5 Plants which are high in protein and easily grown in your garden!
Need a plant-based protein boost in your diet? Many people believe a plant based diet can’t provide you with the protein you require. Truth is, it’s not only easy to get enough protein from plants; it’s more nutritious too.
Getting your protein quota from plants gives you a very nutritiously dense diet, as not only are you getting plenty of protein; you’re getting lots and lots of bonus vitamins and minerals too. And, although most plant-based protein sources do not contain a full amino acid profile – eating a combination of plants, beans, nuts and seeds ensures you eat all amino acids + all the other planty goodness.
Here’s 5 plants you can add to your diet to boost your protein intake; most have more protein than meat! Just as comparison (aprox. amounts): Chicken has 27% protein, steak has 25%, eggs have 13% and pork chops 24%.
High Protein Plants to Grow
Sweet Leaf Bush (Sauropus androgynous) – 34-39%
Sweet Leaf Bush is a perennial plant that you can easily grow in your garden, as long as you’re in a warm climate. If not, you can still grow it – just plant it in a pot and move to a warm spot when it gets cold.
Sweet Leaf Bush leaves contains a whopping 34-39% protein! This little plant-based protein booster tastes nice too; plant it as an edible hedge and pick some leaves every time you walk past. The leaves taste just like fresh peas – you know the ones you pick straight out of the pod?
Not only does Sweet Leaf Bush provide lots of protein, it’s a great source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron too, as well as vitamin A and C.
Eat the leaves fresh, add them to salads, stir fry (add at the end of cooking to preserve goodness)
2. Drumstick Tree (Moringa oleifera) – 38%
This beautiful tree is also know as Horseradish Tree, Miracle Tree and Marango Tree. It is fast growing to between 3m and 8m tall and will perform well in the tropics, subtropics and warm temperate climates.
In cooler climates the Drumstick Tree will need protection from cold winds and frost, and may go dormant throughout winter. It may be possible to grow in a big pot and move it to a warmer spot in winter for protection.
Drumstick Tree leaves contains an incredible 38% protein, with ALL 8 essential amino acids. Moringa trees are truly a gift to us from nature, and one which should be grown in every garden. I just love the name Moringa, it’s so much prettier than Drumstick Tree!
Moringa leaves can be picked, then dried, then crushed into a protein powder and used in smoothies, cooking, dessert etc.
Drumstick Tree is also high in vitamins and minerals. A few leaves will provide you will all your daily required vitamin A.
Eat Moringa oleifera leaves fresh from the bush, steam them for greens, add to stir fries, curries, stews…. Pickle them, add them to soup and smoothies, sprout the seeds and use the roots as horseradish. Eat the flowers and decorate your meals, cupcakes and salads with them. Eat a part of Moringa every day!
Its other common name, Horseradish Tree, gives you a hint as to the taste of the roots, and although leaves are quite pleasant; mild and similar to fresh peas, it has a slight mustardy kick as does horseradish. Roots of this tree can be used as horseradish substitute.
I looked far and wide to buy Moringa oleifera plants online, but have not been successful so I’ve grown my own plants from seeds. All Rare Herbs Australia sometimes have Moringa for sale online, but were out of stock at the time of writing.
Seeds are easier to find, and I purchased mine from moringa-oleifera.com.au. I chose the PKM1 version instead of the standard version. Moringa PKM1 is a variety with commercial viability; long fleshy pods, rich oil content, lots of foliage, fast growing with early fruit set, and the highest yield of drumsticks.
3. Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) – 33%
Fenugreek, also known as Cow’s Horn and Greek Hay, is a highly esteemed herb the world over. It has long since been regarded as a cure-all herb, particularly for its cleansing actions.
Fenugreek is a great blood, liver and lymphatic system cleanser, useful for clearing mucus congestion when you have a cold, great for soothing the stomach lining and flushes out toxins.
Drink Fenugreek as a tea; 1 teaspoon of seeds to 1 cup of boiling water. You can drink up to 3 cups a day, and the tea is particularly useful as digestive aid (drink a cup before meals). If you are pregnant or have other conditions, please contact your practitioner before taking Fenugreek.
As a dedoction, Fenugreek is beneficial for kicking a head cold. Boil 1 teaspoon of lightly crushed seed in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes. Use it as a vapour inhaler, by covering your head with a tea towel and inhaling the steam. The addition of eucalyptus or tea tree is great as well.
For the difference between infusions and dedoctions, how to make these preparations, and a full list of over 100 herbs and how to use them check out my article: infusion or dedoction? How to prepare over 100 herbs
Fenugreek can be grown in the garden and in pots, but they are also particularly useful as sprouted seed. A simple homemade sprouter (glass jar with mesh over the top, soak overnight, then rinse at least 3 times daily and drain) on your kitchen bench or window sill, and you’ll have endless supplies of super nutritious Fenugreek sprouts.
In the garden Fenugreek is an annual bush to around 60cm tall. It prefers the cooler climates, but can be successfully grown in warmer climates in the cooler seasons; sow the seed from April to June. Choose non-hybrid seed and save the seed for next season – perpetual supply for free.
Fenugreek is easily grown from seed and germinates in about 1 week. After 2-4 months you’ll have lovely scented, pea shaped flowers, followed by long pods with tiny seeds inside.
In the garden, Fenugreek will fix your nitrogen levels, makes an excellent soil improver and mulch, and grows well in sloping areas. And did I mention it has a stunning 33% protein?
4. Kang Kong (Ipomoea aquatica) – 31%
Kang Kong is my favourite spinach substitute here in the tropics. Spinach does not grow well in warmer climates so we look for other, more unusual, types of plants and herbs that perform well in warm climates.
There’s no point struggling with a plant that really does not appreciate the humidity and heat! Better go with your climate and find suitable plant varieties. Especially since there are so many fantastic herbs and plants out there.
Kang Kong is also known as Chinese Watercress and Water Spinach. Water Spinach seems a particularly suitable name, as this plant adores water. I have my plants growing in general soil, but with bowls of water next to it as the stems (which will trail over the side of the pot) love the water and grow abundant new roots at leaf nodes.
These stems with new roots can be cut off and replanted to grow more Kang Kong plants elsewhere. They are easily grown from seed (I love Green Harvest for their exceptional quality seeds) and sprout in 1-2 weeks. Once they sprout they are an immensely fast growing plant!
If you plant them in nice, rich soil with plenty of water (or in a puddle!) they will outgrow most other garden plants. They don’t grow particularly tall, but will trail far and wide.
Kang Kong is part of the Sweet Potato family (Ipomoea). It is grown commercially in many asian countries, in flooded fields (told you it loves water). You can grow Kang Kong year-round in the warm areas, but in temperate climates only in the warm seasons.
Kang Kong is particularly useful for its amazing 31% protein content, but also provides an array of amino acids, vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron and potassium.
Eat the leaves raw (they are yummy and very mild in flavour, great spinach substitute), in salads, on sandwiches, stir fries, curries, soups, stews, smoothies, juice them – endless opportunity here.
5. Queensland Greens (Hibiscus manihot)
Ah, finally we get to one of my very favourite protein rich plants to grow yourself! Queensland Greens is awesome. Full stop. It grows super fast, easily, has great big leaves and tastes pretty good for such a nutritious green. Also known as Aibika, Hibiscus Spinach, and Bele.
It’s a perennial, ever green, and grows 1-3m tall. It gets to that size very quickly too. It has very big, beautiful lush, deep green foliage. Foliage comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, from finger shape to nearly fully round, and in a green stem and red stem variation. I have both green and red, and both grow equally well and taste the same.
Queensland Greens was described by Bruce French in his book “Food Plants of Papua New Guinea” as
“the most important, edible, leafy green in coastal areas of New Guinea”.
It won’t mind whether you plant it in full sun or shade, performs equally well in moist soil as it does in dry soil and is altogether non-fussy. Ideal conditions are nice rich soil, plenty of mulch, some protection from harsh afternoon sun, and plenty of water.
Queensland Greens has a very decent 29% protein!
Just be careful though, as they do have a shallow root system so tend to fall over in the wet season! If this was to happen to your Aibika plant, don’t worry. Just stand it back up, pile soil around the root base to hold it up or hammer a star picket or big stick in for support. Take some cuttings at the same time just to be sure – cuttings are super easy to sprout and they’ll guarantee you’ll always have Queensland Greens in your garden!
I hope you enjoyed reading about these high-protein power plants! I’m working on another article, call it ‘part 2’, with 5 more usual plants which are high in protein; Comfrey, Chickweed, Dandelion, Nettle and Alfalfa. Subscribe today so you don’t miss out when it comes out!
As always, I recommend the book ‘How can I use Herbs in my Daily Life’ by Isabell Shipard. This book is the most incredible resource for anyone wanting to grow herbs and use them in home remedies and herbal preparation. It includes over 500 herbs (!!), spices and edible plants and is written for Australia!