The concept of perennial comes from botany and applies to plants that have a long life cycle. That is, unlike the annual and bi-annual species, the perennials are those that once planted live for more than two years, and do not need to be replanted in each growing season. The concept of perennial, therefore, includes trees, which are the most known examples of longevity. These are the so-called woody perennial species (see Ernst text). But in addition to these, there are also the herbaceous perennials. Although they are not as obvious examples as trees, they can have very long cycles, thanks to their vegetative reproductive structures that store energy and ensure regrowth each year.
Asparagus and rhubarb are some examples of fairly common perennial herbaceous plants. Several cultivars are being brought to the agricultural scene thanks to the efforts of researchers like Stephen Barstow. Perennials are adding colorful and tasty options to contemporary cuisine and also more resilience to our croplands – an ingredient to be considered in times of extreme weather.
Barstow in Mértola
We had the opportunity to follow Stephen Barstow’s visit to Mertola (Portugal). His profound botanical knowledge and sharp capacity to recognize perennial food and medicinal herbs turned a walk in the surroundings of this old village of Alentejo into a botanical identification tour: wild asparagus (Asparagus albus), wild carrots (Daucus carota L.), navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris), Wild artichoke (Cynara humilis) and Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae) were some of the species found in the region.
In Brazil, there is the PANC movement (an acronym for Non-Conventional Edible Plants) that often have the characteristic of being perennials. The nutritionist Neide Rigo and Professor Valdely Kinupp are real exponents in the study and dissemination of PANC. They’ve published identification guides, analysis of nutritional aspects and tips of recipes that definitely put an end to the monotony of lettuce salad, and honor the incredible Brazilian phytodiversity.
Besides being an opening to a new world of gastronomical and bioactive possibilities, knowing and making use of both perennials and PANC ends up being an exercise of rebellion, resistance, and freedom. Rebellion against the imposition of a diet based only on wheat, corn and rice. Resistance against seed monopoly, since seedlings, cuttings and bulbs of these species are still in the hands of small farmers, traditional and indigenous communities – the true guardians of biodiversity. And finally, the true sense of freedom that only shared and practical knowledge can give us.
Stephen Barstow presents us “Around The World in 80 Plants: An Edible Perennial Vegetable Adventure for Temperate Climates”, his book available on Amazon: “This book takes us on an original and inspiring adventure around the temperate world, introducing us to the author’s top eighty perennial leafy-green vegetables. Around the World in 80 Plants will be of interest to both traditional vegetable and ornamental gardeners, as well as anyone interested in permaculture, forest gardening, foraging, slow food, gourmet cooking, and ethnobotany.”