I am grateful for moments of heightened curiosity when excitement and intrigue sparkle and I am drawn into the chase to look for answers. These recent years had been one roller coaster after another, finding answers to growing challenging (cold seasoned) edible plants in our tropical climate.
After strawberries (still an on going search for answers on hybrids), there was wolfberries and now top of my list, is this Oyster Leaf after hearing about its uniqueness from chefs, then tasting a leaf with champagne at a gathering.
Little is known about this salad leaves outside the fine dining circle. In fact, most local growers did not know it. There was no name for this plant in the Chinese seeds catalog.
Ironically, I heard about this the first time from a Australian trained Chinese chef who wanted to try growing it for his own restaurant. Thereafter, an opportunity to try it at a business function. It was an instant favorite! I fell in love with the taste and texture immediately.
This salad leaf had a crunchy bite! Not thick like Romaine heart, but in the bite, there was thickness and crispy feel. Then the oyster taste explodes on the palate. They can be taken without flavoring because the leaves on its own were delicious. In fact, I much preferred them this way. Connoisseurs love them too, they were often paired with seafood or fish dishes.
As an uncommon, sought after vegetable, they were only sold in specialty stores or private greenhouses direct to fine dining restaurants in Britain, at a market price £ 5.50 (GBP) for 30 grams, roughly SGD 320 per kg!
One understands why they cost so much after some research.
In a nutshell, these are “fussy” difficult plants to cultivate and slow to grow. However for the market price they fetched, it is worthwhile to explore for indoor high tech farms looking for delicious niche vegetables for restaurants. An advantage for local growers is that these leaves must be harvested as close to delivery time and destination as possible.
Our family enjoyed tasting salads and vegetables that were not common in supermarkets here. We bridged natural fertilizer such as seaweed or Kelp meal in our nutrients base for our edibles gardens.
NATURAL FERTILIZER FOR SOIL & LIQUID BASE MIX
Here are some notes on Oyster Leaf plants growing conditions –
- Hates moisture, prefer well draining, non compact/heavy soil (similar to rosemary and lavender)
- Avoid letting medium go totally dry before watering ( tip – aim to keep its environment constantly moist)
- Unable to tolerate prolonged sun + heat , prefers part shade (ideal for my apartment’s environment)
- Fragile, usually die upon transplantation
- Needs cold stratification (use strawberries germination method)
- Best harvest early in the day at their most fragrant (morning)
- Discourage flowering as it may reduce leaves’ flavor (reason why seeds are hard to find!)
Our Oyster Leaves’ Journal began on July 13 2018, when a seed germinated in 2 days instead of a month as advised.
Freshness of seeds truly matter for this plant. These seeds were by far the most expensive purchases to date, however viability yield was only 10%. We may have to let our plants bolt in this tropical heat, so that seeds could be harvested.
Be patience when cultivating these plants to acclimatize in our region. It was a slower than snails’ pace from the start till the second month. Seed leaves took a week to develop after germination.
The following pictures tracked how they formed from seeds leaves stage –
From first to second month, the progress was very slow. Some seedlings may failed. As this was our first time and not having any information to fall back on, regarding growth, we did not know why seedlings die yet.
On their second month, their growth development was similar to strawberries. Height of plants, roots development, more leaves formed were all alike. There was a single thin mid section ( I called it the crown like the strawberries’ mid section), which will thicken and multiplied as it matured.
Absolutely delicious fresh oyster tasting leaves with thick crisp texture. Now, I truly appreciate why this salad leaves are sought after by chefs around the world.
As this grew, the mid section or crown thickened and multiply. We harvested leaves from the outer fringe and this seem to prompt new leaves to start from the mid inner section. It looked to be a cut and grow plant.
From the second month, the taste of oyster become more distinct. Interestingly, the taste and smell of oysters changed through the day. In the early morning, it was pleasantly light and sweet. Once the heat is out (late morning) to afternoon, the oyster taste became very strong, akin to eating an oily oyster omelette!
The leaves had some pigmentation, dots of color on the surface and beneath. At first, we thought it was spider mites but fortunately were not the dreaded pests!
Cold climate plants showed the same freckles on leaves so we know this is a normal characteristics of the plant.
Challenges 1 – These plants were not able to tolerate prolonged direct sun. The leaves wilt even in morning sun above 30 degree Celsius. Ideally grown in the shade or bright airy area.
We found that it thrived best in our rainy season when the air was damp, below 28 degree Celsius.
Challenges 2 – Roots had the tendency to drop off when the weather was hot. It was possible to regenerate roots. We do not recommend these plants be grown outdoor in the ground.
Speedy recovery was possible with strawberries’ cooling measures. The following video shared how we used wind to aerate individual reservoir by “rocking” which caused ripples in the liquid base of these cool loving plants.