year after year. That’s the definition of a perennial plant—they survive the winter and continue to yield abundance again and again. By replacing your traditional greens with perennial greens, you can skip the planting part of gardening and jump straight to the harvesting after the first year.

If you’re still a bit confused about how perennial plants are different from annual or biennial plants, check out my blog post all about these 3 types of plants.

And if you need a refresher or just want to learn more about perennial vegetables, then check out my blog post all about perennial vegetables. In addition to perennial greens you might also be interested in perennial root vegetables.

If you want information on more perennial vegetables than I cover in this post, then the book Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier is a great option for you. This book covers over 100 perennial vegetables.

Spicy, Tangy, or Bitter Perennial Greens

Perennial greens create abundance in your garden year after year with minimal effort

Perennial greens like this Turkish rocket are a great addition to your garden. Some do have a strong flavor but are great once cooked and can replace traditional greens like mustard greens.

Often perennial greens seem to fall within this category of flavor. I admit I tend to prefer milder salads, but if you like a bit more flavor and diversity in your salads then you will love these greens. These greens could also add some spice to a base of milder greens.

Plus, they can be cooked as a veggie side or mixed in main course dishes like soups, pastas and curries.

Here is a complete list of the perennial greens in this category:

  • Dandelions
  • Lovage
  • Turkish Rocket
  • Sylvetta Arugula (be careful you don’t get buy the annual version – Diplotaxis ericoides)
  • Sorrel

Dandelion - Taraxacum officinale

Yup, the trusty old dandelion that I’m sure you already have growing in your yard. You may not think of this as a food plant, but it is used both raw and cooked all over the world. It has a flavor that is similar to mustard greens.

Even though you probably have dandelions in reckless abundance, you can actually buy dandelion seeds. (Yes, I know…) These dandelions have been cultivated for superior flavor (rather than being adapted for survival in the wild). The cultivated varieties will give you a much milder green.

But even if you go for their wilder cousins, harvesting young leaves before the dandelion flowers will give you the mildest flavor.

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

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.

Lovage - Levisticum officinale

Lovage has a strong celery or parsley flavor and can be used in a similar manner. This plant does get very large, so it will be best placed on the edge of your garden. There, it can attract beneficial insects and provide a nice backdrop to your garden.

Young leaves and stems can be harvested and used in cooking, but they may be too strong to eat raw.

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

Info on Lovage

  • leaf
    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
  • leaf
    Purchase: seeds
  • leaf
    Note: Grows very tall making it good along the north side of the garden.

Turkish Rocket - Bunias orientalis

Turkish rocket seems to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it type plants. Some people like it and others aren’t so thrilled by it. I think it’s not just personal preference but also the variations in plant genetics that drives the divide.

Personally, I’ve found Turkish rocket to be tasty raw or cooked, but it does have a distinctive flavor that’s not for everyone.

The young leaves have a milder flavor than the older and larger leaves (And in addition to the perennial greens, this plant produces a flowering stem that you can eat like broccoli!).

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

Info on Turkish Rocket

  • leaf
    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
  • leaf
    Purchase: seeds - root cuttings / transplants (may not always be available)
  • leaf
    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.

Sylvetta Arugula - Diplotaxis muralis and Diplotaxis tenuifolia

Sylvetta arugula tastes very similar to regular arugula, but a bit stronger. If you like arugula, I would recommend trying this plant out.

Perennial greens like this one that can easily replace a more traditional vegetable (arugula in this case) are some of the easiest to add to an existing vegetable garden.

Learn more about Sylvetta arugula (Diplotaxis muralis and Diplotaxis tenuifolia) and how to use it in your garden.

Info on Sylvetta Arugula

  • leaf
    First Harvest: 1st year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 7-9 
  • Sunlight Requirement: Full sun to partial shade
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 2 feet high and 2 feet wide
  • leaf
    Purchase: seeds
  • leaf
    Note: Make sure when purchasing that the scientific name matches. There are a lot of plants called arugula making it easy to get the wrong type.

Sorrel - Rumex spp. and Oxyria spp.

Sorrel has a nice, tart lemony flavor and can be a very productive perennial green for your garden. There are several different types of sorrel that are all edible.

This is another easy one to add to your garden.

Learn more about how to add sorrel to your garden.

Info on Sorrel

  • leaf
    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
  • leaf
    Purchase: Blood Veined Sorrel Seeds and French Sorrel Seeds
  • leaf
    Note: Fully edible but best if mixed with other plants and not eaten in large quantities.

Mild Perennial Greens

Mild perennial greens are great in salads

There are many mild perennial greens that are right at home in a salad. This salad includes several annuals but also miners lettuce which is a great perennial green.

If you are looking for some mild perennial greens that could replace lettuce, spinach, or Swish chard, then this list will get you off to a great start.

  • Scorzonera / Black salsify
  • Tree Collards
  • Miner’s Lettuce
  • Saltbush (Yes, it’s actually salty!)
  • Sweet Potato
  • Linden / Lime tree / Basswood

Many of these plants, like sweet potato, will provide you with other harvests than just the greens.

And yes, I did mix in a tree and a shrub in this list!

While that may seem odd for a garden, having trees and shrubs along the edges of your garden can help reduce your pest issues by supporting beneficial insects and birds. Plus, it is hard to run out of greens to harvest if they are coming from a tree or shrub!

Scorzonera / Black Salsify - Scorzonera hispanica

The leaves of scorzonera can be harvested and eaten just like lettuce, and can be eaten raw. This plant is very hardy, and in mild climates such as western Washington, it can be harvested as a winter green.

Scorzonera makes for a great perennial green if only the leaves are harvested. This plant also has an edible root but harvesting the root will kill the plant.

Learn more about how to add scorzonera to your garden.

Info on Scorzonera / Black Salsify

  • leaf
    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
  • leaf
    Purchase: seeds
  • leaf
    Note: Has a sweet and edible root but harvesting the root will kill the plant.

Tree Collards - Brassica oleracea

These are amazing perennial greens that are related to plants like cabbage and broccoli. The leaves can be used just as you would use regular collards.

Interestingly, the leaves are supposed to improve after the first light frost. That said, tree collards can be killed by temperatures around 20 degrees F, so light is the key word.

Learn more about how to add purple tree collards to your garden.

Info on Purple Tree Collard

  • leaf
    First Harvest: 1st year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 8-9 
  • Sunlight Requirement: full sun to partial sun 
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 8 feet high and 2-2.5 feet wide
  • leaf
    Purchase: Rooted Cuttings 
  • leaf
    Note: Propagated by rooting cuttings of existing plants. The link for purchasing is the best source I was able to find. This is a rare but amazing plant.

Miner’s Lettuce - Claytonia perfoliata

This is one of my favorite perennial greens. Miner’s lettuce is perennial down to zone 6, but it will likely self-seed in colder zones, which means you’d probably get the same benefit of the green that keeps on giving.

With a very mild flavor, miner’s lettuce is great raw in salads or cooked as a spinach substitute. It also grows well under shade, making it a great perennial green for those shady areas.

Learn more about how to grow miner's lettuce in your garden.

Info on Miner's Lettuce

  • leaf
    First Harvest: 1st year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 6-9
  • Sunlight Requirement: partial shade to shade
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 8 inches high and wide
  • leaf
    Purchase: seeds
  • leaf
    Note: Great in a shade garden - old leaves can turn bitter especially in full sun. Will self-seed as an annual in colder climates or very hot climates.

Saltbush - Atriplex halimus

This shrub is fantastic if you like salty snacks. The leaves are edible and have a mild but salty flavor, making them a fun raw snack. Saltbush leaves can also be used in cooking to add a mild salty taste to foods.

As a shrub, it’s best grown on the edges of your garden, where it will provide great harvests for you while also providing shelter for wildlife and beneficial critters.

Learn more about saltbush and how to add it to your garden.

Info on Saltbush

  • leaf
    First Harvest: 2nd year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 7-8
  • Sunlight Requirement: full sun 
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 6 feet high and 9 feet wide
  • leaf
    Purchase: seeds
  • leaf
    Note: Do not fertilize with artificial fertilizers - the plant may concentrate toxic levels of nitrates in the leaves. Hard to find in the United States. The purchase link was the best I could find. Does not like wet climates.

Sweet Potato - Ipomoea batatas

I’m sure you know that sweet potatoes produce an edible root crop, but did you know you can eat the leaves too? The leaves are edible, and they’re an important food source in other parts of the world.

You can eat the leaves cooked, with a bit of the stems attached. But these greens should not be eaten raw.

Learn about all the uses of sweet potatoes and how to add them to your garden.

Info on Sweet Potato

  • leaf
    First Harvest: 1st year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 8-11 
  • Sunlight Requirement: full sun 
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 1-2 feet high but grows up to 9 feet along the ground
  • leaf
    Purchase: slips
  • leaf
    Note: Lots of different varieties - not all will be hardy down to zone 8.

Linden / Lime Tree / Basswood - Tilia spp.

Wait, you might be saying, you want me to grow a 40 ft tree as a perennial green? Yup! But luckily, you can keep it down to the size of a shrub by coppicing it. If done on a 2-year cycle, you can keep your linden tree down to around 6 ft and get a bountiful harvest of leaves.

The leaves can be eaten raw, and they’re supposed to be great in salads or sandwiches.

Learn about the linden tree and how to harvest it.

Info on Linden / Lime Tree / Basswood

  • leaf
    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
  • leaf
    Purchase: Seeds for Linden (Tilia americana) and Linden (Tilia americana) plants 
  • leaf
    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.

Gardening with Perennial Greens

Perennial greens can be mixed in your garden

I love mixing flowers and perennial greens (and other perennial vegetables!) into my gardens along side my traditional vegetables. The result is a beautiful ecosystem that supports my family and I and nature through its amazing abundance.

Just imagine having a vegetable garden with all—or even some—of these perennial greens mixed into your garden or growing nearby.

Lovage, linden and saltbush could be planted along the northern part of your garden, where they could block those cool northern winds without shading out sunlight. Tree collards could be planted nearby, perhaps against your house or another structure in full sun where they wouldn’t add to the shade but they’d get some protection from the harshest cold.

Miner’s lettuce could be added to the shady parts of your garden that would normally be unproductive. Then some (or all!) of the remaining perennial greens could be mixed in among your traditional vegetables.

Sound nice? I think this type of garden would be an amazing place to hang out, harvest some tasty food, and observe all the interactions taking place between the birds, pollinators and other beneficial critters that are drawn to the sanctuary of perennial plants.

Did I mention perennial greens (and other perennial vegetables!) are great for attracting beneficial critters?

But the first step is to add just one of these perennial greens. So pick one from the list that sounds great to you, and add that one to your garden this year.

Next year, add another.

Do this each year and watch your garden explode with abundance.

Now it’s time to get started! But don’t worry about trying to write down everything in this post. I made a free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet with all the information you need to get started with these 11 perennial greens, plus some extra resources.

Perennial greens are a great addition to your garden

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Daron

Daron is the homesteader and blogger behind Wild Homesteading. With years of experience in gardening, permaculture, homesteading, and environmental restoration Daron's goal is to share his knowledge with all of you so you can work with nature to build your homestead and grow your own food. In addition, to running this site Daron is a restoration ecologist managing the restoration program for a local non-profit and a husband to an amazing wife who makes this site and the homestead possible and daddy to a perfect little boy.

  • Suzanne says:

    We have Miner’s lettuce growing wild in our yard!

  • Carole says:

    Excellent blog/article!!! Practical, informative, approachable… and it’s NOT all the usual suspects, but rather a fresh perspective. Many, many thanks for putting this together. Some of these won’t work in my windy, dry, short season, high desert climate (NW NM), but there’s great inspiration here. I’m now re-thinking scorzonera… love the concept of using the greens and just leaving the root in the ground. 🙂

    • Daron says:

      Hello and thank you! I’m very happy to hear that you enjoyed the post. Given your climate I think saltbush might grow well there – my area is a bit too wet for it to thrive. Though finding seeds for it can be a challenge. I have some more posts planned on different types of perennial vegetables that you might like. Keep watching – the next (perennial root crops) is currently penciled in for March and I have some more planned after that. Thanks again!

  • Nancy says:

    Thanks, Daron… good info. Pacific waterleaf is new to me (I’m in PNW) so the botanical name is helpful…Hydrophyllum tenuipes. Also, I’ve struggled to propagate ‘tree collards / kale’ and see from the Amazon website, they ‘will root in warm weather’. They are selling cuttings (not rooted), and now (Feb) may not be the time to try to root them, in northern climates.

    • Daron says:

      Hello Nancy and thank you! Waterleaf is a great PNW plant to add to shady areas as an perennial vegetable. It also likes to spread so you can get a fair bit without too much effort.

      The Project Tree Collards site does have rooted cuttings for sell too. You can get them from their website directly or on Amazon. There is also another site that I was just sent today that also sells cuttings but you are right this may not be the best time of year for those.

      I’m waiting for our current cold snap to end then I plan to order some of the rooted tree collard plants. I have an area next to my house picked out for them so they can be protected from the winter chill.

  • WT Abernathy says:

    Fantastic article- love the organization and complete details:) On our old homestead, we had Japanese knotweed as our only true perennial green. Not the greatest taste in the world, but we were looking for ways to better prepare it when we moved to the new off grid spread-
    Cheers for the info:)

    • Daron says:

      Hello and thank you very much! I have never tried Japanese knotweed – it is actually illegal to grow in my area. Luckily there are a lot of other perennial vegetables to grow! Do you think you will try any of these 11 on your new off grid site?

  • Lesa says:

    Love this post! Thanks for sharing it at the Homestead Blog Hop – I chose it for one of the features!

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