Jo Canning , Vancouver MG, residing in Powell River, BC
As I await the lengthening days and the warming soil, I’m indulging the seed catalogues. I have plenty of seeds. I save seeds. At the end of each season I promise I will limit myself to only two new experiments, feeling quite disciplined while I package up those I’ll no longer grow to send to our local Seedy Saturday in spring. Still, I buy too many seeds. This January was worse than most years: I’ve been hooked by Princess Aubergine. Allow me to explain.
The house next door to us is a rental unit. Last year, a Mom and her two tweens took the place as a short-term rental while their house was being renovated. To my delight, she was an avid gardener, and had involved her children in the lifestyle. Carla had been given a lovely Russian kale plant for her plot, so Brent was feeling quite bereft. Mom was most thankful when I offered him some of my giant sunflower seeds which would outpace her smaller variety. Wow, normal kids! Carla’s only comeback was that she didn’t care because it was a purple kale.
As spring progressed, I learned that Carla’s interest in the kale was based in the fact she was--as her mom put it--in her purple phase. I never saw Carla in any other hues: her socks may not have matched, but they were by god somewhere between deep purple through pale mauve.
The tweens were fascinated by our vegetable garden and hung on the fence to watch and ask questions. One day Carla’s friend--also in a similarly coloured phase--joined Carla to watch as I planted out some beans. I said, “These are purple pole beans. If you wanted, you could have a whole garden of purple vegetables.” Mom gave me a pleading look, and I suddenly realized my mistake. Too late: Carla’s eyes lit up. Her friend dropped hers, obviously feeling left out; I had to think quickly.
“Mind you, a princess’s garden has to have an overseer, ya know. Has to be a duchess, too, sort of, like, well, you are the Duchess of Mauve-ly, aren’t you?” The friend’s eyes lit up, and she clapped her hands delightedly. Carla scowled. I wasn’t out of the woods yet.
“As I recall, the Duchess of Mauve-ly is a very famous magical overseer,” I continued, as I walked over to the pampas grass, still sporting a few feathers from last autumn’s bloom season.
“Who else,” and I handed them each a feathered stalk, “could oversee with her magic giant wand, the world famous garden of--” “of--” Right! Got it! “None other than the magical Princess Aubergine!” Four eyes looked at me quizzically. As Mom began to chuckle and turn away, I finished quickly, “And of course even adults know that aubergine is the magical deep purple colour named after her.” Phew. Out of the woods.
The thing with tweens is, they are obsessive. Within a few days Princess Aubergine and the Duchess of Mauve-ly had know what else would grow in Princess Aubergine’s garden besides Russian kale, purple cabbage and purple pole beans. I sorted through my seeds, and found kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts. I promised to find (mom was rather short on cash for extras, besides, I’m always up for new varieties) carrots and radishes.
It turns out that tweens are not the only obsessive ones: within the psychological norm, gardeners are considered the most obsessive personalities. I prefer to think of it as careful attention to detail, and a willingness to thoroughly research a subject.
I found thirty-nine vegetable varieties, three herbs, not including their flowers, as well as a myriad of berries and some fruits (the vegetable and herb list is at the end of this article). It also seemed that many of the purple cultivars were open pollinated and heritage varieties, so I searched a little deeper.
From a nutritional viewpoint, the blue to purple colours is the key to a group of phenolic compounds (that is flavonoids) in our food called anthrocyanins, which impart the maroon-to-blue colour in edible plants. This group includes the vitamins, minerals and enzymes that lower cholesterol, are anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-tumour, and anti-microbial. There are three other notable aspects of this group of purple through blue compounds: first, they are water soluble, so are quickly bio-available both raw and lightly cooked; second, they accumulate in tissue, notably the liver, eyes, and brain; and third, when this colour is present in vegetables usually another colour, the anthrocyanins serve to enhance the bio-availability of the vegetable’s primary nutritional profile. Think of purple carrots: what nutritional powerhouses!
I also discovered another aspect to purple varieties, and this may be why they are important to gardeners: many seem to tolerate the extremes of that species’ growing zones and conditions, or are a slower growing variety, so offer a longer harvest season. Some also offer additional nutritional support. Purple Brussels sprouts are a prime example: “Red Ball” takes three weeks longer to ripen than green Brussels (I plant them at the same time as my greenies, and the reds sometimes do not ripen, but go dormant for the winter then provide an early season harvest about the time my purple broccoli begins to produce), and provide, in comparison to the greenies, enhanced protection against helicobacter, the bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers.
There are fewer herbs whose leaves are in the purple range. Interestingly, many of our culinary herbs have blue to purple flowers, and are also noted for their immune boosting qualities (think of oregano oil and peppermint extract). In light of this, my list includes herbs whose flowers we eat. The healthy qualities in herbs can be present in the oil as well. The fresher the herb, the tastier. The more carefully dried, preserving the oils in the leaf stalks, seeds, and flower heads, the tastier--and the broader the spectrum of nutritional and medicinal properties.
Many berries fall within the red through black purple range. In fruits, some figs (like mission figs) and plums are the main source for deep purple through blue colour.
Now, about edible flowers: most of our herbs have edible flowers, and as I said above, many range from blue through mauve. Then there are lovelies like cornflower, borage, dianthus, violet, viola. Wait, no--this is addictive!
Here’s the list for Princess Aubergine's garden:
Blue/Purple Vegetable Varieties – A to Z (named varieties are capitalized):
Beans (Fava): Black Russian
Beans (bush): Purple Queen, Royalty Purple Pod,
Beans (pole): Purple Peacock, Royal Burgundy
Beans (dried horticultural): Anasazi, Chestnut (or Christmas) lima bean, Jacob's cattle (or trou) bean Purple Appaloosa, Tolosana(or Spanish) bean
Beets: Bull’s Blood
Broccoli (Calabrese type): Rosalind
Broccoli (over-winter sprouting type): Rudolph, Red Spear, purple sprouting
Brussels Sprouts: Red Ball
Cauliflower: Violetta, Italia
Cardoon (flower centre)
Celery: Red Stalk
Cabbage: Super Red (summer), Red Jewel (autumn)
Carrots: Purple Haze, Purple Dragon
Chicory (radicchio type): Palla Rosa
Eggplant: Fingerling, Mauve
Endive: Purple Belgian
Garlic: Red Russian, Musica,. purple softneck
Kale: Red Russian, Redbor
Lettuce: Red Deer Tongue, Freckles, Merveille de Quatre Saisons, Oaky Red, Red Salad Bowl, Rouge d’Hiver,
Onion: Cripolini, Red Marble, Redwing
Orach: red mountain spinach
Mustard greens: Giant Red, Osaka Purple
Potato: Russian Blue
Pea: Blue Pod Capucijner
Pepper (sweet/bell): Purple Beauty
Pepper (hot): Filius Blue
Radish: Spanish Black
Tomatillo: Giant Purple
Tomato: Black Krim, Black Cherry, Cherokee Purple,
Turnip: purple top
Basil: Red Rubin
Garlic chives (flowers)
Mint: chocolate , (plus flowers of other varieties)
Thyme, both creeping and upright (flowers)
All text and photos courtesy of Jo Canning, who currently resides in Powell River, next door to the Aubergine Princess
Oregano with Cabbage Butterfly. Yes these little devils cause havoc in the veggie bed in summer but don't dispair: Wasps LOVE to eat the green larvae.
Small Harvest with Purple Panache
Kale in Snow
Cabbage Leaf Fan