In my new book Tropical Plants and How to Love Them, I categorize the incredible genre of tropical and subtropical plants into four main relationship categories to help temperate gardeners learn how to fit them into their lives and benefit from the incredible excitement a tropical accent can bring to the temperate garden.
The fifth category is a little cheeky — Friends with Benefits — and it describes the tropical and subtropical plants that create just as much drama in our kitchens as they do in the garden.
From the book:
“I’d like to add one last aspect to our relationship with some of these plants—a flavorful one. Friends with Benefits are tropical plants that not only heighten the excitement in our gardens, but they also heighten the flavors in our kitchens.
Some are flavors we already enjoy, but don’t realize we can grow, such as Red Hibiscus tea. Others, like gingers, we’ve walked by in the garden center and wondered if that’s the same ginger we pile on top of our sushi. The answer might just be yes; or ‘yes’ with a few adjustments.
It’s a select group. In their native regions, tropical plants benefit from long growing seasons filled with heat, moisture, humidity, and often high topsoil fertility. Temperate gardeners working in cooler conditions are limited by the boundaries of two frost dates and cannot bring many of these edibles (particularly fruits) to maturity without a heated greenhouse or conservatory.
But there are still many plants from which we can harvest stem, leaf, root or flower to create something a little different in our kitchens, and not all of them will need season extenders and heat mats to create something yummy.
Apart from the most obvious use—flavoring—you’ll find some make great teas, or can be sautéed as healthy greens, or can flavor and wrap your favorite type of fish for steaming.”