Edible roots for the community garden

Root crops are a concentrated source of dietary carbohydrates and proteins. They are among humanity’s oldest crops.

Edible roots are suitable in community gardens in:

  • shared gardening space for root crops which grow as spreading crops
  • larger allotments of a size to cope with spreading crops
  • smaller allotments in which root crops with a shrub growth form, such as potato, can be grown.

Root crops come in both annual and perennial forms (perennials are those taking longer than two years to produce a crop).

For community gardeners, the root crops offer:

  • a concentrated source of nutritional, carbohydrate-rich ‘energy food’
  • a source of botanical interest where the less common species are grown
  • a way to make use of unused garden space.

A harvest of sweet potato. Glovers Community Garden, Sydney.


Some of these root crops are difficult to find in nurseries. In Australia, you may be able to mail order them from:

Green Harvest
PO Box 92
PH: 07 54352699
FAX: 07 54999791
FREECALL: 1800 681014

Ask for their catalog. Some crops are available only at particular times of the year.


  • annual root crops can be planted in the annual garden bed or allotment, depending on size
  • root crops form one of the components of a crop rotation system with leaf, fruiting and leguminous crops
  • in the southern hemisphere, locate the annual vegetable garden on the northern (sunward) side so as to maximise exposure to sunlight.

To keep your root crops healthy:

  • protect them from strong and cold winds
    provide plenty of water but do not over-water
    monitor them for plant diseases and insect pests
    maintain soil fertility by adding compost and mulch.

Notes on the plant description

  • growth form: sizes given are for mature plants and are approximate only – the size a plant will grow to depends on microclimate, watering, soil fertility and the incidence of insects pests and plant diseases
  • botanic name: these are the names botanists and horticulturists use to identify plants; sometimes, a single plant will have more than one common name, leading to difficulty in identifying it; there is only one botanic name so it is a more reliable way to identify a plant.
  • spp: abbreviation for ‘species’ which denotes a particular plant variety
  • family: a larger grouping of plants, all with some characteristic in common, into which plants are classified
  • propagation: how plants are started
  • vegetative reproduction is started from a cutting or a sprouting root such as a rhizome or tuber

centre of diversity: the region where the plant originated and from where it spread.


Botanic name: Daucus carota
Family: Apiaceae
Growth form: tapering tuber of variable length depending on variety.

  • the plant produces the tuber in its first year
  • flowers and produces seed in the second year
  • orange or yellow coloured tuber.

Edible part: tuber eaten raw or cooked.
There are many varieties of carrot, varying in size and colouration.

  • from seed
  • new plants can be sprouted by cutting of top of tuber and waiting until it sprouts, then planting.

Centre of diversity:

  • probably eastern Mediterranean
  • grown in imperial Rome and ancient Turkey
  • yellow and purple varieties grown in Europe until the seventeenth century when the orange carrot was developed in Holland.



Botanic name: Stachys affinis
Family: Labiatae
Growth form:

  • annual
  • stiff stem to around a metre grows from tuber.

Edible part: tuber.

  • propagated vegetatively from tuber
  • planted in winter in warm temperate climates.

Centre of diversity:

  • recorded in Europe in 1882.

DAIKON and other radishes

The daikon tuber.

The daikon tuber.

Daikon is a member of the diverse radish group of plants that vary in:

  • shape — cylindrical to spherical
  • size — from as small as approximately two centimetres diameter
  • colour — white, red, black, purple, yellow – depending on variety
  • growth period — from weeks to months.

Botanic name: Raphanus sativus (daikon)
Growth form (daikon): white root to around 30 centimetres long and 4 centimetres in diameter.
Edible part: tuber; edible raw or cooked.

  • daikon is a slower growing variety of radish maturing in warm temperate coastal regions of Easteern Australia in late autumn
  • the size of the tuber yields plenty of food
  • plant smaller fast-growing radish varieties successionally every two weeks.

Propagation: from seed.
Use in garden: plant as catch crop between slower growing vegetables to make use of garden space until slower growing plants fully occupy the space.
Centre of diversity:

  • Asia
  • recorded in use in Egypt from 2980BP (before present)
  • ancient crop in Japan.
The popular and common variety of radish produces a quick crop in the community garden and can be planted while waiting for longer-term seedlings to grow.

The popular and common variety of radish produces a quick crop in the community garden and can be planted while waiting for longer-term seedlings to grow.


roots-galangalVarieties: greater galangal; lesser galangal.
Botanic name:Languas galanga
Family: Ziniberaceae; same family as ginger.
Growth form:

  • similar to ginger
  • leaves grow from stiff stem
  • knobbly rhizomes grow in soil.

Edible part: rhizome

  • can be dried or grated fresh
  • used in curry and satay sauce
  • used as spice to flavour food.

Cultivation: vegetative – sprouting rhizome planted.
Centre of diversity:

  • South East Asia, southern China
  • occurs wild in jungle clearings and is also cultivated.


Botanic name: Allium sativum
Growth form:

  • similar in appearance to onion
  • bulb enclosed in a papery, whitish/ purplish skin.

Edible part:

  • bulb
  • used as food flavour
  • medicinal uses


  • sprouting clove planted
  • provide warm microcllimate.

Centre of diversity:

  • Central Asia, China
  • in use since ancient times in India, Egypt, China.



Botanic name: Zingiber officinale
Family: Ziniberaceae
Growth form:

  • long, narrow leaves grow from stiff stem
  • rhizomes (the root structure) form underground cluster
  • grows to approximately one metre in height.

Edible part:

  • knobbly rhizome used as spice to flavour food
  • rhizome can be dried and grated
  • eaten raw or used in cooking
  • used as a tea
  • medicinal uses.

Ginger is a tropical/ subtropical perennial.

  • shade tolerant
  • prefers a hot, frost-free environment
  • grows in a large container.


  • vegetative — sprouting rhizome planted
  • prefers moist, well-drained soil.

Centre of diversity: South East Asia.



The root of the Jerusalum artichoke can be cooked as a vegetable or made into a soup.

Botanic name: Helianthus tuberous
Family: Compositae; same family as sunflower and yacon.
Growth form:

  • similar to sunflower
  • tall, single stem to around a metre in height, sometimes more, with wide, soft laves
  • yellow flowers like, but smaller than, sunflower
  • produces cluster of rhizomes in late autumn/ early winter in warm temperate coastal climates of Eastern Australia.

Edible part: rhizome

  • cooked as vegetable
  • used in soup
  • edible raw.

Flower of the Jerusalum artichoke.


  • frost hardy
  • tolerates a variety of soils
  • rhizomes ready to harvest when foliage dies
  • rhizomes may be stored in soil for limited period
  • high productivity in good conditions.

Propagation: vegetative; from rhizome.
Centre of diversity:

  • North America
  • cultivated and collected from wild by Indian peoples.


Also known as: New Zealand yam; cuiba (Venezeula); iribia (Columbia)
Botanic name: Oxalis tuberosa
Family: Oxalidaceae
Growth form:

  • low-growing annual bush
  • forms clusters of red tubers to 10cm long

Edible part: tubers eaten after cooking.

  • as for potato
  • fertile soil, regular watering.

Propagation: from tuber.
Centre of diversity:

  • Andeas region of South Ameica
  • staple crop of Lake Titicaca region of Bolivia
  • introduced into New Zealand from Chile in 1869 where it is now known as ‘New Zealand yam’.



Botanic name: Allium sepa
Family: Alliaceae
Growth form:

  • annual bulb
  • colour variable with variety — white, red (used raw in salads), brown, purple
  • shape variable — spherical, oval, elongated.

Edible part: bulb; eaten raw or cooked.

  • from seed
  • plant in sunny, well-drained position.

Centre of diversity:

  • probably Central Asia
  • cultivated by ancient Egyptians at least as far back as 3400BP (before present).



Botanic name: Pastinaca sativa
Family: Apiaceae
Growth form: Parsnip is biennial; the plant produces the tuber in its first year, then flowers and produces seed in the second.

  • tapering tuber
  • white colouration

there area number of varieties of parsnip that vary in size
Edible part: tuber — eaten cooked.
from seed
new plants can be sprouted by cutting of top of tuber, waiting until it sprouts, then planting
Centre of diversity:

  • Mediterranean region
  • grown by ancient Roman and Greek civilisations.



Purple congo potato variety.

Botanic name: Solanum tuberosum
Family: Solanaceae (tomato family)
Growth form: small annual shrub.
Edible part: tuber— boiled, fried, roasted, steamed.

  • there are numerous varieties of potato
  • high productivity achievable in good growing conditions
  • plant in well drained soil.


  • vegetative — from sprouting tuber
  • from seed potato from a nursery.

Insect pests: scab; viruses; aphids; slugs
Diseases: potato blight.
Centre of diversity:

  • Central and South America
  • potato is an ancient crop of Indian cultures
  • recorded in Europe for the first time in the 1560s.



Sweet potato can be propagated by slicing off the sprouting top and planting it.

Other common name: kumera (Polynesia).
Botanic name: Ipomoea batatas
Growth form:

  • perennial
  • scrambling vine
  • heart shaped or lobed leaves
  • flesh colour of tuber variable – whitish, purplish, yellow.

Edible part:

  • tuber — boiled, fried, roasted, steamed
  • tips of young shoots cooked.


  • prefers warm conditions
  • tolerates light shade
  • plant as a ground cover in the orchard
  • use as perennial living mulch in orchard or elsewhere.


  • sprouting tuber planted
  • from tip cuttings

Centre of diversity:

  • South America
  • cultivated for thousands of years in South East Asia, Pacific Islands and New Zealand.



The large leaves of the taro, some of which are eaten after cooking as a vegetable.

The large leaves of the taro, some of which are eaten after cooking as a vegetable.

Also known as:
•    cocoyam
•    dasheen
•    edo
•    elephant’s ear.
Botanic name: Alocasia esculanta
Family: Araceae
Growth form:

  • large, pointed, broad leaves grow from tuber on stiff stems
  • grows to around one metre in height depending on type.

Edible part:

  • large round or elongated tuber
  • leaf
  • tuber can be made into flour.


  • do not eat any part of the taro plant raw
  • cook all parts well to destroy irritating calcium oxylate crystals
  • Joy Larkom (Oriental Vegetables, 1991, John Murray, London) says when cooking the young taro leaf to boil twice, discarding the water to remove the acrid flavour.


  • grows in wet tropical/subtropical/warm temperate climates
  • prefers moist soil
  • tolerates medium shade or grows in full sun
  • will grow in mud
  • grows in shallow water
  • grown ‘wet’ in paddies in Asia or ‘dry’ in soil.


  • by planting the sprouting tuber
  • cut off top of tuber with shoot then plant.

Centre of diversity:

  • probably India
  • found throughout the wet tropics — South East Asia, Pacific Islands, PNG, China
  • an ancient crop in use for at least 7000 years.



roots-tumericBotanic name: Carcuma domestica
Family: Ziniberaceae; same family as ginger.
Growth form:

  • similar to ginger
  • leaves grow from stiff stem
  • elongated rhizomes in soil.

Edible part: rhizome used as spice to flavour food; dried or grated.
Cultivation/propagation: vegetative — sprouting rhizome planted.
Centre of diversity: South East Asia.



Jeff Michaels of Green Harvest with his first crop of yacon.

Botanic name: Polymnia sonchifolia
Family: Compositae
Growth form:

  • an annual to 2 metres resembling the sunflower
  • soft, heart-shaped leaves along a stiff stem
  • a cluster of underground tubers is formed; moist flesh is off-whote to pale brown in colour
Young yacon plants with their large, soft leaves.

Young yacon plants with their large, soft leaves.

Edible part: tuber eaten raw or cooked
Cultivation: high productivity in good growing conditions.
Propagation: vegetative – from tuber.
Centre of diversity: Peru — grown by Incas.


The root cluster of yacon can yield a prolific harvest.


roots-yam3Botanic name: Dioscoria spp
Growth form:

  • scrambling vine of variable length
  • heart-shaped leaves
  • tuber size varies with species.

Edible part: tuber; cooked.
Cultivation: can be used as a trellis crop or left to scramble over the ground.

  • by sprouting tuber
  • from tip cuttings.

Centre of diversity:
Asia — an ancient crop collected in the past as wild harvest and now cultivated
Australia — varieties collected by Aboriginies as wild harvest.




  1. Nicole

    I’ve been looking for information as I’d like to grow my own food and this is the BEST SITE i’ve come across – informative, simple, has pictures. Although I don’t live in Australia, I’m sure I can do something with what I’ve read here.

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