Canna Lilies


Every year I try a few new edibles, and I try to lean toward perennials. I have a lot of edible perennials in the spring but very few that produce in hot weather, so I’m especially interested in any heat-tolerant edible. This spring I read about canna lilies as a multi-purpose edible, with young leaves, rhizomes, and flowers all edible. I have seen them perennialized in my area, they tolerate heat beautifully, and I grew up in Louisiana and still have a taste for overblown tropical flowers, so putting in a canna patch was a natural. They grew well and were very pretty, and didn’t even need that much water since they were well mulched.

The hitch came in the kitchen. I tried young tightly rolled leaves sliced on salads, flower petals on top of salads, and finally the season’s new rhizomes boiled. In all three cases the problem was that there was no objectionable flavor but also no desirable flavor. Cannas taste as much like nothing at all as it’s possible to imagine. Since I don’t know of any pressing nutritional reason to eat them, and since yield is low and they use up a fair amount of space, I doubt that I will try them again. I imagined that my goat would enjoy the leafy adult stalks, but to my astonishment she won’t touch them.

So, overall, no reason to keep growing them except that they’re pretty and can make a dramatic addition to summer flowers. And this leads to a bit of ranting about the concept of permaculture. I have recently perused with interest a book claiming that  permaculture could help feed a rapidly expanding world population in an environmentally sound way, but the picture of the authors’ market display shows nothing but standard annual vegetables.  Another book which purports to be a permaculture cookbook has recipes based almost entirely on standard annual vegetables.  If you hope to eat something other than asparagus and spring greens, what exactly do you grow? My weed patch is a partial answer to this question in my own yard, and I’m experimenting with a few Japanese and Andean perennial edibles (so far without much success.) Fruit is an obvious possibility but many of us have weight or blood sugar issues and need to limit the amount of fruit we eat. So in my view the question remains unanswered, and I will be growing and eating annual vegetables for the foreseeable future.  I’m also interested in the concept of wild-crafting, and in my case this means that I attempt to grow edible perennial weeds in my own yard, where I can control soil and moisture and not worry about overharvesting in the wild.

In springtime, the asparagus springs up, nettles and a host of other wild greens sprout, and I can feel like a real permaculturist for the entire month of April. After that, it gets a lot more limited and I’m a more traditional gardener. Unfortunately, canna lilies are not going to do anything to change that.

2 responses to this post.

  1. I cannot, cannot commend you enough for hitting on these urgent questions. You’ll get an headful of answers to this question soon I hope, because it’s just this perennial/annual dichotomy that I saw, and so figured it was important to figure out a better way to grow annuals. Not that I in any way whatsoever think perennials are not great. They are. It’s my practice with clients that has shown me they won’t be in style anytime soon. I’ve designed whole gardens for hundreds of dollars for clients that they simply dropped because they decided they didn’t want perennials after thinking about it. I, so perplexed in the middle, decided we just need to perennialize the system rather the plants; because everyone is on the no work; they just don’t like the present array of plants.

    As for the cannas though. I didn’t know they were edible, if bland. My neighbor raises them every year and tries to dump them on us. They dig them up and pull them down to their basement of course. This year they planted hundreds below their chicken pen that are well over 6ft from all the fertility. They are going to leave most of them out and try mulching them with whole bales of strraw laid on top of the ground since the last two winters have been very mild. I would be interested in them for mulch if nothing else.

    Thanks for such a wonderful post. I saw your comment on my blog and thought I would read the post before replying. Glad I did. I hope you enjoy the new book.


    • Posted by wooddogs3 on October 25, 2016 at 1:55 pm

      Can’t wait to read it, especially since I find it pertains to exactly this question.
      The cannas were honestly not bad, just flavorless. I love things with interesting flavors, or at least good flavors, and the thought of every bit of flavor they had coming from the seasoning did not appeal to me. Also, the rhizomes had a slightly gluey texture. Still, I imagine my chickens would eat them in a pinch, although I have no desire to spend time cooking chicken food.
      But really, I am glad that I made the experiment. I do love trying new things, even though I’m always disappointed by the ones that don’t really work out. Next year my Turkish rocket should flower for the first time, and I am very much looking forward to trying the buds. I got hold of some ground nut tubers too, so that will be my main new experiment for next year.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: