Living Foods

All members of the animal kingdom must eat other living things in order to survive.

When I was growing up, our plant food was alive. If we wanted sprouts for our salad, we put grocery-bought beans into a bowl with a bit of water, and grew them. Same thing with most grains. When we bought fruit when I was young and planted the seeds, they sprouted - I grew up amidst a small indoor forest of citrus, date and fig trees. I still have a date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) by my livingroom window, grown from a package of dates years ago.

So, I decided to find out if that is still true in our supermarkets of two generations later. Here's what I've tried to grow over the past few months. The successes are in green:


  • pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan)
  • garbanzo bean (Cicer arientinum)
  • soy bean (Glycine max)
  • lentil (Lens culinaris)
  • white bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
  • lima bean (P. lunatus)
  • common pea (Pisum sativum)
  • fava bean (Vicia fava)
  • moth pea (Vigna acontifolia)
  • adzuki bean (V. angularis)
  • mung bean (V. radiata)
  • cow pea (V. unguiculata)
  • black-eyed bean (V. sinensis)


  • amaranth (Amaranthus sp.)
  • brazilnut (Bertholletia excelsa)
  • quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa)
  • buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)
  • barley (Hordeum vulgare)
  • rice (Oryza sativa)
  • millet (Pennesetum glaucum)
  • almond (Prusus dulcis)
  • sesame (Sesamum indicum)
  • wheat (Triticum aestivum)
  • wild rice (Zizania sp.)


  • kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa)
  • pineapple (Ananas comosus, grown from the cut-off top)
  • starfruit (Averrhoa carambola)
  • green pepper (Capsicum annuum)
  • papaya (Carica papaya)
  • lemon (Citrus X limon)
  • grapefruit (C. X paradisi)
  • tangerine (C. reticulata)
  • orange (C. sinensis)
  • cantaloupe (Cucumis melo)
  • cucumber (C. sativus)
  • buttercup squash (Cucurbita maxima)
  • butternut squash (C. moschata)
  • spaghetti squash (C. pepo)
  • quince (Cydonia oblonga)
  • loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)
  • longan (Euphoria longana)
  • fig (Ficus carica)
  • kumquat (Fortunella margarita)
  • okra (Hibiscus esculenta)
  • dragonfruit (Hylocereus undatus)
  • litchi (Litchi chinensis)
  • tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum)
  • apple (Malus sylvestris)
  • mango (Mangifera indica)
  • banana (Musa X paradisiaca)
  • olive (Olea europaea)
  • cactus pear (Opuntia sp.)
  • grenadilla (Passiflora edulis)
  • avocado (Persea americana)
  • ground cherry (Physalis pruinosa)
  • apricot (Prunus armeniaca)
  • plum (P. domestica)
  • peach (P. persica)
  • pomegranate (Punica granatum)
  • pear (Pyrus communis)
  • asian pear (P. pyrifolia)
  • blackberry (Rubus sp.)
  • chayote (Sechium edule)
  • eggplant (Solanum melongena)
  • tamarind (Tamarindus indica)
  • grape (Vitis vinifera)


  • leek (Allium ampeloprasum)
  • onion (A. cepa)
  • garlic (A. sativum)
  • celeriac (Apium graveolens)
  • asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
  • beet (Beta vulgaris)
  • turnip (Brassica rapa)
  • carrot (Daucus carota)
  • aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis)
  • jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus)
  • parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
  • fresh bamboo shoot (Poaceae)
  • radish (Raphanus sativus)
  • potato (Solanum hybrids)
  • water chestnut (Trapa natans)
  • ginger root (Zingiber officinale)

So, lots of things in our supermarkets are still alive. The next question is: how many of them make satisfactory long-term house plants?

I can vouch that all citrus fruits do, also tamarinds and dates. But, every avocado I have grown has simply sent a single spike up until it hits the ceiling; pruning simply results in a split leader, no side branching. So did pomegranate and loquat; in addition pomegranate grew too quickly to support its weight when watered well but dropped all its leaves the moment water was restricted. Perhaps you will have good luck with starfruit; it was too fussy about watering for me. Litchi seems very sensitive as well.

John Sankey
other notes on food

Useful pages:

date palm

passion fruit

a tamarind bean unfolds

starfruit are popular for bonsai but naturally grow to 8 m

asian pear in its third season outside, zone 5a


a kiwifruit vine starts off small but can climb to 15 m

a litchi starts off colourful but soon turns green

a chayote sprouts all by itself

pomegranates have been cultivated since the Bronze Age

the glossy leaves of tangerine

the nursery

every avocado I've tried to grow has headed for the ceiling so fast as to be useless as a houseplant

a real pot of beans!