Often overlooked in favor of the more familiar seed companies and plant nurseries, many niche growers specialize in rare plants with edible leaves (as well as rare tubers, fruits or vegetables). These nurseries, seed banks, online stores and mail order catalogues sell seeds or seedlings of plants whose leaves go beyond flavor and garnish and actually count as substantial food sources.
Evergreen Seeds (evergreenseeds.com)
Specializing in Asian vegetable seeds, Evergreen Seeds opens a new world to anyone whose idea of a cooking greens stops at spinach and cabbage. The company offers seeds for several salad, stir fry and cooking greens, including many pak choy and bok choy varieties. They alos sell Oriental celery, garland chrysanthemums, watercress, perilla, kales, mustard spinach, Korean lettuce, Malabar spinach, rapes, leafy turnips and leafy radish (as their names imply, both the roots and the leaves are edible), and Molokhiya, described by Evergreen Seeds as okra-like in flavor.
Well-Sweep Herb Farm (wellsweep.com)
Despite its name, Well-Sweep Herb Farm offers more than herbs. The online and catalogue nursery and retail store also sells dwarf fruiting trees, perennial flowers, and colonial-era greens. Among the rare plants with edible leaves to be found at Well-sweep are lovage, good king Henry, ramps, sorrel, epazote and stinging nettles. Many of these plants, considered common vegetables in the Colonial era, are featured in modern books like "Perennial Vegetables" by Eric Toensmeier.
Along with its fish and pond-cleaning supplies, Lilypons sells aquatic plants, many of them edible. Bog and pond plants featuring edible leaves include creeping mint, water celery and several taro varieties, which have the advantage of bearing not just edible tubers, but leaves which can be eaten as cooked greens.
ECHO Nursery (echonet.org)
The edible landscaping institute and seed bank has become a mecca for gardeners interested in edible landscaping. Among its rare bushes, trees, vines and other plants bearing edible leaves are basket vine, chaya (also known as spinach tree), cranberry hibiscus, malanga, edible hibiscus, greater galangal, katuk, moringa (drumstick tree), Okinawa spinach sissoo spinach, and winged bean (which bears edible legumes and greens). ECHO offers some seeds free to members, while others are for sale at its online store.
Seeds of Change (seedsofchange.com)
This mail-order center, established in 1989, offers seed packs, plants and fruit trees. Its more unusual offerings include salad and cooking greens from Asia, South America and the Mediterranean, as well as forgotten colonial staples. Try "chop suey greens," china choy and other Asian cooking greens, mustard leaves for salad and stir fries, several varieties of garden cress, and Hopi red dye amaranth, a versatile plant which provides cooking greens when young and a seed which can be ground into flour once the plant matures. Seeds of Change also lists several unusual varieties of kales, cabbages, lettuces and leafy herbs on its web site and in its catalogue.
Forest Farm (forestfarm.com)
Boasting hundreds of plants, the Forest Farm web site offers an impressive data base in which users can browse by common or botanical names, as well as by use. Among the edible-leafed plants difficult to find normally are several varieties of linden trees, which bear leaves suitable for fresh or cooked eating, and sea kale, a perennial vegetable. Gardeners can also find a variety of fuki, an Asian cooked green, which grows up to four feet across, as well as Chinese wolfberry, with edible leaves and berries.
Raintree Nursery (raintreenursery.com)
While Raintree Nursery focuses on unusual fruit and nut species, gardeners interested in plants with edible leaves won't be disappointed. Look for fragrant spring tree, bearing what Raintree describes as chive or leek-flavored leaves, and wolfberry, which bears not only edible fruits but leaves which author Eric Toensmeier likens to watercress and mustard.