If you are concerned about food security, there’s never been a better time to grow a survival food and medicinal garden. There’s no need to worry about buying fresh food if you grow your own groceries in your ‘backyard supermarket’! Your own food garden not only saves money and time but also provides peace of mind and nutritious fresh ingredients.

Plants for a Survival Food and Medicinal Garden

When you live sustainably, you don’t have to rely totally on supermarkets always having full shelves, just for daily basic needs. Living simply and eating a plant-based diet rich in nutrients and healing compounds can help to promote good health and a strong immune system. Connecting with nature via a food garden may help relieve stress, bring joy and a feeling of control by growing at least some of what you eat.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates

How Plant Defences Can Help Humans Too

Plants naturally have their own in-built defence mechanisms – phytochemicals – that help them resist pest and disease attack. When we eat healthy, nutrient-dense organically grown foods, our immune systems benefit too! I’ve found that a diet rich in fruits, herbs and vegetables provides energy, health and wellbeing.

Phytochemicals are biologically active, naturally occurring chemical compounds found in plants, which provide health benefits for humans as medicinal ingredients and nutrients (HASLER & BLUMBERG, 1999). They protect plants from disease and damage, and also contribute to the plant’s colour, aroma and flavour. In general, the plant chemicals that protect plants from environmental hazards such as pollution, stress, drought, UV exposure and pathogenic attack are called as phytochemicals (GIBSON et al., 1998; MATHAI, 2000). Recently, it has been clearly shown that they also have roles in the protection of human health, when their dietary intake is significant (SAMROT et al., 2009; KOCHE et al., 2010).”

Why are phytochemicals important for you? Because as you can see from the above research studies, they have high value in terms of their protective properties. When you grow your own food, you can be sure your plants are raised in healthy living soil, devoid of chemicals and high in nutrients. These plants, in turn, can then provide you with optimal health via their nutrients.

If you have a lawn, turn it into lunch! I helped one of my clients turn her front yard into a productive edible food garden in just 10 weeks - enough to share with her neighbours. You can too!

If you have a lawn, turn it into lunch! I helped one of my clients turn her front yard into a productive edible food garden in just 10 weeks – enough to share with her neighbours. You can too!

Starting a Survival Food and Medicinal Garden

I began intentionally designing and growing our family’s survival food and medicinal garden over ten years ago. After recovering from cancer, I wanted to prevent illness and eat the healthiest foods possible to rebuild my immune system. I studied sustainable agriculture, biological farming methods, Permaculture and learned how to grow survival foods and herbs in our climate. This knowledge has helped us live more self-sufficiently and build an extensive toolkit of skills.

I started studying and researching how plants could heal and prevent diseases. I also discovered a wonderful book ‘How Can I Be Prepared with Self-Sufficiency and Survival Foods? that I have learned so much from and applied in my own garden. It’s also available as a course on DVD.

Best Edibles and Herbs to Grow

You may be wondering which are the best edible plants? Which healing herbs should you grow? I’m going to share with you a list of plants that are packed with nutrients, are tummy-filling, have healing properties and can be grown in most climates. These should be a good starting point.

Having access to plants that not only feed you but also prevent illness or support a strong immune system is extremely important. Even more so in uncertain times. Food shortages and disruption to supply chains, pressure on health and medical facilities with medicines, and isolation are challenging circumstances to deal with. By having a simple plan though, you should be able to make informed decisions about your homegrown food and pharmacy garden to keep you well-fed and healthy.

“Planting a garden with food potential is one of the most valuable things we can do.” – Isabell Shipard, How Can I Be Prepared with Self-Sufficiency and Survival Foods?

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5 Considerations when Planning your Survival Food Garden

1. How Much Space do you have?

How much room do you have to grow food? If you have a balcony, courtyard or limited options for gardening around your home, you can STILL grow some edibles if you choose your plants and design your space carefully.

2. How Much Sunlight or Shade is there?

All plants need some light to photosynthesize and grow. However, I think far too many people miss out on growing more food because they limit themselves without realising how many plants will still grow in partial shade. Leafy greens and many herbs are particularly adaptable.

If you can’t grow on the ground because of inadequate sunlight hours, grow UP with vertical gardens. Capture sunlight on your fence or other vertical structures. Think about the various microclimates you have around your home – the sun, wind, shade and soil types. If you have full sun, grow sun-worshippers! If you have too much shade, select from shade-tolerant edibles. No one has the perfect garden space, so work with what you have!

Plants for a Survival Food and Medicinal Garden: Grow shade tolerant vegetables in partial sun or shade

Grow shade-tolerant vegetables in partial sun or shade

3. How Much Time, Money and Energy?

All survival food and medical garden plants will need your time and attention to some degree. Some more than others! If you work away from home, be realistic about how many minutes or hours you can spend caring for your garden each day. However, if you’re primarily at home, you have more flexibility.

If you have a very limited budget, you’ll need to get creative and explore this site for all the frugal tips and DIY ways to save money setting up your garden. If your health is an issue and you have limited energy, go for easy crops in pots or get some help to set up.

4. Should you Grow in Containers or Garden Beds?

If you’re in a hurry to start a food survival garden, start growing food in containers. You can get them ready for planting in a day. Make your own potting mix for the optimum nutrient-dense and moisture-holding growing medium. Or at least improve a bagged commercial mix if you have access to some.

Pots are portable and provide many benefits, especially if you want to start a survival food and medicinal garden quickly.

Make or Improve your Potting Mix with these Ingredients

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5. What Size Plants Would be Best?

Whilst it’s cheaper to grow plants from seed, you have to be patient. Waiting for a seed to germinate is like anticipating the birth and raising the ‘baby’ plant into a ‘toddler’, then a ‘teen’ before it becomes a mature ‘adult’ ready to harvest! You’ll want to grow some foods from seed for sure over coming months and years but you also need to get food on the table fast.

Seedlings are already ‘toddler’ plants which save you several weeks in time. So get them in quick or choose larger pots with more mature herbs and vegetables to get an ‘instant’ food garden growing.

There are many survival plants that have an extended harvest period or a long shelf life – both characteristics are high value. You can also grow plants from kitchen scraps so don’t waste anything!

9 Foods You Can Regrow From Kitchen Scraps | The Micro Gardener

Survival Food and Medicinal Garden Plant List

With those thoughts in mind, which foods and plants should you grow? Firstly, check your climate zone for what you can plant and when so you choose foods that will grow in the right season.

Let’s start with tummy-filling tasty crops that can be stored for a long time – either in your fridge or a root cellar.

Root Vegetables and Tubers

All of these root vegetables are delicious in soups, roasted, baked, and cooked in a wide variety of ways.

  • Potatoes. These are so easy to grow in a large pot and you’ll be harvesting in around 8 weeks or even earlier for new potatoes. Autumn is an ideal time to sow for many climates. Simply start with a certified sprouting potato, some compost and mulch.
  • Sweet Potatoes. These delicious root crops are SO versatile and can be harvested young or when much larger. The young tender leaf tips are also edible and can be added to stir-fries or as a spinach substitute. Start with an organic sweet potato that is already sprouting or you can take cuttings and grow from those. Sweet potatoes grow well under fruit trees as a ground cover or in tubs. Cut back the leaves to encourage bigger tubers.
  • Arrowroot (Canna edulis). A delicious multi-functional fast-growing clumping edible plant. I use the leaves for mulch, as a companion plant, to create a shady microclimate or windbreak, and as a ‘chop and drop’ crop to build healthy soil. I harvest the large rhizomes or tubers when they are 12-18 months old because they become too woody to eat after that. Arrowroot can be eaten like potatoes or sweet potatoes e.g. chips, soups, casseroles, roasted, steamed, etc. If you crush, rinse, drain and dry the tuber, you can make your own arrowroot flour. It’s a brilliant thickener and is gluten-free.

Easy to Store Root Vegetables and Herbs

In addition to the above vegetables that store well in your fridge or root cellar, try to include the following:

  • Garlic. This medicinal herb can be grown easily in pots in a tiny space and is well regarded for its many health benefits and uses. It stores really well and if any start sprouting, you can plant them!
  • Ginger and Turmeric. These plants have high medicinal value and one plant of each can be grown in a deep pot, providing you with a supply of nutrient-rich healing ingredients for teas, remedies and cooking.
  • Beetroot. Easily started from seed, beetroot is highly nutritious and you can grow as microgreens, harvest the leafy greens for salads as well as the root.
  • Onions. These versatile root vegetables can be grown in pots and there are so many varieties. You should be able to find one that suits your climate. You can also grow spring onions.
  • Carrots. Heirloom varieties are ideal as you can add some colour into your diet with specific nutrients that have their own unique health properties. Try purple carrots as well as orange varieties.
  • Radishes. These fast-growing crops are on the table in around 3-4 weeks yet take up minimal space!

Vines, Curcubits and Climbers

The curcubit or squash family offer you many options for bulk foods you can grow. However, the trade-off is you need to allocate them more space and be patient. If you only have a very tiny garden area, you may be able to pick just one member of this family and choose a dwarf cultivar or skip this option.

  • Pumpkins. Even if you have a small space, you can choose compact varieties that will still produce a yield. The benefit is that although you get less pumpkins per vine, some smaller pumpkin cultivars mature earlier than larger varieties.
  • Squash. Like their pumpkin cousins, squash is a nutritious versatile vegetable but it matures faster and requires less water.
  • Choko (Sachium edule). Another favourite of mine but often overlooked. This vegetable grows on a vine and produces a large yield. So if you have a fence or trellis handy, this vegetable could be a good addition to your survival garden.
  • Zucchini and marrows. One healthy plant can produce an incredible volume of food in less than one square metre or yard. There are so many ways to use zucchini including soups, fritters, savoury dishes, cakes, breads, curries, casseroles, as raw noodles ‘zoodles’ and more!

Long Life Legumes

Now we come to plants that produce pods – specifically, different varieties of beans and peas. These plants actually ‘give back’ to your soil by fixing nitrogen, so they add value for the next crops you grow. The flowers attract pollinators and beneficial insects and are all edible. Beans and peas are a brilliant addition to any survival food garden.

  • Beans. Dwarf or bush beans are ideal for small pots. Climbing beans take longer to grow and produce a crop however they provide a higher yield and last much longer. Try planting both.
  • Peas. Snow peas are quick off the mark to harvest and you can eat the entire crisp pod. No need to cook or just lightly steam. You can also eat the delicate tendrils and leaves raw in salads. Shelling peas can be eaten raw or cooked, or dried for long term storage.
  • Pigeon Pea (Cajan cajanus). This versatile perennial bush grows 1-3m high and loves a warm climate. It produces pods with seeds that can be dried and stored long term. Like other dried legumes, you soak the seeds in water to reconstitute them and cook until tender, much like lentils. Pigeon peas make delicious dahl.
Plants for a Survival Food and Medicinal Garden: Homemade herb basket planter with parsley, oregano, thyme, nasturtiums and Mother of herbs

My upcycled herb basket planter with parsley, oregano, thyme, nasturtiums and Mother of herbs

Healing Herbs and Leafy Greens

Every gardener and cook should have at least a basic herb garden. Parsley, chives, basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, mint and lemon balm are a few I encourage you to grow. Not only do these herbs provide a valuable treasure chest of nutrients and medicinal properties, but they aid digestion, add flavour and can be used to make your own herbal teas and remedies. Nasturtiums have many uses and are a superb multi-functional plant to include.

Some herbs are particularly useful in a survival food and medicinal garden as they help reduce stress and anxiety. Supporting mental and emotional health is vitally important for everyone. Learn which herbs to use.

Leafy greens like kale, spinach, lettuce, rocket and chard are ideal to grow in pots or as microgreens. Chlorophyll-rich dark leafy greens are generally high in protein and iron. Many larger vegetables can be grown as microgreens to save space and provide high nutrient-value. A few of these include broccoli, sunflower sprouts, buckwheat, mustard, red cabbage, Asian greens, dill and chickpeas.

Sprouting seeds on your kitchen bench like alfalfa, mung beans, cress and fenugreek provide a source of protein, vitamins and minerals as well as delicious flavours. Best of all these are the fastest foods to grow in just a few days.

For full instructions on how to grow and use culinary and medicinal herbs, see the resources below.

Fruits for Health and Flavour

If you have space, consider growing dwarf bananas. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, A, B6 and D, magnesium and potassium. In fact, you will be amazed at how many hundreds of kilos these generous plants will yield you and keep you in food for years. Bananas freeze and dry well as banana chips. I make mine in a food dehydrator for delicious snacks that store well.

If you have limited space, there’s always room for at least a few strawberries in pots. High in antioxidants and vitamin C, berries can be eaten fresh or frozen to extend the harvest.

Finally, grow at least one or two citrus trees. Choose a variety on dwarf rootstock and plant in a deep large tub for vitamin C rich lemons, limes, mandarins, grapefruit or oranges throughout the growing season. Learn how to choose fruit trees for small gardens.

Well, I hope that’s given you some ‘food for thought’! Whatever lies ahead, by starting now and growing a survival food and medicinal garden, you can be confident you can support your immune system and wellbeing into the future.

This information is provided for educational purposes only and not intended to treat or cure any disease. Please do your own research and take advice from a health professional.

Learn more about Antiviral and Antibiotic Herbs and Remedies

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