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Meet the Plants (Part 5): Purple Power!

August 9, 2012

This week is a purple theme, because purple seems to be blooming everywhere in the garden right now! (Also, it may or may not be my favorite color.) In general, purple foods are usually pigmented by anthocyanin, a compound that aids in healthy aging. They are also packed with flavinoids, phytochemicals that protect your cardiovascular system.

Purple and Thai Basil

Purple basil tastes exactly like regular basil, only it’s, well… purple! It has a leafier texture, but is otherwise exactly the same. Thai basil is also very similar to regular basil, but the stem is purple and the leaves are smaller. It has a slightly lemony taste, but is otherwise the same.

Basil is packed with vitamin K and, like other dark greens, has lots of iron. The volatile oils (what gives basil its wonderful scent) have been shown to be anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. To keep as much of these volatile oils in your food as possible, it is best to add basil to cooked foods at the end of cooking so that oils don’t evaporate. Basil can be added to used fresh, ground with olive oil to make pesto, or dried for long-term storage.

According to, “the name ‘basil’ is derived from the old Greek word basilikohn, which means ‘royal,’ reflecting that ancient culture’s attitudes towards an herb that they held to be very noble and sacred. The tradition of reverence of basil has continued in other cultures. In India, basil was cherished as an icon of hospitality, while in Italy, it was a symbol of love.”


Amaranth is an excellent source of folates, which help protect from birth defects, and vitamins E, C, and B6. The varieties we have in the garden are hopi red and opopeo, and both are edible. Hopi red dye amaranth seeds were used by the Hopi Native Americans as a dye, and was the color upon which the synthetic dye, Red No. 2, is based. The greens taste best when cooked in stir-fry, omelets, soup, or with pasta. They often impart some of their reddish-purple coloring onto the foods they are cooked with, leaving colorful spots. Amaranth is also grown as a grain, and used by those who are gluten intolerant as a flour substitute.

Hyacinth Bean

Hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus) is an annual legume grown all over the world as a sustainable and reliable protein source. We include it in the garden this year and for the next few years to fill up the trellises, as the more slow-growing perennials that will permanently occupy the trellises catch up. The bean pods in our garden are going to be saved this year so that we can have a supply for next year. The most delicious part of the plant are the flowers, which taste exactly like green beans.


Shiso (Perilla frutescens) is sometimes referred to as Perilla, but there are multiple varieties of Perilla with different flavors, and we grow both green and purple shiso varieties of the Perilla genus in the garden. Shiso is commonly used in Japanese cuisine. Red shiso is traditionally used in pickling, for pickled plum or eggplant, and spreads its pigment into the vinegar brine. Both kinds can be chopped fresh or dried and added to noodle or tofu dishes as an herb. Seed pods are used as a spice, often combined with radish slices.

Meadow Sage

Meadow sage (Salvia pratensis) is grown for its tall purple flower stalks. The leaves are sometimes dried and used in tea for many medicinal purposes, from calming breathing/cough to digestive health.

And don’t forget another purple friend who made an appearance on the blog earlier in the season… Echinacea!

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