Food Forest Plants
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ZonesLightMoistureSoil textureSoil pHFormHeightWidthRoot SpanLifespanGrowth RateNative?Edible?Medicinal?Nitrogen fixer?Ground cover?Dynamic Accumulator?Nectary?Cover crop?Notes
If Edible: Flavor Profile
Ground Nut3 - 10Some shadeMoistS, Lneutral to v. acidicVine, M4'10'-25'mtuberxGrows naturally in low marshy areas of NE United States, forming long thin roots with tubers at intervals along their length. Can twine around neighboring plants for support, or trail on the ground. Tuber is 17% protein and takes 2-3 years to reach a sizeable harvest. Can be eaten raw or cooked. Best when harvested in autumn. stores well until the spring.
Grapevine (large)20'20'mfruitWill produce after 3rd year. Require heavy pruning each year thereafter.
Kiwi, hardy4 - 8Moistvinefruit
Jujube6 - 9Full sunDrought toleranttree, small-medium15-30'15-30'ffruitxxHardy to -13 F. Grows quickly even in poor soil. Drought tolerant. Responds well to coppicing. 1/2-inchx1-inch fruit can be eaten raw or dried. Increases immune system resistance
Plum, American3Some shadeDrought tolerantS,L,CtreemxfruitxMost members of this genus are shallow-rooted and will produce suckers if the roots are damaged.
Pinon Pine5Full sunDryneutraltree50'35's-mxnuts, needle teatraditional source of protein
Soapberry8Full sunDrought tolerantS, L, Ctree40'ssw usxFruit contains saponins that make a good natural detergent. Antimicrobial properties good for disinfecting greywater and cisterns
Honeylocust, thornlessDrought toleranttreeThough grafted parent trees are thornless, seedlings may grow with thorns
Spruce, ColoradoMoistacidictreex
Chicory3Some shadeMoist4.5 - 8.5slightly acidicShrub1-2'fleaves, rootsxxx"The crisp, bitter leaves add flavor and bite to salads, and can be braised or boiled. The roots of all types can be dried and roasted, then ground for a coffee flavoring or substitute, or can be cooked and eaten like carrots or parsnips"
Honeypod Mesquite7Full sunDrought tolerantshrub, very large12-25'30'mpodsxInvasive. Fruits even during drought. Bark gum is candy or wound treatment. Wood is also multifunctional.
Rosemary 'arp'5 - 9Full sunDrought tolerantshrub, small/medium3-4'3-4'sherbx
Sweetfern2 - 6Some shadeDrought tolerantshrub, small3'4-8's-mteaxTolerates dry soil when grown in the shade. Leaves are astringent, blood purifier, expectorant and tonic.
Sweet CicelyPartial shadeMoistshrub, small3'3'leaves, root, seed, teaxPFAF: "Excellent raw, the leaves have a delicious sweet aniseed flavour and are liked by the majority of people who try them... They can be cooked with tart fruits in order to reduce their acidity. The plant produces fresh leaves from late winter to early the following winter."
Oregon grape6Some shadeDrought tolerant(S, L) Cshrub, s1'6'smountainsberriesxDrought-tolerant, grows in poor soils. Taste is like a tart grape. Relatively little flesh and a lot of seeds. Root and root bark improves the digestion and absorption and is taken internally in the treatment of coughs, fevers, psoriasis, syphilis, haemorrhages, stomach complaints, kidney problems and impure blood conditions.

4Some shadeMoistshrub, medium5' - 8'fberriesxHardy to -40°F, very easy to grow, and has very few pest and disease problems. Great fresh or made into preserves. Dioecious (two varieties of similar bloom time are needed for pollination.)
Goji Berry/ Wolfberry5Full sunDrought tolerantS, L, Cshrub, mediumberries, shootsxxcan be tough to start, but once established, grows quickly & can grow in poor soil - can become invasive. recovers well from pruning. Hardy to about -15 F. Good for erosion control.
Kinnikinnick/Bearberry4Sun or shadeDrought tolerantS, Lneutral - acidicshrub, medxberriesxxSucceeds well in poor soils. Cultivars 'Anchor Bay', 'Point Reyes' and 'Vulcan's Peak' have all been mentioned as good groundcover forms. 6mm fruit is best dried or cooked. "leaves are picked any time during the summer and dried for use in infusions, liquid extracts, medicinal tea bags and tablets. The plant has the following claimed properties: anti-lithic, aromatic, astringent, disinfectant, diuretic, lithontripic, sedative (renal), stimulant (mild), tonic, urinary antiseptic." - Wikipedia
Valerian5 - 8Full Sun-Partial ShadeMoistS, L, Cshrub, med4-6'xValerian root has been shown to encourage sleep, improve sleep quality and reduce blood pressure. Dry, rocky soil produces more potent oils than fertile soil. "When grown for its medicinal root, the plant should not be allowed to flower." "Valerian (Valeriana officinalis, Valerianaceae) is a hardy perennial flowering plant, with heads of sweetly scented pink or white flowers...Valerian was used as a perfume in the sixteenth century...Native to Europe and parts of Asia, Valerian has been introduced into North America...Valerian, in pharmacology and phytotherapic medicine, is the name of a herb or dietary supplement prepared from roots of the plant, which, after maceration, trituration, dehydration processes...may be used for certain effects including sedation and anxiolytic effect." Wikipedia (
Sand Cherry3Some shadeDrought tolerantShrub, m3-6'3'15-30 yrsxfruitxpretty good fruit - up to 2 cm in diameter
Running Juneberry4Full sunDrought tolerantS (L, C)5.5-7Shrub, M4-6'IndefmberryxGrows true to seed
Saltbush, Four-wing7Full sunDrought tolerantS, Lbasic, neutralshrub, m5'5'xleaves, seedsxcommon to Denver area, used as fuel source by Native Americans. "It survives with 8" to 12" of rain a year and is found anywhere from below sea level to 8,000'. Taproots that can reach down 20' tolerate soils containing salt, selenium, boron, and alkalis, but accept slightly acid soils, deep sandy loams, heavy clays, and gravel washes... The leaves contain high levels of protein and carotene in the winter, but saponin makes them unpalatable in the summer when they’re producing seed." - NAG "The leaves can be made into a soapy lather and used as a wash on itches and rashes such as chickenpox. A poultice of the crushed leaves can be applied to ant bites to reduce the pain and swelling." - PFAF
Serviceberry/Saskatoon "Pigeon Berry" (Amelanchier alnifolia var. pumila)2 - 3Some shadeMoistS (L, C)5.5-7Shrub, M15'15'15-30 yrsxberryFor inflamation and pain when fruit ingested * true to seed. Plants fruit in 2-3 years. Hardy to -40 F
Ginger, wild3 - 8ShadeMoistS, L, Cshrub, m4"1'stubersxRoots have pungent peppery ginger smell
Sea Buckthorn3Some shadeDrought tolerantS, L, Cshrub, large20'10'15-30 yrsmberriesxProduces acidic 1/4-inch berries high in vitamins A and C. A high-quality medical oil is produced from the fruit. Less tart (but less nutritious) after a frost. As the name implies, the branches are quite thorny. Grows on dunes and sea cliffs in the wild.
Siberian Pea Shrub2 - 9Full sunDrought tolerantShrub, large15-30 yrsfpodsGood chicken feed, seeds are 36% protein, good hedge (thorny), winter hardy, drought tolerant. New growth can be trimmed and left on ground as nitrogen-rich mulch. "The seeds are edible cooked. Small, but produced in abundance, there are 4 - 6 seeds per pod. Having a bland flavor, it is best used in spicy dishes. The raw seed has a mild pea-like flavor. The seed contains 12.4% of a fatty oil and up to 36% protein, and it has been recommended as an emergency food for humans -
Goumi5 - 8Some shadeDrought tolerantS, Lshrub, large6-8'6-8'm - fberriesxDrought tolerant nitrogen fixer, hardy to -20 F. Great for hedges and companion planting. "The fruit must be fully ripe before it can be enjoyed raw, if even slightly under-ripe it will be quite astringent... the fruit is well hidden in the shrub and is quite difficult to harvest without damaging the plant."
Barberry, Mexican/RedFull sunDryS, Lslightly acidshrub, large20's - mxberriesxAbundant red, tart berries are somewhat seedy. Thorny leaves - good as hedge. Fragrant flowers.
Buffaloberry 'Sakakaweja'2Some shadeDrought tolerantS, L, Cshrub, l15'15'sxberriesxCurrant-like yellow fruit. Thorns make fruit tough to harvest.
Serviceberry, Shadblow2Drought tolerantS (L, C)5.5-7Shrub, L18'9'berriesxGrows true to seed
Highbush Cranberry2Some shadeMoist/WetS, L, Cshrub (large)6-12'6-12'mfruitxTolerates heavy clay. Drought-tolerant once established.
Mountain Mahogany6Full sunDrySshrub (large)6-20'6-20's-mxxCRMPI: coppice for chicken fodder and mulch. poison (?)
Paw Paw5 - 7Sun or shadeMoistshrub (l)15"15"sfruitNative to SE USA - Nebraska to Florida (largest native american fruit). requires some irrigation in CO climate. Hardy to -30 F. Begins bearing in 4 - 6 years and yields up to 75 lbs per tree. Slow-growing at first, established plants average 1-2 feet growth.
Barberry3Some shadeDrought tolerantvshrub10'6'mberriesxxthe 1/2 in fruit has a very acid flavor and is mainly used in preserves, though can be eaten raw when it is fully ripe.
Jostaberry4Some shadeMoistS,L,CShrub6'6'perennialmberriesx
Alpine Strawberry5Some shadeMoistS, L, Cacid-neutralshrubfruitxxTolerates heavy clay. Fruit is smaller than normal strawberries (1.5 cm) but abundant. Loses vigor after first few years. Likes pine needle mulch. Grows well with bush beans, spinach, borage, lettuce and pyrethrum
Beetberry5full sunDrought tolerantshrub2'annualxLeaves, berriesxSelf-seeding annual with edible leaves and small red berries. Like its relatives Quinoa and Lamb's Quarters, the leaves contain saponins and should be rinsed before eating.
Saltbush8Full sunDrought tolerantShrub6'9'other members of genusleavesTolerates dry and salty soils. Doesn't grow well in clay soil. "Plants can be damaged by severe frosts but they soon recover" - PFAF. A. Halimus might need a sheltered microclimate to grow in CO, but A. canescens, a relative, is native to the Denver area and was used as a fuel source by Native Americans.
Prickly Pear5 - 9Full sunDryshrub4-8'3'sxfruit, padsxneedles
Nanking Cherry2Some shademoistS, L, Clarge shrubfruitSmall, slightly tart fruit. Reliable crop.
LovageSome shadeMoistLarge herb3-5'1-2'fleaves, stalksxleaves and stalks have strong celery taste and can be eaten cooked or raw. Not everyone finds the taste agreeable. Leaves are available early in the season. Regenerates when cut back to ground during growing season. Grows quickly in moist soil. Good companion plant.
Running club moss1 - 8Partial shadeDrought tolerantherb, small5-12"indefsx
Sylvetta Arugula3Full sunDrought tolerant5.5-7Herb, S1'1'2-5 yrsleavesxCommon roadside weed in many places (CO?). Prolific leaves taste bitter like Arugula. "Prefers dry soils and dislikes shade. Very resistant to heat" - PFAF.
Gamote/Widewing Springparsley6Full sunDryherb, medium1'1'xrootsxvery little info available.
Welsh Bunching Onions4 - 10Full sunmoist5.5 - 8herb, medium2-3'1-2'perennials-mbulbs, leavesxxVery hardy and easy to grow. bulbs are small (.5-1 inch diameter) but have strong flavor. leaves have mild onion flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. repels insects.
Sea Kale4 - 8Some shadeDrought tolerant6.5-8herb, m2-3'3'5-10 yrsm-fleavesxlikes good, rich, deep soil and an open and sunny position with plenty of compost and manure. drought-tolerant
Sunchoke (Jerusalem Artichoke)2 - 10Some shadeMoistherb, large6-12'indefperennialftubersxHeavy yield with little maintenance. Tubers sweeten after frost. Can take over if not managed. Contains inulin, which can cause indigestion. Long-term storage, boiling, or slow roasting will convert inulin to starches, making tubers more easily digestible. "The first frost kills the stems and leaves, but the tubers can withstand freezing for months" - PFAF "Whole tubers or pieces about 2 oz. should be planted like potatoes and covered to a depth of 5 in."- PFAF
Echinacea3 - 8Some shadeDrought tolerants,lherb, large3-4'1-2'm-fxxPFAF: "The plant has a general stimulatory effect on the immune system and is widely used in modern herbal treatments". Drought-tolerant once established. Attracts slugs. Harvest and dry roots and/or tops of mature plants and use in teas and decoctions. Great guide to growing and harvesting:
AsparagusSun or shadeMoistS, L, C6.5 or higherherb, large5' 3'w coastal EuropestalksxxStalks are harvested in the spring and are a good source of protein and fiber. Can be eaten steamed, boiled, pickled, or raw in salads. A good companion plant for tomatoes, parsley and basilDon't harvest first two years to allow roots to get established.
Groundplum Milk Vetch3 to 8Full sunDryS, Lherb (small)6-15"1-2'fxleaves, fruitxxSomewhat difficult to grow, esp for transplants. "The fruits are edible. They are very juicy and taste a little like pea pods. They were eaten by Native Americans and early settlers."
Prostrate Broom6 - 8Full sunDrought tolerantherb (small)4 - 8"3' +mxdislikes root disturbance
Sheep Sorrel3Full sunDrought tolerantacid-neutralherb6"indefperennialfleavesxxxxattracts wildlife. Detoxifier when juiced, makes lemonade-like drink when boiled. lemony flavor due to oxalic acid -> raw leaves in hi quantities will lock up other nutrients. Dark green to brown and dark grey dyes can be obtained from the roots.
Rhubarb3Some shadeMoistS, L, Cherb5'4'fstalkTart stem is harvested in early spring. Can be eaten raw but is usually stewed with sugar or fruit. Roots have many medicinal properties. Grows best in moist, loamy soil but tolerates a wide variety of conditions.Don't harvest first year to allow roots to get established. Harvest just a few stalks per plant the second year.
Lily of the Valley3Sun or shadeDrought tolerantherbxxAttractive ornamental. All parts of the plants are poisonous and should be used with supervision. "Lily of the valley encourages the heart to beat more slowly, regularly and efficiently, at the same time it is strongly diuretic, reducing blood volume and lowering blood pressure" - PFAF
Motherwort3Some shadeDrought tolerantherbannualx"historically used in China to prevent pregnancy and to regulate menstruation. Motherwort is also used to ease stomach gas and cramping, menopausal problems, and insomnia..." - Wiki
Salad Burnet5Full sunMoistS, L, Cherb2'1'leavesMild perennial salad green with cucumber flavor. Can turn bitter in hot, dry conditions.
Lady's Mantle5Some shadeDrought tolerantherbperennialxxEasy-to-grow in partially shaded areas, spreads easily. "The herb is alterative, antirheumatic, astringent, diuretic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, sedative, styptic, tonic and vulnerary" (PFAF)
Lotus5Some shadeDrought tolerant5.1-8.5Herb1"1-2'mx
Wooly Thyme6Full sunDrought tolerantS,Lherb1"indefperennialleavesxExcellent groundcover: good in cracks and paths. Tolerates being walked on occasionally. OK edible. Likes sandy soil. Thymes dislike wet conditions, especially in the winter. Hardy to approx. 10 F (sunny microclimates only in Denver area)
Rocky Mountain Bee Plant3/10/2010Full sunDrought tolerantS, L, Cherb3'1'annualxleavesxxEdible leaves. Attracts bees. Used by Anasazi and Navajo as "fourth sister". Pretty purple-pink flowers in July-Aug
Wood Nettle3 - 8ShadeMoistherb1-3'1-3'cooking greens, teaxstings before cooked
Sorrel, Garden3 - 9Some shadeDrought tolerantherb1'2'perennialleavesxLeaves are available year-round if in a good microclimate. However, "they tend to be almost tasteless early on, gradually gaining their characteristic and desired acidity and flavor as the season wears on". lemony flavor due to oxalic acid -> raw leaves in hi quantities will lock up other nutrients.
AlfalfaDrought tolerant6.8 – 7.5herb3' (1m)ÏannualxxExcellent cover crop. Used as hay for cows (especially milk), goats, sheep, and horses.
SpilanthesFull sunMoistherb12"xused to make a useful + multifunctional tincture. chewing leaves numbs mouth
Fava Bean/Broad Bean0Full sunDrought tolerantS, L, C1annualBeanxxCold-season cover crop. Fixes nitrogen up to 150 lbs/acre. Large, protein-rich seed.
Quinoa0Full sunDrought tolerant6 - 8.5leaves, seedsWell-suited to high elevations with warm days and cool nights. Drought-tolerant but prefers moist soil. Sow in april. Must thoroughly rinse to remove saponins before eating. "The leaves, stem-tips and young flowers are excellent in salads, having a mild sweet flavor, and very succulent. Also good cooked like spinach or added to soups." - JLHSSouth American seed doesn't seem to do well,I bought Black quinoa from a place in the San Louis Valley and its doing very well in full sun some plants are 7 feet high.The only soil additions I used were bagged steer manure tilled in 8 inches.Last year my black quinoa failed because of drought and root maggots but still managed to pop a few seeds out.Use seed sparingly as every single one will germinate,the plants will tiller out if given room and create multiple seed heads.This is definitely a plant I will stick with in the future.
Amaranth0Full sunDrought tolerantseeds, leavesxHi protein. Drought-tolerant once established. Sown in late may/early june. Cuttings root easily. >1000 lbs grain/acre in upper midwest.
Chokecherry, Canada Red2Some shadeMoistS,L,CshrubxfruitHardy to -40 F. Nomadic plains tribes pounded the dried berries and seeds into small, circular cakes. "Processed into syrups and jellies, the flavor can be best described as tart cherry with a mellow almond flavor. Trees are adaptable to shade and grow in almost all types of soils and locations." - OTC
Buckwheat2full sunmoist Buckwheat apparently tolerates a wide range of soil pH (Bugg, pers. comm.).leaves and seedxxxAccumulates soluble phosphorus. Edible sprouts, seeds and flour. "very fast-growing cover crop has low grain yield, but is tolerant of very cool temps, and is high in lysine. Widely used as a bee plant, green manure, "nurse" plant for seedlings, and to attract wildlife. Plant spring or late summer. Will grow on nearly any soil, but prefers light, well-drained soil."not frost hardy plant after frost danger, plant will die as seeds mature,cut and dry in sun to let green seeds mature then thresh.
Chinese Chestnut2Full sunDrought tolerantshrub, m30'100 yrs +nuts (cooked)xVery drought-tolerant once established, succeeds in a variety of soils. Produces abundant nuts that can be used as a staple crop when cooked.
Wild Indigo2Full sunDrought tolerant6'2'perennialfxDye plant, attractive perennial flower
Currant, American Black3Some shadeMoist/Wet(S, L) Cberriestreatment of kidney diseases and menstrual and menopausal problems. Cree Indians used the fruit of Ribes glandulosum as a fertility enhancer to assist women in becoming pregnant.
3Some shadeDrought tolerantS, L, CacidfruitxxxSomewhat drought-tolerant. Fruit is astringent, should be sweetened before eating. better after a frost or two. High in vitamin C, antioxidants, polyphenols, bioflavonoids, and tannins
Cherry, western sand3Some shadeDrought tolerantS, L, Cherb, large5-8'xfruitxFruit up to 1 in. can be eaten raw or cooked. Shallow-rooted. Fruits best in full sun.
Wild lupine3Moistseeds
Austrian Winter Pea3S, L, CannualSproutsxxxGood cold-season cover crop. Edible sprouts. Fixes nitrogen at 70-125 lbs/acre. Does well in heavy soils.
American Persimmon4Some shadeMoistxfruitxx
Wintergreen, christmas4Partial - full shadeDrought tolerantS, LAcidicperennialfruit, leaves as teaxxx"The bright red fruits are attractive and remain on all winter. Really a good edible groundcover and will spread with its dense growth habit. Needs acidic soil with lots of organic matter." - OTC
Comfrey4Some shadeMoists,l,c3-5'3-5'fxx (phosphorous)xxPermaculture all-star plant: cover crop, weed barrier, chicken feed, "living mulch", accumulates phosphorous, many medicinal uses, great compost activator
Lamb's Quarters/Huauzontle0 (?)Full sunDrought tolerantS,L,C4'2'fxleaves, inflorescence, seedsCommon garden weed - self-sows freely in most soils. Indicator of nitrogen-rich soils. Good companion for potatoes, corn and cucurbits. Leaves are good spinach substitute. Contains saponins, which can cause indigestion unless cooked/rinsed.
Silverberry2 - 6Full sunDrought tolerant15-30 yrsxfruitxOGW tastier, BRN hardier. good for hedgerows, poor soils, windbreaks. Resent root disturbance. Good-smelling flowers
Currant, clove/buffalo3bSome shadeDrought tolerant(S, L) CxberryxOTC: one of the only currants that can be eaten raw. Best to have 2 plants for pollination. They appear to be self infertile. Hardy to -30 F. EFG: most drought-tolerant currant. PFAF: clove-scented flowers. ripens from late July and can hang on the bush until early autumn. Can also be dried for winter use.
Ramps4 - 8ShadeMoistS, Lleaves, rootxPlant bulbs fairly deeply. Requires relatively rich soil. Inhibits the growth of legumes.
Chinese Magnolia4bFull shadeMoistberryxLemony berries. Leaves can be used as tea. Does well in full shade. Drought intolerant - requires irrigation. The fully dormant plant is hardy to about 0 F, though the young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts.
Bur oakxacornsx
Dwarf chestnut oakxacorns
Lab Lab Hyacinth BeanDrought tolerantannualBeanxWarm-season cover crop. Fixes nitrogen up to 150 lbs/acre. Edible substitute for garbanzo beans.
Creeping RaspberrySun or shadeDrought tolerant6'indefperennialberriesx
Lowbush Blueberrymoistberriesx
Currant, GoldenSome shadeDrought tolerant(S, L) CxberriesCurrant root and seeds are high in gamma-Linolenic acid (GLA). GLA has been clinically verified as an effective treatment for pre-menstrual syndrome. [1]somewhat drought-tolerant
Gooseberry, mountainSome shade(S, L) Cxberryxdoesn't sound delicious
FenugreekannualHerb, seedxxCold-season cover crop.
Lamb's Quartersannualleaves, seeds
chinquapinsnutsSucceeds in dry soils once established. Sweeter nuts than other chestnuts.
Korean Pinenuts
BurdockSome shadeMoist7 - 9rootxxxexcellent detoxifier. sow in spring or autumn 15 cm apart. self-sows. likes sandy soil. Burdock burs were also the inspiration to the inventor of Velcro fasteners, who became curious about the burs after taking his dog for a walk one day, and finding them stuck in the dog’s fur afterward. By observing the hooked barbs on the burs, he was able to manufacture a product that replicated Burdock’s ‘seizing’ qualities. “…early 1940’s George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor, became curious about the seeds of the burdock plant that had attached themselves to his clothes and to the dog’s fur. Under a microscope, he looked closely at the hook-and-loop system that the seeds use to hitchhike on passing animals aiding seed dispersal, and he realized that the same approach could be used to join other things together. The result was Velcro."
New Zealand SpinachFull sunDrought tolerant1'indefannualxSpreading groundcover that thrives in hot weather. Taste and use are similar to spinach.
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