First Peoples

15 More New Vegetables for the Okanagan

Earlier this week I spoke about fifteen new vegetables for building a sustainable economy in the Okanagan-Okanogan (click). Some were Syilx crops, others were other North American crops, and others were observations from my garden. Look what I have for you today!

16. Wireweed


This Stuff Only Grows in Driveways and Tractor Damaged Soil

And once established, it is almost impossible to get rid of, ever ever ever ever.

It is a traditional ingredient in Vietnamese hot pot cooking, and is a powerful medicinal. What’s more, it turns driveways green, can root in sidewalk and road cracks, slows water run-off and collects silts that are in the water and the wind. These trapped deposits quickly build up among its stems and form soil. If you don’t want to eat the stuff, that is enough. The new soil can be used in place, or soil and stems can be mechanically scraped off and immediately used as new soil. It also actively suppresses other weeds. This is a fantastic foundation plant for building soil in asphalt and concrete urban environments, which will then support gardens — just not wheat. Wheat will not grow in wire-weed. Think of it as a net that catches a garden out of the wind and the rain. Oh, and it has those vegetable and hot pot uses, too.

17. Purslane
Purslane is a nutritious vegetable used extensively in Middle Eastern cooking, so native to the region that it sprouts up in the cracks of sidewalks  and is harvested from there …

Purslane Source

This drought resistance succulent is high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids. It grows throughout the Okanagan.

Here’s some purslane growing in the front yard of the house of worship of a religion that began in Palestine…

Purslane, Okanagan Landing Road

And here is one of its sisters, after the church landscape specialist directed his attention to it …

Food for the Poor, Poisoned

Going, going, gone.

The gravel of this style of landscaping is perfect for purslane: protection for seed, conservation of water, lots of heat and sun, and no competition, as few other plants can survive in such drought conditions. It’s not just gravel…

New Farmland: The Sidewalk Crack

Perfect for purslane, spinach, millet, coriander, lettuce, wireweed, and a host of other crops.

One thing about this farmland is that it is right in front of your house. Another is that it makes use of large amounts of water that are collected by the sidewalk infrastructure. Another is that it gathers sand and dust and turns it into soil. It makes new earth.

The Ultimate in Zero Tillage

Cultivation: 0. Soil loss: 0. Water usage: 0. Transportation costs: 0. Every couple years, the soil could be mechanically harvested and redistributed on areas in need of it.

There are tens if thousands of row kilometres of this agriculture in the Okanagan. If automobile pollutants are an issue, then let’s grow crops here that will mine them, to keep them out of our water, and then harvest the soil that they make. Oh, and the argument that plants will destroy the concrete infrastructure? Really? I think snow removal equipment does a better job of that…

18. Bitterroot


Ain’t She Pretty! A Syilx Crop.

Please do not pick bitterroot. It is highly endangered and under great threat. It is, however, one of the staples of Plateau culture, including the local Syilx and neighbouring Tsilhq’otin and Secwepemc cultures. It was maintained for 4,000 years through spring burning. It grows on rocky outcrops and provides some of the first nutrition in the spring. Selling this stuff in Aboriginal markets and at Aboriginal festivals would bring profit, and be a gesture of tremendous respect. This is one of the spirit plants of the West. It could be brought back to abundance. Water requirement? None. Land? Well, nothing that would grow anything else.

18. Watercress

Here’s some wild Okanagan water cress I found at the end of last week. It goes to prove that dry, grassland habitats are really aquatic habitats, rich in ponds and secret water sources, interspersed with large areas of grass and shrubs. This cress was growing in a persistent boggy area in an alfalfa field in the middle of old orchard land.

Alfalfa Field Not Worth Baling

With a secret pond, worth a second look.

Here’s the second look:

Sometimes a Tractor Tire Can Create a World

A 50 pound bale of hay sells for $5. Since wild Water Cress sells for $15 a pound, which would be $750 a bale if that were how it were packed, fifty pounds of watercress would produce the same gross income as 150 bales of hay, or a hayfield of just over three quarters of an acre. However, yield per acre of watercress (in Hawaii) is 22,857 pounds per acre. Supposing we could manage a quarter of that, that would still be 4571 pounds, for a gross income of $77,565 or the same as 86 acres of alfalfa. Costs are 9% of gross.

That’s worth a third look, isn’t it? Here we go:

Water Cress in January

It doesn’t seem to mind cool temperatures. Of course, it’s growing in water, which is in short supply, but what if it were grown in irrigation water, that flowed through it before being pumped onto, say, golf greens or apple trees or greenhouses? The water would then be free. What if the water that naturally flows through Lake Country on its way to Kelowna grew a little water cress on the way? For one, we’d have some work here. For another, we’d be using water the way it naturally flows here. For another, we’d have soups and salads that would put us on the world culinary map.

Beats milfoil, eh. And it sure beats this:

Alfalfa Grown to Maintain Preferred Farm Tax Status…

isn’t always worth picking up and feeding to a cow.

19. Avalanche Lily, 20. Tiger Lily, 21. Blue Camas, 22. Chocolate Lily, 23. Wapato, 24. Rice Root!

That’s 6 crops. There are many more. They were all traditional foodstuffs of the Syilx, all dug for their tubers. All grow in natural environments and are all very beautiful. There is no reason they could not be grown again, to bridge cultures, heal environments, and provide the continent’s First Peoples with traditional feast foods, for what would no doubt be a good profit, and one that would put no stress on contemporary technologies or supply streams. Many thrive in upland environments. Plus, did I say they were beautiful? Here are our beauties:

rice root Rice Root Source A Syilx Crop


Camas, the great spiritual one. SourceA Syilx Crop

Fritillaria_affinis_000Chocolate Lily SourceA Syilx Crop


Tiger Lily Source A Syilx Crop


Avalanche Lily Source A Syilx Crop


Wapato (Indian Potato) Source A Syilx Crop

This is a wetland plant. If we could divert water through beds of Wapato before dumping it into reservoirs and piping systems, we would get an extra crop, with no extra water. Great for that roadside ditch, too!

800px-SagittariaSagittifolia-bloem-kl Wapato Flowers Source


Wapato Tubers  Source

25. Wild Rice

wild rice 2

Wild Rice in Saskatchewan Source An Indigenous Crop

This high priced grain grows throughout the Boreal Forest. Those environments exist in the Okanagan as well, both in the wetlands of Lake Country, and in the wetlands of the high country on the top of the Plateau above the valley trough. That’s land that is currently drained of water to feed the sprinklers in the hot valley below. If it were used up top first, even if crops such as were planted in reservoirs, and some of the agricultural pressure were taken off the valleys, we would have an extra crop and more water than now. It’s not water that’s in short supply here. It’s just that our agricultural systems don’t work with the water that’s here, but against, and evaporate it into the wind and the sun.

26. Cat Tail

P1060584 Cat Tail Flowers, A Syilx Crop

(Male on top, Female Below)

They can be eaten like corn. Also edible are the corms, and the new shoots (like the ones above). The rhizomes of the plant produce 32 tons of cat tail flour per acre. The pollen can be cooked into pancakes. What’s more, it grows everywhere there is a little water. Here’s some, trying to regrow a wetland turned into a soccer field…

p1330283 … and here’s some trying to establish a wetland high on the dry hills, where the natural water flow was broken by the establishment of an agricultural canal (long disused) and then a walking trail.p1320499 And if you don’t want to eat it, why not make a basket?


And if you don’t want to make a basket, what about collecting its fluff.


Red Winged Blackbird in the Remains of Last Year’s Crop

It’s one of the most absorbant water resistant products out there, and cleans up oil spills lickety split. Growing it conserves water, and considering that some 10,000 (who knows) blackbirds lost out when the Red Wing resort was put into their infilled wetlands in Penticton, we owe the birds big time on this one.

27. Amaranth

red3 Red Amaranth, Granite Creek Winery, Tappen


Red Amaranth, Sunnybrae Winery, Sunnybrae. An indigenous crop.

Amaranth grows wherever redroot pigweed grows (pigweed is a form of amaranth), on natural water, and produces one of the highest grain yields of any grain. It grows anywhere. What’s more, it’s not like wheat. You don’t need a field. In fact, it’s so decorative, that it can replace many landscape plantings, with zero water. Think of it: golf courses could put cat tails in their water traps, and harvest them for an income; they could line the fairways with amaranth, and sell them, too. And the jungles, a must for losing golfers and their stray balls, those could be choke cherries, and they could sell those too. If golf course land is going to be called agricultural land … let’s just do it.

28. Borage


Borage: Queen of the Honey Crops

See the bumblebee leading the way?

This is a traditional European vegetable, dispersed by the romans. It is used in many Spanish, French, Italian and German recipes, including the famous Green Sauce or spring sauce of Frankfurt. It ceased to be a staple of European cookery only because of supply disruptions due to war and economic difficulties. It’s a plant that needs little to no water, produces a vast amount of bloom and nectar, and is impossible to be rid of once planted. This stuff is tough. But the new shoots are a delicacy. Its seeds are a productive oilseed. If you want a crop with multiple uses, that produces prolifically, this is your baby. Imagine: a non-GMO oilseed. I could go for that.


Flowers for All!

29. Peanuts


Only in the American South? Pffuh. 

We used to grow these things all the time.

Peanuts have never been grown commercially in the Okanagan, but that was before the population and culture could support local, specialty foods. Now it can. Now it’s time for the peanut! No more of these dried, salted weird things in cello pacs at the gas station, with their oils all rancid and, well, just go here and read more: click!

30. Queen Anne’s Lace


 Wild Carrot Flower

The leaves, roots,and seeds of wild carrots are edible. What’s more, they are an excellent companion plant for tomatoes, and help to keep them pest free. What’s even greater, domestic carrots are a subspecies of wild carrots, or Queen Anne’s Lace, and can be used in the same way if left an extra year in the ground. The seeds of wild carrots make a delicious spice, an orange-flavoured replacement for caraway. We’ll be talking about herbs in a few days, so I don’t want to get too ahead of things, but think of this: not only can you eat your pesticide, but it’s beautiful. For a host of gorgeous pictures and truly wonderful talk and recipes for wild carrots, here’s the place to go: click. Really? You didn’t  click that? You should. It’s gorgeous. Here, try again: click.

 Next, a discussion of alternate growing strategies to maximize water. The herbs will come soon after that. Thanks for being here. Have a good weekend. Until then, think mint!


8 replies »

  1. This is fascinating; I’ve bookmarked it for constant reference. But can one really EAT purslane? I’m scared to try! (We have lots of it growing between the cobblestones.) Thanks for the very interesting piece. B.


    • Yup. Just google “purslane recipe” and be amazed. And do check out a little further for Palestinian versions.


  2. Amaranth is incredibly drought resistant, too, and the leaves make fine spinach substitute, along with lambsquarter, both ancient grains make fine veggies to harvest, blanch, freeze or make lasagna, eat fresh, better than spinach!


  3. I came across your article this morning when I googled “wapato”. I just read about wapato on Instagram and wondered if it grew in the Okanagan where I live. I feel so blessed to have found your article! And I agree with you that these crops could really be cultivated here rather that the high water demand crops that dominate our valley. I love that you think the way I do about it. On my property, I let the purslane thrive, for example, and I use it to make pesto, I make a dip similar to spinach dip, I make fresh salad when it’s in season, I’ve pickled some, and I freeze dry some to use in the winter. I be weed n made a YouTube video sharing my purslane pesto recipe.

    Anyway, I want to thank you for sharing this knowledge, your ideas, and your opinions.


    • Thanks! Purslane is self-seeding, too. So are Red Kiyona. It’s 4 inches tall from its August self-seeding. If I were just at home in August to plant all these things that want to start then! That’s my goal for next year. Corn salad, too. Thanks for the dip hint. I hadn’t thought of that!


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