Edible Greens in Hawaii

If you don’t have time to garden–planting seeds, fertilizing, mulching, pulling weeds and watering, this story is for you.

There are a number of edible greens in Hawaii that grow easily with little intervention on your part. You can have fresh greens any time you want right in your own yard.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Brazilian Spinach or Sissoo (alternanthera sissoo)


brazilian spinach or sissoo

One of the easiest to grow, as well as a living mulch or edible ground cover is Brazilian spinach or Sissoo.

Take a cutting or simple pull up and replant. It grows well in shade and sun. Sissoo will soon multiply and spread out but it’s not invasive.

The leaves are thin and dry and don’t produce the slimy or mucilaginous texture of other spinach-like greens.

Because it contains oxalates, it’s usually cooked by sautéing or steaming. Nutritional content unknown.

Newer leaves are more tender, the stems are not eaten but can be planted. This green is good in quiche, frittatas and can be blended with other garden greens listed here.


Edible Hibiscus (Abelmoschus maniho)

edibleHybAnother must have green is edible hibiscus.  These huge succulent leaves are great for wraps, soups, or sautéed. The leaves are high in vitamins A, C and iron.

They are related to okra and have that same slime, so I don’t recommend them for eating in salads, but if you don’t mind go for it. The leaves thicken soups like okra. I like to sauté with chopped garlic, soy sauce and balsamic vinegar.

Easy to grow from cuttings, just cut a branch and bury in the soil and keep well watered until it starts to root. The bush tends to get overloaded and the branches will break off from the weight –just replant.

The large African snails like them and you can tell when they’ve munchedon the leaves because they will look like lace and the trunks will have chew marks on them. If this happens, go around in the early morning and while wearing gloves pull them off and smash them. The snails are carriers of rat lung so be careful and do not handle the snails or eat any damaged leaves.

Okinawa Spinach (Gynura bicolor)


Okinawa Spinach

Okinawa spinach is another easy-to-grow green. It is delicious and brightens up any raw dish with the beautifully purple-colored leaf undersides.

One of my favorites because it is delicious and rich in iron and potassium, calcium, and vitamin A.

It goes to seed regularly and can either be planted from seed or cuttings. It loses its purple color when cooked but it has a distinct flavor that can’t be missed in stir fries and sautes. It also comes in a strictly green leaf but I prefer the purple variety.



Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius)



Chaya or tree spinach is an edible green that grows into a small, woody bush and often grows best supported by a fence or protected from wind. Chaya is a good source of protein, vitamins, calcium, and iron; and is also a rich source of antioxidants.

New plants can be grown easily from cuttings. The leaves must be cooked and are toxic raw. I have lacto-fermented raw leaves and used them as one would grape leaves in making dolmas. I often roughly chop them and add them to sautes and stir fries.

The leaves are very plentiful and just a few plants will provide enough greens for a family.

Cranberry Hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella)

cranhibThis green is not green at all but a beautiful cranberry color. It is pictured growing among some taro leaf.

This plant can be grown from cuttings or planted from the numerous seed pods. I have often cast out the seeds and they have self planted. Most typically, they will replant them selves in the same spot year after year.

The leaf has a citrus-like flavor and will brighten any salad with a pleasant tart-like flavor. High in vitamin C and traces of B-2 and B-3 vitamins. This can be cooked but I have always eaten it raw or made into a delicious tea. See Kumu Aina’s post on Make Fresh Herbal Tea from your Garden.


Sweet Potato Leaves (Ipomoea batatas)

sweetpotatogrnsSweet potatoes have abundant leafy vines and you can harvest their young leaves and shoots without damage to the sweet potato growing below in the soil. Even if you don’t plan to harvest the tubers, you can grow this vine just for the greens.

It is rich in vitamins A, B, C, the minerals calcium and phosphorus, anti-oxidants, iron and iodine. They can be added to salads or sautéed in stir fries.

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