If you’ve planted several large trees around your homestead, you may have a shady patch begging for something to be done with it. While plants do need sunlight, there are plenty of edible plants to grow in the shade.

Here are 10 edible plants to grow in the shade – including berries, lettuce, ginger root, and coffee. With these shade-loving plants, you can really expand the food you grow right on your tropical homestead.

The good news is, that these plants are usually low maintenance.  Plus, if you recycle your rainwater or greywater straight into the garden you barely have to do any work with some of these!

Here they are – some of my favorite edible plants that grow in the shade:

  1. Surinam cherry

The Surinam cherry plant is a shrub that can grow in the full sun but also thrives in the shade, both locations work. However, I find that for a tropical, sunny area like Hawai’i, my plant does best with shade.

Grow: You could grow from seeds (each fruit contains a single seed) but for faster growth, plant cuttings or do air layering.

Plant in loose, loamy soil for best results.

Maintenance: Remember, this is a shrub but it can grow very very tall! Regular pruning (once the shrub is well-established, and probably after your first good harvest) will help keep your plant at a manageable height – and ensure it stays in the shade, where it will be happy.

If you are ever looking for seeds of Suriname cherries or other plants on this list, visit my seed store on Etsy.

  1. Mulberry

Mulberry trees can do well in sun or shade.  They do best when planted under taller trees that get early morning or afternoon sun.

Grow: Mulberries are hearty and can grow in many types of soil and are somewhat drought-resistant, once they are established. Give them sufficient water for the first 3 months after planting seedlings, cuttings, or germinated seeds to ensure healthy growth.

Maintenance: Technically, this is a tree, but I prefer pruning mine to a short size so I can easily harvest the sweet berries.

  1. Cacao

Cacao trees are beautiful and produce the favorite cacao pods that are later processed into chocolate. While the trees thrive in hot, tropical regions, they are also very fragile. 

Not only do they need sufficient shade, but they also need wind protection that other surrounding trees provide.

Grow: It’s best to start from seedlings, under the shade of stronger trees that can also serve as windbreaks: like coconut palms and bananas.

Maintenance: Once your cacao tree is 1 year old, prune it twice year to maximize harvests and to keep the tree at a small enough height to still be shaded.

  1. Coffee

Coffee needs indirect sunlight to grow best, so this plant is ideal to grow in the shade.

Grow: You can easily grow your own coffee in Hawai’i, especially at elevations around 1000 feet above sea level. Plant seeds or seedlings in moist soil with sufficient compost and top with a layer of mulch to hold in the moisture.

Maintenance; The coffee plant is technically a shrub, but can grow over 20 feet if left alone. You’ll want to prune your plants to keep them manageable.

  1. Lau pele

“Lau Pele” is the traditional Samoan name for Hibiscus Spinach. You might also hear it called “Tongan Spinach” or “bele” in other locations. The plant grows big, with green edible leaves. Cook them like greens with coconut milk – delicious! 

Grow: Grow your own lau pele plant from a cutting for faster growth (plus, seeds might be hard to come by), and plant in moist soil. These guys do great in pots, too, especially if you plan to harvest individual leaves as you eat them.

Maintenance: Water regularly – not drought tolerant.

  1. Nasturtium

Yes, nasturtiums are flowers, but they are edible flowers. Ever made a salad with these beauties? The plant is related to watercress and the leaves and bright flowers have a slightly peppery flavor.

Grow: Nasturtiums are very easy to grow from seed and are a great way to introduce kids to gardening because they do great even in poor soils, and if you forget to water them regularly (don’t let them get too too dry, though).

Maintenance: Nasturtiums are very easy to maintain – no pruning required, just pluck off the flowers and leaves when you intend to eat them in a fresh salad.

They prefer well-draining soil and partial sun, which they will likely get in the morning if planted under larger trees.

In Hawaii, Nasturtiums prefer higher elevations like Kamuela or Volcano on Hawaii Island or Makawao on Maui

  1. Lettuce

Lettuce can be tricky to grow in tropical locations because it needs enough shade. Thankfully, there are several types of warm-weather lettuce that grow pretty well in places like Hawai’i, but each of them grows best in the shade.

Butterhead Lettuce

Grow: Grow butter lettuce from seed and give it plenty of water.

Maintenance: Pick off leaves as needed, but try to prevent your lettuce from bolting with

adequate water and shade.

Indian Lettuce

Grow: Grow Indian lettuce from seed. This heat-tolerant variety will fare the best, even if
it gets some direct sun during the day.

Maintenance: lots of water, especially if the soil is well-draining.

  1. Peanut butter fruit

If you’ve never heard of peanut butter fruit before, I wouldn’t be surprised. This is a plant native to Brazil that produces small, fig-like fruits that have a very, very short shelf life. 

These little fragile fruits are not candidates for export and you’ll only get to enjoy the fruit if you grow one of the trees.

Thankfully, it grows well in warm, tropical locations – and in the shade.

Grow: Get your seedling from an exotic plants nursery and plant it in rich, moist soil with plenty of compost.

Maintenance: In temperate climates, these trees need full sun, but in warm locations like Hawai’i and Brazil, they will do just fine in the shade.

You’ll probably want to prune your tree to keep it down in size, so you can easily reach the sweet little peanut-butter-flavored fruits.

  1. Ginger

Ginger is one of my favorite roots to grow because it doesn’t need much attention, and, because it’s nutrient-rich it actually improves the soil it grows in.

Grow: It’s simple to grow a crop of ginger from healthy stems – just place them in the dirt! You can separate or carefully cut larger sections of ginger root before planting, too.

Make sure to get organic ginger from a local farmer’s market, if you can. Larger rhizomes grow best – look for little green ‘eyes’ for a quicker crop.

Maintenance: Give your ginger plenty of water and dig up the sections as you plan to use them.

  1. Awa (kava)

Ah, yes, the wonderful Awa or Kava! If you’re planning on growing this root for the kava traditional relaxation-inducing drink, then you definitely want to plant it in the shade.

Grow: You can only grow Kava from cuttings – not seeds. Get cuttings with 2-3 nodes on them for best results. 

Growing tip: mix coconut husks into your soil before planting kava cuttings, they love them!

Maintenance: Remember that over 2-3 years, kava plants can grow tall, so make sure to plant under tall trees that offer shade, not short trees (such as bananas).

BONUS! Comfrey

Comfrey is a versatile herb for your garden that just so happens to love the shade. 

While the jury is still out about how healthy it is for humans to consume. Although it has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, recent research suggests it might have high levels of toxins that are dangerous for human consumption. I’ll let each reader decide for themselves about how ‘edible’ comfrey is. 

Either way, comfrey offers loads of benefits to your garden and your animals, that make it worthwhile to plant on your homestead, edible or not.

Comfrey leaves are high in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, making this plant awesome to add to your compost or use as mulch. Just sprinkle the dry, cut up leaves directly into your soil or with your regular compost. This plant will, over-time improve your soil.

Comfrey is an awesome, easy fertilizer: make a ‘tea’ from the leaves, steeping them in a bucket with water (have a heavy rock or some bricks press down on the leaves to help squeeze out the good nutrients), and wait 3-4 weeks. Mix the tea with water (10:1 water to comfrey tea ratio) before using it as fertilizer to pour around trees or other plants in your garden.

It also is a favorite treat for bees. If you want to attract more pollinators to your garden (or are looking to save the bees in your area) plant comfrey.

Comfrey as chicken feed: Chickens love comfrey! And it’s a win-win because this healthy green will give your chickens lots of good vitamins and calcium (so important for your laying chickens), which will, in turn, pass on to their eggs and mean YOU benefit from those healthy nutrients, too.

If you’re looking for something to plant as ground cover in a shady spot, plant comfrey because it will benefit your garden in more ways than one!

Grow: Several varieties of comfrey do not grow from seed, so it’s best to grow from a cutting or seedling (and it will not be hard to do!)

Maintenance: Similar to mint, comfrey is a prolific grower and can get out of control if you don’t limit it. You can either create a small rock/brick wall around comfrey’s area to give it some boundaries, or plant in a pot in the shade.