Did you know that there’s a plant that tastes a bit like oysters? Oyster leaf plants are not only delicious but gorgeous, too. They produce blue-green leaves and pink flowers. If you’re open to growing something a little unique, then oyster leaf plants are for you.
Not many people are growing oyster leaf these days. It flies under the radar on many must-have lists. But it’s incredibly delicious and more people are interested in making it a part of their garden.
Sound like you? Then let’s get started!
What Is an Oyster Leaf Plant?
Oyster leaf plants (Mertensia maritima) are perennials in the borage family (Boraginaceae) that form thick, oval-shaped, silver-blue leaves. In late spring and summer, you can also expect to see bunches of bell-shaped pink or purple flowers.
The leaves ripen in late summer, which is when you can harvest and taste their amazing flavor. Normally, during winter the foliage dies, and new shoots will appear in spring, depending on where you live.
You can grow it in USDA Growing Zones 2-9, though it prefers cooler weather so it might not do well in areas with lots of heat. Grow it as an annual during the winter or early spring in warmer regions.
There are two varieties of Mertensia maritima: var. tennella, which grows in Canada, and car. asiatica, which grows in Alaska and northeastern Asia. The original variety grows in Scandanavia, Ireland, and the UK.
It is closely related to Virginia bluebells (M. virginica).
You can also find different names associated with oyster leaf plants depending on where you are in the world. For instance, in Britain and Ireland, it is referred to as sea bluebells. It also goes by oyster plant and oysterleaf.
Due to the unique appearance and unusual taste of this plant, it is becoming more popular in gourmet dishes. Don’t worry that it has a strong oyster flavor, however. It’s faint and more of a hint of oyster rather than an overpowering punch of it. It smells like mushrooms.
No matter where you live in the world, it is easy to grow as long as you follow a few basic steps. You can even grow it indoors if you don’t have the right climate. The next section of this article will cover the planting phase of growing oyster leaf plants.
Planting Oyster Leaf Plant
It’s rare to find transplants for sale and this plant doesn’t transplant well anyway. For those reasons, it’s best to plant by seed.
Once the oyster leaf plant has been planted it doesn’t enjoy being moved around too much. That means you need to either start it indoors in compostable pots or start it outside in its permanent spot.
Sow your seeds outdoors in spring after the last projected frost date. You can also plant in the fall when there is no risk of frost for at least 60 days. Indoors, start them a few weeks before the last projected frost date. Seeds should be 1/4 inch deep.
Oyster leaf can handle bitter cold, but you should avoid exposing it to a freeze when it is young.
The soil should be well-drained and loose as oyster leaf plants don’t like wet roots. This plant tends to grow on rocky coastal shores, so it clearly doesn’t mind sandy or rocky soil. But heavy clay and constant moisture at the root level will harm it.
The area for planting needs to be bright and cool. They need at least four hours of sunlight exposure each day, but protect them from hot afternoon sun.
To make it simple, here is an overview of the planting requirements for oyster leaf plants:
- Don’t plant in soil that is too heavy or poor draining
- Grow in partial shade with protection from afternoon heat
- Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep
- Grow in containers for better control
- Plant in spring or fall
Planting in Containers
Alternatively, you can plant the seeds in a container indoors or outdoors.
You can also grow it indoors as an annual if you have grow lights or a window with at least four hours of direct sunlight.
There are several advantages to growing this plant indoors such as it prevents snails from visiting your plants. In addition to limiting exposure to snails, growing inside also allows you to perfect the soil, temperature, moisture, and light exposure.
Fill a container with potting soil mixed with rice hulls, moss, and sand. Add the seeds and place the container near a window where it will receive morning sun for about four hours.
While oyster leaf isn’t considered invasive, it can spread if you have it in the perfect conditions. Keeping it in a pot outdoors restricts how far it can spread.
Caring for Oyster Leaf Plants
After you’ve carefully sown your seeds, you’ll need to look after your oyster leaf plant. Be cautious about overwatering. Only water your plant if the soil feels dry down at least an inch. Similarly, don’t let the soil dry out too much.
If you have a hot spell coming, keep the plant extra moist and consider placing a shade cloth over it to keep it cool.
Pinch back the stems back regularly as it will help the growing process by encouraging bushy growth.
Side dress with well-rotted compost or manure every four weeks. As well as giving your plant more energy, the compost or manure also helps keep the soil cool during the warm days in summer.
Common Pests and Diseases to Know About
If you’re lucky, you’ll never have to worry about pests and diseases when growing oyster leaf plants. However, even the most experienced gardeners can run into issues with this plant. Thankfully, there isn’t a long list of common problems for oyster leaf plants.
The main pests you need to be aware of are slugs and snails.
A slug repellent is a good way to prevent these pests from coming into your garden and eating the leaves. For more tips, head to our guide on dealing with slugs.
Harvesting Oyster Leaf Plants
Next, it’s the fun part of the growing process – harvesting your oyster leaf plant!
As soon as the leaves reach the size you prefer, you can harvest some of them for use. Gather the leaves in the morning. Often, you’ll get a better taste from leaves that have been harvested in the early hours of the day compared to the evening.
Just remember to never harvest more than a fourth of the plant at one time. Without sufficient leaves, your oyster leaf plant will stop growing. If you want to keep harvesting throughout the year, you should only harvest small amounts at a time.
Eating Oyster Leaf Plant
Oyster leaf plants are excellent plants for people with an interest in cooking. Most people only find this plant growing on sand or beaches, so growing it in your garden will make your plants stand out.
When you first see oyster leaf plants you might mistake them for basil or sage as it has the same oval shape and green color. However, it tastes completely different. When it comes to preparing oyster leaf plants, there are so many different recipes to try.
To make mock oysters, you’ll need a few things to get started. You’ll have to gather salsify, sea salt, whole milk, algin, xanthan gum, oyster leaves, oyster blossoms, and malt vinegar powder.
If you want to try something more simple then the oyster leaf and kale salad is a straightforward way to make the most of your harvest. You can add some lemon, herbs, and even tuna into your salad bowl to enjoy this dish during the summer.
Often, gardening can become repetitive when you buy the same seeds over and over again. That’s why it’s nice to mix it up and try something new every so often. Growing oyster leaf plants in your garden is a fun way to challenge yourself and produce a new thing to try in the kitchen.