The inedible edible garden.

Mature borage leaves…edible, yes.  But not terribly palatable. 

An interesting/sort of crazy thing happened to me at the community garden the other day, and it got me thinking about how some people view so-called “edible” gardening.  As I’m also smack dab in the middle of research for an article I’m writing about gardening for children, this particular incident had special significance.

A couple of visitors – a young mother and her daughter, who was about five years old –  had stopped in to admire and photograph the giant sunflowers one of my fellow gardeners has growing in her plot.  I was working alone in my plot at the time and the three of us got to talking about the plants everyone was growing, about the weather…the usual stuff.   Suddenly, before I could say anything, the mother reached down and grabbed a borage leaf from one of my plants.  “What’s this?” she asked, and proceeded to put the leaf in her mouth and chew.

Now, is it just me, or does this raise some alarm bells for you?  Not only did the woman sample without asking me first (which rails against my sense of etiquette), but she started eating a plant that she wasn’t at all familiar with!  And in front of her child, who was standing there watching her and being educated by her.  Fortunately, as anyone who grows borage knows, the leaves are edible…although the mature leaves are seriously bristly and coarse and not really palatable fresh off the stems.  (I ate the young leaves as microgreens and allowed a few plants to mature for the benefit of the edible flowers).

“Um, that is borage,” I said.  “The leaves are not particularly tasty when the plants are older.”

The woman smiled shakily and fumbled in her bag for a water bottle.  They beat a hasty exit out of the garden after that.  I felt badly that she had a poor taste-testing experience, but her behaviour left me cold.   Just because plants in a community garden are generally veggies, herbs, nuts, and fruits – considered EDIBLE plants – it doesn’t mean that all of the parts of these plants can or should be eaten.  No one in the know would go up to a rhubarb plant and sample a section of a leaf, would they?  But what if you weren’t aware that rhubarb leaves contain high amounts of toxic oxalic acid, and you just assume that everything in the garden is ripe for the eating?  Other common toxic plant parts include the stems and leaves of potatoes, and the leaves of tomatoes – crops we grow in our community garden.  Wandering around pulling a leaf here, a leaf there, may be a sure-fire way to get – at minimum – a serious stomachache, but it could actually be deadly if you’re not careful.  Why would you risk that, and teach your children that it’s okay to eat any old plant, whether you know what it is or not?

Furthermore, while we do not use any sort of chemicals in our community garden, what if this had been a different setting and a gardener had, say, sprinkled an insecticidal dust all over his cabbage plants to control cabbage worm?  Yikes!

What are your thoughts on the “inedible” aspects of edible gardening?   



  1. I’m glad your borage tasted nasty, it was a nice repayment for her rudeness. Sheesh. Some people really don’t put any thought into their actions. She probably thought that the “community” part of the garden meant that anyone could take anything they liked. And since it snowed this morning – and I don’t have enough work to do – I’m going to see if I can find some garlic to plant. To go with the 200 or so flower bulbs I have to plant.

    • It constantly surprises me what people do…it shouldn’t, but it does! 😉 Did you get your bulbs put in yesterday? There’s white stuff on the ground here this morning, but I managed to get my bulbs in on Monday. I didn’t plant as many as you, though! You’ll have to tell me what you’re all putting in!

      • More snow and cold this morning so I’ll probably plant on the weekend – we’re supposed to see the sun again then. *quickly checks forecast* Yes, sunny and nice. And since they are going mostly in the front bed that I pulled all the lily of the valley out of this spring it shouldn’t take too long.

  2. Wow, that was an interesting experience and a good teaching moment! I never thought about inedible edibles, but you’ve made a good point. There is always more to learn about plants and hopefully we can educate those around us! Great post!

    • It’s true, there is always more to learn! 🙂 I guess as gardeners we may be a bit more aware of what types of plants we eat (because we grow them), but non-gardeners may not have the same arsenal of information. It’s up to us to guide them.

  3. This is a point in favour of teaching kids about gardening in school… then even if the mother doesn’t know better the child might learn! What ever happened to common sense? LOL!

    • I agree, a good old measure of common sense would have helped immeasurably in this case! 🙂 Teaching children about gardening in school should definitely be part of the curriculum; there are still kids out there who don’t know what some very common fruits and veggies are, let alone how they are grown.

  4. Dumb. The mom gets what she deserves, but I worry about the kid. Either 1) she learns to be very cautious based on watching what happens to her mother, or 2) she emulates mom’s behavior. I truly hope it’s #1. Also – I’m all for communal property, but you shouldn’t be eating leaves off of someone else’s plant without permission, edible or not.

    • I agree with you – hopefully the little girl will learn from this and not do as her mother did! And I’m glad I’m not the only one who can’t stand the fact that more than one person has stopped in to visit and started sampling produce from our community gardeners’ beds without permission – and this sort of snacking is apart from the instances of outright vandalism that we suffered this summer. It’s not just potentially risky, it’s rude.

  5. Education is important…we need to read about what we are growing if we want to be safe…that mother needs to be a better role model. Then of course there is the issue of just reaching into someone else garden and taking something…people have no concept of boundaries these days.

    • I so agree! It’s a bit alarming that people often don’t think before they act – a little mindfulness and awareness of potential consequences goes a long way! 🙂

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