Mostly we think of perennials as those glorious blooms that decorate our gardens every year, but I like to think of them as something more than a feast for the eyes. Some of them are truly a feast for our taste buds. Take perennial vegetables for example. Early in spring, before most blooms even think of appearing, my asparagus grows. I don't have much asparagus, just a few plants whose ferny foliage softens an area in both my front and back gardens during summer. But I do have enough for a few meals in early spring when it first appears in my garden; that one moment in time when it's edible. It's a perennial. I never have to worry about it or do anything special for it. It's quite a self-sufficient plant.
Then along comes rhubarb, another early perennial vegetable. It's ready to eat when it's about 10 - 12 inches tall. What you leave behind can be harvested all summer long, but the tenderest morsels are found in the youngest growth and the oldest stalks are the prettiest for foliage. Rhubarb foliage is gorgeous, almost as good as the rhubarb pie it gives us. It will be beautiful all summer long, taking you right into fall. Another thing about having it in your garden, rhubarb foliage will shade other more tender and shorter plants.
I really wish I could move this end of Kentucky up a zone notch because I'd like to grow globe artichokes. They too are a perennial in zone 8 and above. Of course Kentucky is hot enough most summers, but to have fresh artichokes early in spring would be almost worth the heat. I've tried growing them, but they never return the next year. Artichokes, the edible part, are the immature buds of a type of thistle that must have the extra year-round heat to be considered perennial. I suspect I'll just have to watch for them on the grocer's shelf.
Many fruits are considered perennial as well, so I can go straight from early spring and continue my grazing right into strawberry season in May. There's nothing better than the first strawberries right out of your garden. I thought I'd lost mine in the drought last year, so I was more than elated to have a few handfuls to nibble on this spring. For me strawberries are perennials, unless a drought wipes them out. I really need to replant.
Shrubs are usually perennial too. Blueberries in June, with raspberries and blackberries appearing throughout the summer, are beyond delicious. That means handfuls and pails full and jams and cobblers, not to mention a spoonful or two on ice cream or yogurt or cereal. More perennials for munching, and then there are the early-morning smoothies. Incredible.
Then along come the trees, green apples in June followed by pears and other varieties and colors of both. I mention them specifically because they grow around me. There are so many other fruit trees that might grow for you. They are perennials.
That brings us to fall and maybe the most delightfully tasty perennial time of all. In fall there are ripe persimmons, so ripe they are almost black and you think surely they will be rotten. Oh no, that's the only time to eat them, and persimmon pudding or persimmon bread is a wonderful treat for chilly fall days. The same can be said for pawpaws, an almost tropical flavor for a funny-looking dark, mushy fruit; delicious!
Let's not forget nuts. The trees that produce nuts are perennials: walnuts for nibbling or for adding to those wonderful breads, cakes, and Christmas candies we can't live without, chestnuts for roasting, and hazelnuts for adding to a holiday mix. We mustn't forget nuts.
That brief list takes us on a perennial grazing tour, and it also takes us from very early spring all the way through the gathering of black walnuts in late fall and early winter. It's my list of edible perennials and it works well for me here in zone 7. Perhaps you have a different list for perennial grazing in your zone.
I truly love plants that satisfy our need for beauty. Perennials do that. I also love plants that satisfy our need for food. Some perennials do that too. And sometimes, no matter the season, if you look closely, there are a few perennials that give us both, beauty and food. Most of the time we don't even have to put forth very much effort to reap a healthy harvest.
Happy Grazing, all year long!