With the growing popularity of permaculture and food forests in general people often wonder what you can grow in a food forest?
The answer is simple – if you can grow it and you can eat it it can go into your food forest.
These are just some of the things you can grow, and of course depending on your gardening zone there may be more or fewer options available to you.
But, rest assured, no matter what your climate, land type, or soil, a food forest is always a viable option to feed your family and reduce your carbon footprint.
I have been delving deep into this world for the past 2 years, my food forest may be young but I have been on a journey to learn everything I can about feeding my family from our own land whilst also doing our bit to protect the environment and helping to save this beautiful planet of ours.
These are just some of my recommendations to get your own food forest on the go.
1. Berry Bushes and Shrubs
Raspberries, Blackberries, Logan Berries, Blackcurrants, Gooseberries, and many more.
All of the beautiful and bright berries are outstanding for your health and they will grow particularly well in cooler climates.
Cranberries and Goji Berries are even more nutritious and can grow well in warmer climates.
You can freeze or dry all of the berries and use them throughout the year.
More bitter berries like Lingonberry and Elderberry can be made into cordials by adding some sugar and Lemon so you can have a tasty drink that the whole family can enjoy cold through summer or in warm water for those colder days.
It’s not just sweet berries you can grow either, caper berries grow on perennial bushes and are a great fruit to store throughout winter brined in jars, and they make a tasty addition to many meals.
Herbs are an excellent addition to your food forest, they can be perennial like mint, rosemary, thyme, and sage or annual herbs such as cilantro, parsley (sometimes perennial), or basil.
Herbs are very versatile, they can be eaten as salad leaves, used fresh in cooking, or dried out to last through winter. You can also prepare herb butter or freeze the herbs in ice cube trays for easy access anytime you need them.
I love to make herby teas, soaking mint, sage, or rosemary in boiling water, make healthy beverages for the whole family to enjoy!
The Bay Tree is one of my favorite trees in the food forest, the fresh leaves are good for the taking all rear round and this particular plant is much more nutritious when consumed fresh. Use them in any dish or mix with peppercorns to make a delicious spicy tea.
3. Nut Trees
Depending on where you live, you will be able to find many nut trees that grow in your zone.
Larger nut trees like Chestnut trees make a fantastic canopy and they are a great food source for winter. I roast them, remove the shell then freeze them in bags so we can enjoy them all year round.
Smaller nut trees like almond, hazelnut, brazil, and walnut all make a good addition to a food forest as nuts are often expensive to buy. It is labor-intensive to dry and shell the nuts but worth every second of time to use them year-round in baking and cooking.
Find nuts that will grow natively in your area and use them for the top and second layer of your food forest.
4. Fruit Trees
Citrus fruits, figs, plums, pears, peaches, cherries, dragon fruit, avocado, and mango are all growing in our food forest. Of course, we are lucky to be in a climate where some more tropical fruits will grow. But even in colder temperatures, you can find hardy avocados and peaches.
Pears, apples, plums, and cherries also thrive in colder weather, so there are always options for providing your family with fruit.
Grapes are a great addition to your food forest. You can produce wine, make dried raisins for winter, or just make some nutritious grape juice. Obviously, the fresh fruits are delicious too.
All of the fruits can be dried, canned, frozen, or made into jam to keep you fed throughout the year.
5. Teas Bushes
Tea is a personal favorite… so why not grow your own. Flowers like hibiscus, chamomile, and rooibos are perennial so make perfect food forest plants. Depending on where you live you can grow many tea bushes.
Do some research and find your favorite teas which will grow in your climate. Then every year you can pick them and dry them and never have to buy a teabag again. Great for the environment as well as your health and happiness.
Don’t forget you can dehydrate some of the fruits from the food forest to add some extra flavor to your teas too.
Apple, citrus peels, and ginger all make excellent tea flavorings with extra health benefits too.
Speaking of ginger, if we travel down under the soil of the food forest you should be growing some rhizomes. Ginger and Tumeric are some of my most important crops. I feel these are the foods that keep me and my family the healthiest.
Since eating ginger daily I’ve avoided all colds, sore throats, and flu.
Add fresh to salad, teas, and soups to get your daily dosage or dry and powder your harvest to use throughout the year.
Rhubarb is another rhizome that my kids love to eat fresh every year, it’s not for everyone so I will let you decide whether or not it’s a good addition to your food forest.
The best thing about growing your own food forest is that you get to chose the foods you love.
7. Beans and Brassicas
Beans are a very important staple food that we grow in the food forest. Many people don’t realize that most beans are perennial too. Cut them back and cover with straw for winter and they should pop back up next year.
Chickpeas, butter beans, and black beans are our family favorites and most bean varieties will grow in any climate.
Choose your favorite then dry them out and keep them in jars for winter. Always be sure to soak dried beans for 24 hours before cooking to remove lectins and any other toxins.
String beans and runner beans can be frozen by flash boiling then laying on a sheet to dry and freeze. When frozen, place in a plastic bag and return to the freezer for up to 6 months – any more than that they lose their delicious flavor and may become stringy.
Certain broccoli varieties such as Raab, Nine Star, and Chinese are also perennial, so get them growing and you will have a new healthy crop each year.
8. Edible Flowers
One of my favorite edible flowers is nasturtium, the flower and leaves are all edible and the plant is also excellent at keeping certain pests away from your vegetables. The plant and flower taste peppery and make an excellent addition to salads and pasta dishes.
Other edible flowers include Marigold, Honeysuckle, and Pansies. But, be sure to add non-edible flowers in and around your food forest to encourage birds, bees, and other pollinators to the area.
9. Perennial Vegetables
Some vegetables are perennial. You can grow asparagus, artichoke, and certain species of kale and spinach and they will return to your food forest every year.
As an added bonus artichoke in particular forms the most beautiful flower which pollinators will love.
Such creatures as bees and wasps, dragonflies, and birds are always a welcome addition to the garden and the more natural predators you have the better. This leads me to the next food forest essential…
10. Flowers and Cover Crops
I was never a flower lover until I learned more about permaculture techniques. Biodiversity is the key to an all-natural food forest.
Choosing a good variety of flowers and plants helps restore a natural balance which will help you avoid the need for pesticides or herbicides. This means your crops will be organic and much better for you than their store-bought equivalents.
Dahlias, daisies, and dandelions are some of the many flowers that bees love. Therefore they are perfect for the healthy growth of all of your food forest goodies. It is also thought that bees like to snack on aphids which is good news for your vegetables.
Tip: Marigolds and catnip‘s strong scent also deter aphids so scatter some around the food forest.
Buckwheat is very good at aerating the soil as well as attracting bugs to keep them from eating your food. Peanuts are also good aerators and carbon storers.
Clover, Rapeseed, and Winter Peas all make good land cover which will help keep the soil teeming with nutrients as well as protect it from drying out and eroding from the wind and sun.
Unlike traditional farming, the whole idea behind permaculture is to add to the soil rather than continue to take all of the nutrients away from it.
11. Annual Vegetables
Although we start building up the layers of the food forest with perennial plants so that we have a continual cycle of food, there is no harm in growing annual vegetables in the forest too. In fact, the higher layers make excellent shelter for the smaller plants so we can grow lettuces, cabbages, and broccoli in the summer with some shade from the sun.
We can also scatter the tomato vines around the land as well as potatoes, cucumbers, and courgettes.
Keeping these plants separate from each other prevents the spread of blight and makes for a healthier crop.
No food is off-limits when it comes to our food forests!
If you are a keen cook you might want to consider growing your own spices. Again this will depend on your growing zone and local temperature.
Caraway, cumin, coriander, and mustard can all be grown then you simply remove the seeds and dry them when they flower. They also make great cover crops and attract pollinators too.
Cinnamon is simply the inner bark of the cinnamon tree, they are harder to grow and like warmer temperatures but they can be grown indoors. Check out this full article on how to grow cinnamon at home by The Spruce.
Fenugreek can be sown straight into the garden soil after there is no more chance of frost. They will go to seed after around 8 weeks of growth, you can then dry and store in jars or blend them to create a powder to use in your curries all year round.
13. Native Non Edible Trees for Canopy
Some of the first things you should consider in your food forest are native trees, they don’t have to be edible but they should offer a good canopy for the forest in order to shade the plants and ground underneath.
I choose chestnut trees for my canopy and I also have a mango tree. I’m lucky because my canopy trees produce food however in most climates it will be more suitable to find large native trees for your canopy.
For example, in the UK you may wish to use Oak or birch as well as chestnuts but in some more warm and humid climates chestnuts may not be possible.
The key is some thorough research in the early stages of planning your food forest.
You may wonder why the trees have to be native and of course, all of our vegetables and fruits are unlikely to be native.
The reason is that non-native species can become pests. There are problems in Portugal with eucalyptus drying out the land and leading to water shortages and wildfires. This is repeated in many places all over the world where settlers bring plants or trees from another country and they throw out the natural balance of the local area.
This can be troublesome for wildlife and other plant species and can ultimately cause their extinction.
14. Oil Producing Trees
Finally, as we all need a balanced diet and healthy fats are one of the most important aspects, we need good quality oil-producing trees.
For me, it is olive oil because I live in Portugal and as a country, we produce some of the purest and most delicious olive oil in the world – I may be slightly biased :-).
However, in more tropical climates you may opt for coconut trees and in cooler lands, walnut trees are a great option, they take a while to start fruiting though (up to 12 years) so buying a 5-year-old tree may be a better option.
Walnuts like deep well-draining soil and cooler temperatures so are a perfect producer of oil and nuts of course in colder countries.
In short, you can really grow anything you want in your food forest, start with things you like to eat, and research thoroughly what is good for the overall wellbeing of your garden and take it from there.
Educate yourself and you will be producing your family’s food in no time as well as taking care of the planet.
Good luck food foresters!