Non-traditional crops for food security (human consumption focus)

The deeper down the ‘permaculture’ hole I dive, the more stories I’ve heard about “the thing I regret planting because it grows out of control and takes over the area”.

These are normally what I would call noxious weeds, invasives… But if you can eat them, they serve a function in a managed environment.

"“The use of azolla for human consumption was thought to be limited by its high total polyphenolic content, which interferes with its digestibility. But this research demonstrates that the phenolic content of the Carolina strain is much lower, and cooking the plant diminishes it further.”

Another is water celery, which apparently goes out of control if left unchecked, but all parts are edible.

From personal experience, I’ve found sheep sorrel to be tasty, but I don’t eat tons of it to limit oxalic acid intake. I am going to try to make it a more regular part of my salads this year. It has taken over one of the mulched beds.

Edit: Here’s a running list of ‘easy’ options based on the thread discussion-

Water Celery
Jerusalem Artichokes
Egyptian Walking Onions
Garlic (various based on climate)
Acorns (White oak least tannins?)
Ground Nuts
Mulberry (leaves as greens +fruit)


Permaculture is based on unprovable hypotheses.


The results of permaculture/agroforestry/forest gardening can absolutely be quantified and compared to traditional agriculture if yield is properly quantified. Weight, volume, caloric density, nutritional content…There are absolutely ways to prove or disprove a hypothesis related to system yield.

The other metrics and claims of a permaculture ‘system’ are harder to quantify using currently available scientific methods and models, however that is a limit of human knowledge, not an impossible task. There was a knowledge gap not long ago in relative terms about what caused disease, and many incorrect strategies were applied. Now we have the ability to combat many bacterial and viral ailments through modern medicine. That doesn’t mean we won’t be able to cure other diseases, just that we don’t know how to yet.

Absolute statements are ‘always’ wrong…


i trust ancient growing knowledge over science any day just as id trust a grandmothers advice on child care over a young doctors. when i made my raised beds i filled them 3/4 full with wood and manure, hugelkulture style. that was 6 years ago. i never have to water those beds as the wood holds water still to this day. ive had to add soil occasionally as the wood breaks down but that’s to be expected. i will repeat the process in future raised beds. science isn’t absolute.


Acorns are the most grievously overlooked food asset by far. With huge yield potential with far less fuel/chemical input put in grain production. Or land use. By no means should it replace them. But we could certainly eat very well if we applied modern processing techniques. And be better on many counts. Cat tails too.


tree crops by j. russell smith goes into this in detail. too bad we never continued to improve on these crops in the last century. can you imagine a much more forested country will huge old growth forest trees that produce sweet acorns for acorn flour and nuts. man and beast could benefit. one of the reasons im planting lots of Chinese chestnuts. someday they will provide a food source for my children and grandchildren.


Acorn flour is good. I love acorn crumbles and course meal toasted and placed in regular flours more though.

Goes great with the walnuts in breads.

  1. Hypothesis
  2. Test Hypothesis with experiment
  3. Repeat experiment
  4. If hypothesis correct and reproducible, theory developed

Steve, what you’ve just said is actually the first step in the scientific method. You created a hypothesis that an ancient technique (in your example Hügelkultur) would be applicable to your environmental conditions. Then you tested your hypothesis and found it was a favorable result, so you are reproducing your experiments based on the theory that Hügelkultur beds successfully grow crops in a desirable way for you.

The critical part of the process many people do NOT do, is documenting the hypothesis and results. That’s what makes it science.


Acorns are one of ‘the’ OG crops, just not known as modern agriculture. I believe @Lucky_P has some exceptional varieties. I disagree with your statement that they shouldn’t replace modern grains. They could if proper system resiliency was developed. There are thousands of years of management knowledge lost to the invaders of America.

Thank you for mentioning cattails, they are another easy to propagate crop that could sustain many people.


I have nothing against grasses. Especially since each tends to bring something to the game. I prefer using the whole toolbox approach.

Especially if no till is practical.

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Oh I absolutely agree with you, I’m just saying that if managed properly, we could sustain society on acorns rather than wheat and corn. Grains could easily be incorporated in that system for a higher overall yield, but that would probably mean more small farms and less industrial practices as part of the process, which is not the overall trend currently.

**And to clarify - I’m not saying ‘we’ SHOULD have a vendetta against annual grains, just that other strategies are available. Tool in the toolbox as you said.


and what better way to cool the planet, sequester carbon and repair the soil than covering some of the country’s fields will large trees. not just acorn producing ones. chestnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, hickories etc… mulberries is another underappreciated crop that is fast growing and extremely productive. i have all of these that grow up here interplanted with many others i grow. everything’s planted in layers from ground covering berries, herbs and medicinals to the south and large fruit and nut trees to the north with grass strips every 20ft. running east to west, to allow access for harvesting and maintenance. once it’s all completely filled in and somewhat grown out i will post some pics of it. still a work in progress.


also dont forget about the perennial root crops like Jerusalem artichokes and ground nuts. we have the latter growing wild everywhere around here on old farmland as well as rhubarb. our ancestors knew of their benefit long ago. i have a large patch of j. chokes surrounded by grass here, that grow with 0 input and try to spread every year. my wife and the bees love the flowers and no one around here that i know of knows they grow a edible tuber. i have spread my ground nuts so they are all growing in between my big pines that line the property. i provide them a few pieces of rope tied to the lower branches that allow the vines to climb. pretty cool looking when they are grown out and flowering in late summer. they regularly spread by rhizomes as well as fix N.


J-chokes are another I forgot about. Adding it to the list!


i have a red and a white variety i got from cultivariable i could share if you want.

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I grow water dropwort. It’s very tasty dish in early spring when stems are tender. It spreads and roots every where it touches the ground. But it is not as annoying as Jerusalem artichoke.


Actually I’d love to get some started. I have a feeling they would battle respectably in some areas where other less desirable invasives are present. I’d keep them potted at my house, they’d probably be great by the deck.


That appears to be the same as ‘water celery’? Thanks for the input!

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apios americana, Caucasian spinach, common nettle, scots lovage


Yes, some people call it water celery. It is great spring vegg for stir fry with meat

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