I love sea kale: not only for its edible shoots, leaves and flowerbuds, but for its ornamental presence in the perennial garden as well. Sea kale was quite the rage in the late 1700's but sadly has lapsed into minor-vegetable status. I personally like having a garden made up of unusual plants with multiple edible parts. I enjoy tucking perennial vegies here and there into the landscape border.
Sea kale (Crambe maritima) is a clump forming perennial growing about 3 feet high and wide. The plants grey-blue foliage is much like true kale (Brassica oleracea), but the flowers are white and produced in large masses. I think it's a beautiful plant in any garden as well as the vegetable garden, as these plants can provide good harvests for up to 10 years.
The main crop of sea kale is in the spring shoots. The blanched asparagus-like shoots are cut at 6-9 inches and have a slight hazelnut flavor. The flowerbuds, resembling broccoli heads, are not only beautiful and fragrant but also have very good flavor. The leaves of first and second year plants can also be eaten, and taste like collards. In the fall, after flowering is complete, the leaves of more mature plants can be eaten. Roots can be used raw or cooked, usually boiled or steamed like asparagus and served with butter.
Sea kale is hardy to Zone 4 or colder, and also succeeds in Mediterranean climates as well as South to about Zone 8 on the East Coast and cooler summers on the West Coast. You can easily propagate by division or multiply by using root cuttings. But, like asparagus, sea kale is slow to grow the first and second year, and should not be harvested until the third year. This perennial thrives in a rich fertile soil and performs best in full sun.
Although sea kale has never achieved commercial success, it's still an enduring vegetable and well worth the space in your garden.
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Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Jessica Morgan, M. H., Morgan Botanicals.
Disclaimer - The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional. You should not use the information in this article for self-diagnosis or to replace any prescriptive medication. You should consult with a health care professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem, suffer from allergies, are pregnant or nursing.
Jessica Morgan, M.H.