Permaculture Soil Builder Plants

This page is for unusual plants that are not very “mainstream.” (Note: Sources located at the bottom)

Field peas- good to break up heavy soils

Forage pea- good for overwintering

Alfalfa**** (highest nitrogen fixer, hard to eradicate though)


“Alfalfa grows easily just about anywhere. That is another good  plant for your food forest ground cover, or animal pasture. It is impossible to remove from the ground once it has taken hold, so choose location very carefully. Alfalfa seed is now genetically modified, and foraging wild alfalfa is not safe. Organic seed can be purchased at the Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. Alfalfa is loved by bees and bumble bees, by chickens and beneficial insects – and it makes good tea. Fresh and slightly buttery tasting tea is a good base for other flavors. Harvest blossoming ends in early to mid-June.

Native to the Americas, it’s a deep rooted accumulator of minerals and nitrogen fixer. I heard once of a trial in which alfalfa was sown in rows alternating with wheat, spaced at half their usual density. The exchange of nutrients between the two plants was so beneficial that the yield of wheat was as great as when it was planted on its own.”

“Alfalfa is a good source of nitrogen, along with several other minerals including:

  • phosphorus
  • potassium
  • calcium
  • sulfur
  • magnesium
  • boron
  • iron
  • zinc

The N-P-K ratio for alfalfa is approximately 3 – 1 – 3, depending on its source

Alfalfa roots reach down into the sub-soil up to 8 feet, bringing valuable hard-to-reach nutrients up to the soil surface where they are stored in the leaves of the plant. Using the cut alfalfa in your garden and compost adds these nutrients to the upper layers of your soil where other garden plants can use them. Alfalfa is particularly good at bringing iron to the surface, a micro-nutrient needed for chlorophyll synthesis.”

Sugar Snap Peas*****





“Nasturtiums are my favourite plant ever – one of my earliest memories is of drinking rain drops out of their leaves (cause that’s how the fairies did it) and they’ve really stuck with me ever since. As I grew older I loved the fact the you can eat the leaves, flowers and make ‘poor man capers’ out of the seed pods, plus they’re a great living mulch in the garden, attract beneficial insects and easy on the eye.

So when I found out that there’s a perennial nasturtium (called mashua) only less than a year ago – well, I got excited.

Nasturtiums are gorgeous to look at and they bring a brilliant splash of orange and red into the garden. They produce sweet edible flowers that can lighten up your salads as well. Nasturtiums are hardy and low maintenance. They work as ground cover protecting the soil from evaporation. Additionally, Nasturtiums are respectable members of any Permaculture garden for their anti-pest properties. They seem to deter whitefly, although the results are a bit ambiguous. Just try and be sure to let us know of your results!”

Nasturtiums are a great plant for a permaculture garden.  Talk about multiple uses!
* They attract beneficial ladybirds, bees and predatory wasps with their bright flowers all year round.
* They are delicious in salads.
* They can be a great groundcover, but are also easy to control.  I can clear a few square metres of nasturtiums in a couple of minutes.  So although they are very vigorous, they aren’t like the really ‘weedy’ plants (like mint) that you can never be free of.

 The leaves (especially the smaller leaves) make a really yummy pesto.  
 I added Vietnamese mint, more lime juice and adjusted sugar, salt and pepper to the recipe on this website:


Comfrey (Russian Comfrey may be the best)



“The first test is from February 2009, after our front yard had sat under sheet mulch all winter and our back yard was still mostly turf grass. The mulched front yard already shows a lower pH (we have alkaline clay soil here, so lower is better), more than double the organic matter, three times the nitrate, and about 50% higher phosphorus and potassium.

By the time of the second test in 2011, I had sheet mulched the back yard as well, but I distinguished between a “raised” bed where a sewer repair had exposed the heavy clay subsoil and a greenhouse area which had not been excavated. The greenhouse bed shows higher nutrient levels than either the front yard or the raised bed, with the exception of potassium, but even this is higher than it had been two years before.

So far so good, and I think I’ve made a good case for sheet mulching, but all these figures are blown away by the sample I took this year under the comfrey plants. After 5 years of comfrey, the topsoil in this sample shows a lower pH and higher percent organic matter than any of the previous samples, and the nutrient levels are practically off the charts – a 47 to 232% increase over the previously observed highs. I did not test for calcium or magnesium either before or after, but just on the basis of NPK the comfrey is completely vindicated.”

Hairy Vetch and Fava Bean ****



“Vicia is a genus of about 140 species of legumes commonly known as Vetch. These rambling, nitrogen-fixing vines are found around the world and used for food, animal forage, and green manures. They are pioneer plants helping to rehabilitate damaged lands, and their deep roots mine minerals which enrich and stabilize soils. They attract all sorts of beneficial insects and can be used as a groundcover. One annual species also happens to be one of my favorite beans: the Fava Bean! This is a wonderful plant to use on pastures, new swales, and in the initial phases of Forest Garden creation… truly a multi-purpose plant!

  • American Vetch (Vicia americana), Cow Vetch (Vicia cracca), and Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa) have a taproot that may dive up to 40 inches (1 meter) deep. Other species may have taproots, but no reliable information can be found.
  • American (Vicia americana) has both a taproot and rhizomes and is drought-tolerant.
  • The Fava/Broad Bean (Vicia faba) can be used to make the popular Middle Eastern food, Falafel. Ground fava beans, chickpeas, or both are used to make the ball or patty which is then deep fried.
  • The Fava/Broad Bean (Vicia faba) can be inoculated with the rhodospirillacean bacterium Azospirillum brasilenseand the glomeracean fungus Glomus clarum, and then the Fava Bean can also be grown in salty soils.”

Borage (starflower)*****


“With a taste comparable to that of cucumber, borage has various culinary applications. The leaves can of course be used as a salad green and the flowers as edible decorations, but to stop there would be an insult to the wide variety of uses for borage. This herb can be used in soups, salads, borage-lemonade, strawberry-borage cocktails, preserves, borage jelly, various sauces, cooked as a stand-alone vegetable, or used in desserts in the form of fresh or candied flowers, to name a few.

This herb is also the highest known plant source of gamma-linolenic acid (an Omega 6 fatty acid, also known as GLA) and the seed oil is often marketed as a GLA supplement. It is also a source of B vitamins, beta-carotene, fiber, choline, and, again, trace minerals. In alternative medicine it is used for stimulating breast milk production and as an adrenal gland tonic; thus it can be used to relieve stress.

In the garden, the uses of borage include repelling pests such as hornworms, attracting pollinators, and aiding any plants it is interplanted with by increasing resistance to pests and disease. It is also helpful to, and compatible with, most plants — notably tomatoes, strawberries and squash. Borage adds trace minerals to the soil it is planted in, and is good for composting and mulching. It is an annual, but readily self-seeds and thrives in full sun. It is so proficient in self-seeding, in fact, that once a borage plant has established itself in your garden, you will likely never have to reseed again. The bloom period is different for various climates and growing zones. In our garden, borage will bloom from mid-spring to early fall.

Now if I’ve done my job, by this time you should be thinking, “This is amazing! How in the world do I grow this miracle plant for myself?” It’s quite simple actually. Seeds are best sown in full or partial sun under ½ inch (1 cm) of soil so it’s easy to sprinkle a patch with seeds and then cover it with a few handfuls of soil or compost. The plants can easily grow to be 3 feet (91 cm) tall and 2 feet (61 cm) wide, so give them room to grow, and let them shade your partial sun plants. Treat this easy-to-keep herb well and it will reward you with scores of beautiful flowers, lush foliage, and fertile soils.”

White clover 


“White clover stores 45% of the nitrogen it gives back to the soil in its roots. This is more than any other legume and is important to consider in managing white clover for nitrogen addition. Mowing the top growth of white clover will not give you a fast boost of nitrogen, but white clover is a great recycler of nitrogen.”

“White clover is more tolerant of poor soil conditions, minor flooding, and heat than other clovers. It can be mowed and/or grazed short (2-3″) and will recover well. Let it grow 6-8″ in the fall to help it overwinter. White clover can produce as much as 200 lb. of nitrogen per acre, but averages 130 lb.”

” Red clover may be the best choice for frost seeding; it is extremely cold hardy and does well in most soils and growing conditions. it does, like most clovers, perform poorly in hot weather unless seeded into a crop canopy. Incorporate fully for best results. Mammoth Red clover will fix up to 70-110 lbs. nitrogen per acre.”

Poultry will graze clover.


Cowpeas ****




“Relatively long taproots help withstand drought. Cowpeas are not tolerant of high weed pressure or wet soils and will perform poorly in these conditions. If planted thickly, they will smother out weeds. Cowpeas can also be used for underseeding in spring crops and tilled under prior to fall-planted crops. They can produce as much as 315 lb./acre nitrogen, although 130 lb./acre is more typical. High organic matter production.”

Lupine *****

BaldHillsLupines 2ERote_lupine


” Lupines are beautiful wildflowers found almost around the globe. Known primarily for their showy spikes of flowers in blues, purples, reds, yellows, and white, these legumes put nitrogen back into the soil (natural fertilizer), host a number of beneficial insects, can act as a groundcover to protect top soil, and some species even produce edible seeds. A brilliant addition to the home and Forest Garden.


Found almost all over the world, there are likely native or at least naturalized Lupines close to where you live. They have been used as food plants likely for thousands of years. The Romans were fond of the seeds, but have been used by most Mediterranean cultures. The South and North American species were also used by natives there as well. More recently, there has been a growing trend to use Lupines as a cash crop alternative to soy, livestock forage and feed crop, as well as developing a wide variety of ornamental flowering varieties.


  • Edible species include Wild or Sundial Lupine (Lupinus perrenis), Seashore Lupine (Lupinus littoralis),  Blue Lupine (Lupinus nootkatensis), another Blue Lupine (Lupinus augustifolius), and White Lupine (Lupinus albus), but the best is likely the Pearl Lupine (Lupinus mutabilis).
  • There are larger species in the Lupine genus… the most common large species being the Tree Lupine or Yellow Bush Lupine (Lupinus arboreus) that grows to over 6 feet (2 meters) tall.
  • Lupines are an important larval food for many butterflies and moths.Primary Uses:
    • Ornamental flowering plant (wildflower)
    • Edible seeds in some species – used as cooked bean substitute, can be roasted then ground into a powder (NOTE: seeds contain a bitter toxin that can easily be leached out by soaking the seeds in water overnight, and up to 3 days) and discarding the soaking water. 
    • Some species produce an edible oil from the pressed seeds

    Secondary Uses:

    • Nitrogen fixing plant (puts nitrogen back into the soil) – inoculated with leguminous bacteria.
    • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
    • Provides shelter for parasatoid wasps (beneficial wasps that prey on plant pests)
    • Lacewings (beneficial insects) prefer to lay eggs on this plant
    • Dynamic Accumulator (Phosphorus, Nitrogen)
    • Groundcover – space plants about 1 foot (30 centimeters) apart”

Daikon Radish


“Daikon radish is a permaculture or organic gardener’s friend. If planted closely together (five seeds per square foot), the shade of their dense leaves suppresses weed growth. They also can be used as a “trap crop” for flea beetles and other insects that might, otherwise, damage more valuable and vulnerable spring cabbage and lettuce crops. Daikon leaves can be cut and used as green manure. Sometimes referred to as “bio-drills,” Daikon roots are grown to break up compacted soil. The deep, penetrating roots also bring up nutrients from the sub-soil and, if the root is allowed to rot in place, it releases these mined nutrients and deposits organic matter into the topsoil. By allowing surface level nutrients to percolate down the deep root channel, the roots improve water penetration.    

Whatever their shape or color, Daikon radishes are a great source of fiber and vitamins. If eaten raw or steamed lightly, Daikon leaf greens provide many essential vitamins and nutrients, especially Vitamin C. Unfortunately, mature plant leaves can be too tough to be eaten raw. A two-inch chunk of root contains only about fifteen calories. “




USDA Hardiness Zone: Not relevant for annual species. For Perennial Buckwheat, it appears to be hardy to Zone 7 (maybe 6).
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information is available
Chill Requirement: Likely for Perennial Buckwheat, considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Annual/Perennial
Leaf Type: Annual/Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer (Cover Crop)
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available. If you want a seed for eating, make sure you find one that is specifically for seed, and not just for a cover crop. These will taste much better!

Pollination: Not self-fertile. Pollinated by bees and flies.
Flowering: It all depends on when it is planted. Perennial Buckwheat blooms in late Summer to early Autumn (or Winter in warmer climates). Annual Buckwheat will form flowers in 2-10 weeks (yes, as early as just , but hot weather will cause the flowers to fall off without forming seeds (this is called “blasting”).

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Seeds – sprouted seeds can be eaten raw. The seed can be cooked and used as a cereal grain (i.e. dried and ground into a powder). Used in breads, pancakes, noodles, etc. Can be mixed with true cereal grains for making yeast breads. Can be used as a thickening agent in soups and sauces. Note that Perennial Buckwheat may not produce nearly as many seeds as the annual species.
  • Edible Leaves – used like spinach – can be eaten raw or cooked, but is usually significantly more bitter when raw
  • Cover Crop / Green Manure – used as a fast-growing cover crop that breaks down (rots) quickly providing lots of organic matter to the soil as well as soil coverage/protection and fertilization/composting in place. Sow at 60-135 lbs/acre (65-150 kg/ha) when using across large areas.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant – Buckwheat Honey is distinctively dark and is a highly sought after honey. These flowers are known for attracting predatory wasps, hoverflies (Syrphid flies), and more.
  • Dynamic Accumulator – phosphorus and calcium
  • Weed Suppressing Plant – the vigorous, fast-growing Buckwheat smothers unwanted “weeds”.
  • Erosion Control Plant – the deep, fibrous roots hold the soil and prevent erosion
  • Wildlife Shelter – especially small birds and mammals
  • Alcohol – gluten-free beers and whisky have been made using Buckwheat
  • Buckwheat Hulls – used in pillows and as upholstery filler

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Annual Buckwheats produce edible leaves by 6-8 weeks and ripened seed at 10-14 weeks. The seeds do not all ripen at the same time, so harvesting is a bit time consuming. It is easiest to harvest when about three-quarters of the seeds become dark brown (ripe). If you wait longer, then many of the seeds with shatter (fall off). Cut the stems gently and move them to a tarp or sheet. Then hit the stems with a broom or carpet beater. Most of the unripe seeds will stay on the branches, and the ripe ones fall on the tarp. Winnow the seeds (blow the chaf away… leaves, bugs, older hulls, etc.) by pouring the seeds back and forth between buckets in a breeze or in front of a fan.
Storage: Use leaves fresh within a few days. Seeds can be dried and stored for years if kept in an airtight, minimal oxygen container – like with oxygen absorbers. Otherwise, the seeds, which have fats, can go rancid. Buckwheat flour should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or other cool/cold place, and it can store for a few months.

  • Buckwheat grows very well in low-fertility soils. In fact, if the soil has too much nitrogen, seed yield will be reduced… so it depends on what you are growing the Buckwheat for: manure or seed (flowers).
  • Buckwheat seeds best in cooler weather, so if you live in a hot climate, then a late season sowing is recommended.
  • If you want a seed harvest, then plant 2-3 months before the first killing frost.
  • If planted in Summer, then there will be little seed production, but it will work great as a cover crop/green manure/weed suppressor.
  • Buckwheat does not seed well in wind – the seeds shatter (drop), and it has a tendancy to lodge (tip over).”


Table 2: Typical levels of N fixation (Data source: The Nature and Properties of Soils, 2002). N fixation Lbs per acre per year Alfalfa 130-220 Clover 90-130 Vetch 45-130 Dry beans 25-45 Soybean 45-130

“…analysis shows that plant communities with many different species are nearly 1.5 times more productive than those with only one species (such as a cornfield or carefully tended lawn), and ongoing research finds even stronger benefits of diversity when the various other important natural services of ecosystems are considered. Diverse communities are also more efficient at capturing nutrients, light, and other limiting resources.”



Favorite Permaculture Plants:

Perennial Fruits:

Strawberry- 25— $20—1-2 yrs— 1 lb.

Blackberry – 5- $50—– 1 to 2 years—-10 lbs

Ground cherry- 50 seeds- $2.50 – 70 days (EASY TO GROW) – .5 to 1 lb  (produces up to 3 years)

Peach – 2— $40—2 to 4 years—–120 lbs.

Nectarine –2— $50—2 to 4 years—60 to 120 lbs

Apricot – 2—- $30—2 to 5 years—30 to 120 lbs

Blueberry – 4 – $40—- 2 to 3 years—10 lbs—highly acidic soil

Cherry –4– $120—4 to 7 years—40 to 120 lbs

Apple – 2—$24—dwarf 3-5 yrs , 1-2 bushels (40 lb-80 lb)—-reg. 5-8 yrs, 4-5 bushels (200 lb- 240 lb)

Raspberry – 5—-$65—1 to 2 years—1 to 2 quarts (Blueberries produce 3 to 4 quarts)

Grapes – 3- $32—2 to 4 years—7-9 lbs

Plum – 4- $80— 3 to 6 yrs—-30 to 120 lbs

Goji berry- 100 seeds – $3.85—-2 to 3 years—4 lbs (MEDICINAL)

Hardy Kiwi – 2- $20—2 to 5 years—75lbs


Sea buckthorn – 2— $50—2 to 3 yrs— 30 lbs. (juice or jam/sour)

Nanking Cherry – 2—$40 -1-3 years – 12-15 lbs.



Annual Fruit:

Cantaloupe-20 seeds- $2—– 86 days – 9 to 15lbs

Watermelon- 70 seeds-$3–90 days- 60lbs

Tomato (beefsteak)- 30 seeds – $5— 90 days – 20lbs


Nasturtiums – seeds, flowers, leaves are all edible (pretty)

Violas- edible flowers

Marigolds- edible flowers


Sea Kale

Turkish rocket greens



Healthiest vegetables:

Asparagus, Avocados, Beet greens, Beets, Bell peppers, Bok choy, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Collard greens, Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Fennel, Garlic, Green beans, Green peas, Kale, Leeks, Mustard greens, Olive oil, extra virgin, Olives, Onions, Potatoes, Romaine lettuce, Spinach, Squash, summer, Squash, winter, Sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, Tomatoes, Turnip greens

 You can also sprout seeds and eat them as seedlings

Jerusalem artichoke- 1.5lbs – $10 – 6 lbs. per tuber (beautiful flowers!)



New Zealand Spinach

Asparagus (3 years to maturity)

Brussel sprouts

Swiss Chard (biennial)

Snow peas

White beans (fava?)


Okra? Pretty?



Raisin tree?

Clove currant?

Pineapple guava?

















Top 10 according to 

Basil , Black pepper, Chili pepper, dried, Cilantro & Coriander seeds, Cinnamon, ground, Cloves, Cumin seeds, Dill, Ginger, Mustard seeds, Oregano, Parsley, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Turmeric


Lemon Balm is inhaled as aromatherapy for Alzheimer’s disease.

Spearmint/peppermint–One of the primary benefits of fresh mint is that it contains potent antioxidants. Peppermint, for example, has perillyl alcohol, which might stop the formation or spread of cancer. Aromatherapy

Apple mint

Marjoramperennial with citrus flavors

Parsleymost popular herb

Chivespretty flowers.

BasilDNA protection, anti bacterial, anti inflammatory, good source of magnesium. Aromatherapy


Fennelhigh overall nutrition score

Dillnot super nutritious

Turmeric/curcumin dramatically increases the antioxidant capacity of the body. It helps prevent cancer and improve neurogenesis factor.

Thyme This common garden herb is full of antioxidants, like thymol, lavonoids apigenin, naringenin, luteolin, and thymonin. Antioxidants prevent cellular damage that can boost overall health and help prevent cancer, inflammation, signs of aging and more

Schisandra is used as an “adaptogen” for increasing resistance to disease and stress, increasing energy, and increasing physical performance and endurance.

Schisandra is also used for preventing early aging and increasing lifespan; normalizing blood sugar and blood pressure; and stimulating the immune system and speeding recovery after surgery.

It is also used for treating liver disease (hepatitis) and protecting the liver from poisons. The Chinese have developed a liver-protecting drug called DBD that is made from schisandrin, one of the chemicals in schisandra.

The chemicals in schisandra improve liver function by stimulating enzymes (proteins that speed up biochemical reactions) in the liver and promoting liver cell growth.

Oregano contains chemicals that might help reduce cough and spasms. Oregano also might help digestion by increasing bile flow and fighting against some bacteria, viruses, fungi, intestinal worms, and other parasites.

Rosemary is a good source of antioxidants, according to a 2006 article published in the “European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology.” These antioxidants might help reduce inflammation in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, note Michael T. Murray and Joseph E. Pizzorno in their book “The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.” Rosemary contains specific antioxidants, called caffeic acid and rosemarinic acid, that might help prevent and fight cancer, according to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. The scent of rosemary can improve concentration and memory, as well, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Ginger Gingerol is the main bioactive compound in ginger, responsible for much of its medicinal properties. It has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects

Ginseng Ginseng may help with stimulating physical and mental activity among people who are weak and tired. A Mayo Clinic study revealed that ginseng showed good results in helping cancer patients with fatigue.

Holy Basil In cooking, holy basil is often added to stir-fry dishes and spicy soups because of its peppery taste. Cookbooks sometimes call it “hot basil.” Chemicals in holy basil are thought to decrease pain and swelling (inflammation). Other chemicals might lower blood sugar in people with diabetes.

There is interest in using holy basil seed oil for cancer. Beginning research suggests that the oil can slow progression and improve survival rate in animals with certain types of cancer. Researchers think this benefit may be explained by the oil’s ability to act as an antioxidant.

Cilantro Health benefits of cilantro leaves (coriander) Cilantro herb is very low in calories and contains no cholesterol. However, its deep-green leaves possess good amounts of antioxidants, essential oils, vitamins, and dietary fiber, which may help reduce LDL or “bad cholesterol” levels in the blood.

Sage Like rosemary, its sister herb in the mint (Labitae) family, sage contains a variety of volatile oils, flavonoids (including apigenindiosmetin, and luteolin), and phenolic acids, including the phenolic acid named after rosemary—rosmarinic acid. Better brain function/memory.

Cinnamon At the end of the day, cinnamon is one of the most delicious and healthiest spices on the planet. It can lower blood sugar levels, reduce heart disease risk factors, and has a plethora of other impressive health benefits. Just make sure to get Ceylon cinnamon, or stick to small doses if you’re using the Cassia variety.

Lavender – Aromatherapy

Can make herb tea out of

1.Annys hyssop

  1. Basil
  2. Calendula
  3. Catnip or catmint
  4. Chamomile
  5. Lavender
  6. Lemon balm
  7. ‘Lemon Gem’ and ‘Orange Gem’ marigolds
  8. Lemon verbena
  9. Mints
  10. Monarda (bee balm)
  11. Pineapple sage
  12. Rosemary
  13. Sage










Lion’s mane

cremini mushrooms




Kombucha – with chia seeds yummy!

Lacto fermentation


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