In any long-term disaster event, one of the most important thing is to have a renewable food supply. You can be prepared with stored goods, but ultimately you will need to replace your stockpile.
There are a variety of edible and medicinal plants that are easy for even the beginner gardener to grow that can help you survive long-term.
Winter squash is not only easy to grow but also an ideal crop for homestead preppers because of its long storage ability. The squashes’ flesh will bring vitamin C to your table when there’s nothing else fresh around and its seeds can be roasted for a crunchy snack full of fat and protein.
Many squashes are also vining and can be grown under taller cops to shade out weeds.
Peanuts prefer warmer weather and longer seasons but can be grown fairly easily as far north as USDA zone 5. They’re legumes so they are nitrogen fixers that help keep fertility up in your garden and can be easily processed and stored making them an ideal protein-packed food for after SHTF.
Even if you don’t have a garden started already radishes can help feed you almost immediately and will grow in relatively poor soils.
Some varieties like french breakfast radishes go from seed to maturity in a mere 21 days. They can be sown many times throughout the season and the entire plant is edible.
For homesteaders in northern climates, this cabbage-like plant’s tolerance for frigid temperatures can help you extend your season.
Pak choi prefers cool weather and will grow through temperatures down to 45° F (7° C) so pest pressure isn’t an issue.
Potatoes are one of the easiest staple crops to grow. They do well in relatively poor soil, help loosen packed earth, and can even be grown in containers.
It’s also extremely easy to save seed potatoes for the following year which is important after TEOTWAWKI because there won’t be places to purchase seed from.
Peas seem to get a bad reputation but in a survival situation, you’ll be thankful for them. They’re nitrogen-fixing legumes and some of the earliest spring food a garden can provide. They’ll live through late snowfalls and frosts.
They can also be allowed to fully mature and dry and be stored for winter use as “split” or “field” peas. For best results plant several successions to have some peas fresh and some to dry.
Quinoa or Amaranth
Quinoa and amaranth are closely related plants that are often used in place of rice or other grains. Both contain about 8 grams of protein per cup and grow like weeds! Quinoa generally prefers cooler climates while it’s easier to grow amaranth in warmer areas.
These hardy perennials are actually so easy to grow they can be a bit invasive. Despite their name they are nothing like globe artichokes that you’d buy in the store.
They’re actually starchy tubers that you dig and eat much like potatoes and are closely related to sunflowers.
The Native Americans cultivated and harvested these throughout the Eastern United States and you may be able to find some growing wild to transplant to your garden.
Learn to grow sunchokes here.
So much more than just garnish, parsley is the richest known source of vitamin A. It’s also among the easiest plants to grow and can be grown virtually anywhere because it tolerates both hot and cold temperatures.
It can even be potted and brought indoors to keep fresh harvests available during the winter months.
Tomatoes are great for beginner gardeners because they’re easily grown and their popularity has led to a wealth of knowledge about growing them. There are also a lot of varieties available to suit your specific garden’s needs.
They’re good for survival gardens because they’re enjoyed by almost everyone in some form or another, are relatively easy to preserve, and are easy to harvest and save seeds from.
Sunflowers will tolerate hot and dry conditions and were even grown by Native Americans in the Southwest. Besides being easy to grow, sunflowers are also dual-purpose plants being edible and medicinal.
You can eat the seeds or press them for oil, use the leaves as a poultice for snake or insect bites, or make tea from the seeds and petals to help with respiratory ailments.
Nettles are often found growing wild however you can purchase or collect seed or root cuttings to grow them on your land. They are a delicious, early spring green and have medicinal properties including minimizing allergy symptoms.
As they’re a wild species they require no maintenance and will grow well in the forest. Their ability to grow in shaded areas and their stingers make them perfect for a secret garden.
Another dual-purpose plant, raspberries not only provide tasty berries but also the leaves can be made into a tea.
Raspberries are also easy to grow and require little care. They send up shoots that can be dug and transplanted to refresh or increase the size of your raspberry patch.
There are also several ever-bearing varieties available that will produce raspberries late into the fall. Raspberries can be harvested just 1-2 years after planting.
Chives offer a lot of flavor for almost no effort. They’re hardy perennials that will spread on their own or can be spread through saving seeds or dividing. They also attract pollinators, deter pests, are easy to dry for winter use, and are a very early spring crop.
All beans are relatively easy to grow but dry or soup bean varieties are full of protein and require little summer effort making them an excellent choice for busy homestead preppers.
Beans don’t need to be harvested until most of the other crops are finished and even then can be pulled and hung to dry on the plant and will keep for months before being shelled and cleaned.
Pole beans can be grown in combination with corn or sunflowers and a vining squash variety to create a maintenance-free garden using the Native American “three sisters method”.
Strawberries may not sound like a necessity in a survival garden but they are both edible and medicinal and come with some big benefits.
Strawberries are one of the first crops to produce each spring providing much-needed vitamin C. Medicinally the leaves of strawberry plants are used to make a tea that treats diarrhea.
Strawberries are perennial and are easy to plant and maintain. Each year they send out runners making it easy to grow and refresh your strawberry patch.
Also, unlike most fruit trees and bushes which take anywhere from 2-10 years to begin producing, strawberries can be harvested just a year after planting.
Like raspberries, there are ever-bearing varieties of strawberries available that will produce through the summer and into fall.
Cold hardy, heat tolerant, cut and come again, swiss chard or silver beet is one of the easiest greens to grow. It’s also tasty and well suited to container gardening to meet the needs of urban homestead preppers.
Flint / Dent Corn
Flint or dent varieties of corn are the types of corn that products like corn meal and grits are made from. They are dense and filling and can feed you though the winter in a SHTF scenario.
They’re also relatively easy to grow and in areas that are experiencing warmer and dryer weather they will fare much better than wheat crops. Also, unlike wheat and other grains, they don’t need to be hulled or winnowed saving valuable time.
Open pollinated, heirloom varieties like Bloody Butcher, Mandan Bride, and Oaxacan Green Dent are perfect for novice seed savers to begin with.
They are so much more than just animal feed. Soybeans are another easy to grow, protein dense, nitrogen fixing legume that can be added to your survival garden.
They can be eaten fresh as edamame or allowed to mature and dry like soup beans for storage and use roasted, as tofu or soy milk, or fermented into tempeh.
Though not really a potato, sweet potatoes also do well in poor soil. They prefer warmer conditions but there are varieties available that will mature after about 90 days.
They are high in vitamins A and C and are easy to store through the winter for homestead preppers.
Any ancient warrior would tell you that yarrow deserves a spot in your survival garden. This plant has been used to staunch bleeding for thousands of years.
In fact it’s latin name, Achillea millefolium, comes from the legend that Achilles himself used this plant to save his wounded men.
It’s also used as a tea to lower fevers and is a hardy perennial. It will tolerate drought conditions and can help attract pollinators to your garden.
Mint grows like wildfire. You’ll have to work more to keep it contained than keep it growing if you plant it in an open area. Mint promotes healthy digestion and can be used to soothe an upset stomach.
As a common household spice garlic may not seem like a necessity for a prepper garden. However it adds delicious flavor and has several medicinal properties including boosting your immune system.
It’s easy to grow because it’s pest and disease resistant and many herbivores will ignore it. It also does much of its growing through the winter allowing you to harvest it fairly early and plant another crop during the summer.
This common house plant is super easy to grow and constantly sends up clones for you to transplant. It will only thrive outdoors in Florida or South America but it is easy to care for either way. It requires little watering or fertilizing.
Aloe is a skin healing power house and can be used to treat anything from rashes and minor irritations to severe burns.
Often called “knit bone”, comfrey has a long history of being used as a poultice to mend broken bones and sprains. It’s also frequently used in permaculture designs as a mulch and because its long taproot mines minerals from deep in the soil bringing them to the surface where they can be accessed by other plants.
It can be grown in a variety of conditions and grows so well it’s often invasive. If you’re worried about it taking over your garden you can purchase a variety of Russian comfrey which are non-seeding but still easily propagated through root cuttings.
Ginger is not only delicious but is an extremely potent treatment for nausea, heartburn, and other digestive issues. It prefers warmer climates but can be grown in pots in northern areas.
Also called “coneflower”, echinacea is a hardy perennial that will tolerate a variety of conditions. Once planted it requires little effort.
Echinacea is a valuable herbal remedy and is used boost the immune system and treat conditions such as the flu, common cold, UTIs, and respiratory infections.
Elderberries are a powerful antioxidant and herbal medicine. They’ve been used to fight flu epidemics, improve heart health and vision, and for general immune system care.
Elderberries grow wild in many parts of North America and are virtually maintenance free in the proper habitat. Please note that you don’t want red elderberry varieties as they are mildly toxic.
Horseradish is another extremely hardy perennial that can be used for flavor or medicine. It’s typically planted by buying a crown and then can be easily divided later on through root cuttings if more plants are desired.
Medicinally it’s used for treating UTIs, kidney stones, worms, and more.
Also known as pot marigold, calendula will re-seed itself in your garden year after year. If it’s not grown in direct sun and regularly deadheaded calendula will provide flowers from early spring into the fall.
Calendula flowers should be picked on hot sunny days for best results and are typically made into salves or lotions. They can be used to treat rashes, insect bites, sores, and other skin ailments.
When searching for calendula seed make sure you purchase C. officinalis not another ornamental variety.
Thyme is a perennial and can actually be harvested year round in many areas. It grows densely and blocks out most weeds where it’s planted.
Thyme is helpful for a variety of conditions but is well known as an anti-septic helping to combat tooth decay and other oral issues. Its anti-septic properties also make in a good choice for treating sores and fungal infections.
Sage may be one of the easiest herbs to grow. It requires little care and tolerates both cold and hot and dry climates. It also has no pest problems and can easily be grown in containers.
Sage has long been used as both a medicinal and spiritual cleanser. It’s great at fighting all sorts of stomach ailments from diarrhea and bloating to loss of appetite. It also has been shown to help fight depression and memory loss.
Much like sage, rosemary is a super low maintenance perennial that offers year-round harvests in many places. It thrives in a variety of conditions including pots and has little pest and disease issues. However for the healthiest plants it’s best to avoid overwatering and crowding.
Rosemary is an anti-inflammatory and is believed to help with headaches, muscle pain, and arthritis. It is also thought to have calming effects and is used for stress relief.
So There You Have It…
These plants are some of the easiest and best options for a homestead prepper’s garden. Their hardiness and usefulness make them great to have around the home and ideal for a longterm survival situation .
If you’re an apartment or urban homesteader with limited space, focus on the following plants which can all be grown indoors or in pots on decks or balconies:
It doesn’t matter what climate you live in, or if you own a 100 acre rural property or a tiny inner city apartment, you can start growing some of your own food and medicine and be more prepared.
What would you add to this list?
Jordan Charbonneau is an organic vegetable farmer and off grid homesteader from West Virginia. She graduated from Sterling College with bachelors degrees in ecology and environmental humanities in 2015. She also completed an Appalachian Trail thru-hike and enjoys learning about permaculture, herbalism, and wild edibles in her free time. She loves to share it all and has been a writer and blogger since 2013.