16 Edible Greens For The Tropical Garden

Green, leafy vegetables are hardy and easy to grow plants. They make great additions to the understory areas of your food forest and provide beautiful and edible ground cover.

Greens make up a vital part of a healthy diet and have unlimited health benefits for your mind and body. Full of iron and calcium, greens in your diet greatly lower the chances of diseases and are scientifically proven to help with mental health.

We’ve researched and compiled the best edible greens that will thrive in your tropical garden so you can enjoy the benefits they bring.

Related: Are you looking to grow some edible greens of your own? Lucky for you, most of these plants grow easily by cutting. But you canʻt take cuttings without a good pair of pruners and Felcoʻs are the best. Been a favorite of gardeners worldwide for decades.

Felco 2 PrunersOpens in a new tab.

1. Chaya

Also known as tree spinach, Chaya is a perfect plant to make use of the space under your palms or trees that gets limited sunlight. 

Unlike regular spinach, chaya should not be eaten raw. Cooking for just 1 minute can inhibit the toxins they have present in the leaves and shoots.

So instead of tossing in your salads chaya is best used to cook up in your home dinners.

2. Katuk

Katuk is well equipped for tropic climates, naturally occurring in lowland rainforests. 

The leaves can be cooked and eaten like any other green, but katuk also produces small tender shoots that resemble asparagus and can be prepared and eaten in much the same way.

Katuk has about a 50% protein composition so makes a great addition to a balanced diet.

Katuk acts as a great hedge in the understory of your fruit trees that can be harvested from almost constantly.

3. Moringa

Morgina is also referred to as the miracle tree. This plant beats orange with vitamin C and milk with calcium. It also contains a high amount of a range of other nutrients.

These plants are so packed with antioxidants and nutrients that health organization around the world are planting these plants in underdeveloped countries around the world to help fight malnourishment.

From personal experience, I found the leaves to be a bit bitter and tough.  Definitely not my favorite on the list.  But with something this healthy, it deserves a space in the garden.

The plant grows fast and is resistant to droughts making it a brilliant addition to your tropical garden.

Related: 9 Tropical Herbs That ThriveOpens in a new tab.

4. Collards

One of the most popular greens around the world, and for a reason! Easy to grow, packed full of nutrients and versatile in the kitchen, why wouldn’t you?

Raw or cooked collard greens can be added to any dish and easily chopped up and hidden away to get greens into those who aren’t so inclined to eat them!

Collard Greens are known to be a cool season plant, but they thrive in the wet tropics, turning into a short lived perennial rather than an annual.

5. Kale

Kale has a reputation as being a superfood, often brought up by dieticians and nutrients but it also gets a bad rap as it is associated with restricted diets. But kale is an amazing leafy green if used with a balanced diet!

Kale performs particularly well in the garden, producing endlessly throughout the year. Harvest the lower leaves as needed and your kale plants will continue to provide you with more.

The only problem with Kale is how attractive it is to pests.  Whiteflies, aphids and cabbage moths all love this plant so vigilance may be necessary to ensure a good crop.

6. Chard

Chard is a great low maintenance plant for your garden. They are often left alone by pests and diseases and grow well. 

Chard performs well in the tropics and is often used as a subsidy for spinach as it can tolerate warmer temperatures.

Chard comes in all sorts of colours, each with a range of nutrients so growing chard can bring the rainbow to your dinner plate!

7. Sweet Potato

Sweet potato is most known for its appearance as a large root vegetable, but it also produces lovely leaves that are packed with fibre.

Sweet potato has deep cultural significance across Polynesia. Known as u’ala in Hawaii and kumara in Aotearoa this plant has provided sustenance to many native tribes for centuries and continues to be a staple in many diets.

Harvesting the young leaf tips from the vine can provide you with reliable greens all year long.  I love to cook them up in a stir fry as I would any other green on this list.

Related: 12 Best Shrubs For A Tropical Food ForestOpens in a new tab.

8. Tongan Spinach (Bele)

Known by many names, Tongan Spinach Abelmoschus Manihot is known as the most nutritious plant in all of Oceania. 

It is an easy plant to grow, just stick a branch in the ground and watch it grow.  It does well in moist locations in full sun or partial shade. 

Tongan Spinach produces a large, dark green leaf that when cooked resembles Okra.  A bit gelatinous when cooked, I like to add it into soups where that texture disappears.  It also tastes great steamed with coconut milk and served with sweet potato.

9. Kalo leaf

The kalo is another plant that has deep roots in Polynesian cultures. It has deep connection to the origin of the Hawaiian people and known as the main staple crop for many parts of the pacific islands

The root is called the taro root and can be cooked and mashed as a dietary staple, called poi in Hawaii.  The leaf is also edible, usually used to wrap around pork and steamed to make Laulau, which is delicious!

You can get a continuous supply of leaves from these plants by harvesting just one or two at a time from each plant.

10. Kang Kong

Also known as water spinach this plant makes a great addition to stirfrys or fried in batter as an appetizer.

The stems are hollow, allowing them to float on water.  Typically growing near natural waterways in the tropics, it does well in aquaculture systems on the homestead.

Kang Kong is just like spinach but does not have the same bitter taste.

11. Okinawa Spinach

Another variety of spinach, but this one has multiple uses! Underneath their green leaves, Okinawa Spinach has a deep purple colour that not only looks great on the plate but can be edible landscaping.

Make the most of your space with this low maintenance plant.

12. Malabar Spinach

Malabar is not a “true spinach” but its leaves do resemble spinach. Except this leafy vegetable is a climbing plant so will need to be provided with a trellis. 

You can even utilize space and allow it to share a trellis with your peas.

Malabar spinach thrives in warm climates that the tropics provide but need to be kept consistently moist to prevent them from flowering, if they flower they will turn their tasty tender leaves bitter.

13. Bok Choi

A well-known green, bok choi is also known as Chinese cabbage. It is fast to grow and you can harvest the whole plant or just a few leaves at a time to prolong harvest.

Bok choi is a popular stirfry ingredient that delivers a beautiful crunchy stem and a tender leaf.

14. Tat Soi

Bok Choi’s cousin! Tastes similar except it has a more sweet flavour profile and a buttery texture to add variety to your dishes.

Very versatile and full of goodness you can harvest tatsoi when its leaves are small or larger depending on your needs, much like spinach.

15. Egyptian Spinach

Egyptian spinach has a history resembling its name and is dated back to the time of the pharaohs. Still popular in Egypt today this plant loves lots of sun and water and will thrive in a tropical garden.

Be aware that Egyptian spinach grows as a shrub so leave some space around it when plants. Trim it back and it will regrow quickly providing a consistent harvest.

16. Cranberry Hibiscus

Hibiscus is commonly grown for its flowers, but cranberry hibiscus is the ultimate all-rounder. Not only do the flowers look great and attract pollinators they are edible, use them for garnish or steep them in hot water for nourishing tea.

Cranberry hibiscus leaves will retain their lovely purple colour once cooked so provide an element of colour on your plate.

Sean Jennings

Sean has been living simply Off-Grid in Hawai'i for over 18 years. He lives debt free on Hawai'i Island with his family and over 40 chickens. When he's not tinkering around the homestead, he's off exploring the shorelines for fish & surf.

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