35 Exotic Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs

Try your hand at growing this unusual collection of edibles that hail from countries all over the world.

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Broccoli Romanesco

Romanesco looks a little like a cactus, with tight clusters of bright-green cone-shaped heads. The taste is said to be milder than regular broccoli, with a delicious nuttiness. Also called Romanesque cauliflower, this veggie is a cool season crop that will bolt in the summer heat—gardeners in climates with hot summers should plant in late summer to early fall for best results.

Cucumber, Mexican Sour Gherkin

This mini cuke, 'Mexican Sour Cherkin,' has a tangy taste that’s a mixture of sour and sweet. The cucumbers grow to about one inch and are ready in  60 to 70 days. Try the plants in hanging baskets or support them on trellises.

Brokali 'Apollo' Hybrid

Tender and sweet, Brokali 'Apollo' is a cross between Calabrese broccoli and kale. The side shoots are just as flavorful as the tops. Expect to harvest this gourmet green in 50 to 60 days from sowing. 

Watermelon Radish

Watermelon radishes, also called red daikon, get their name from their pink to white exterior and vibrant magenta flesh. Watermelon radishes have a milder, sweeter flavor than other radish types. The heirloom Chinese radish grows best in cool weather, making it an excellent fall or winter crop.

Carrot 'Dragon'

With their reddish-purple skins and yellow-orange interiors, 'Dragon' carrots are unusual and beautiful. Ready in 90 days from sowing, they have a sweet-to-spicy flavor.

Kalettes Collection

Bicolored Kalettes are a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts and have a nutty-sweet taste. This collection from Johnny's Selected Seeds includes 3 varieties that mature throughout the season for an extended harvest.

Kale, Tronchuda Beira Hybrid

Vigorous and easy to grow, 'Tronchuda Beira,' a hybrid kale, tolerates more heat than most kales. The five-pound heads, which are ready in 50 to 60 days, have paddle-shaped, blue-green leaves up to 24” wide. They taste mild, tender, and sweet.

Red Perilla

Perilla, also called shiso, is an herb from the mint family. Red perilla has an anise-like flavor, while green perilla tastes more like cinnamon. In Japan, green perilla is used in sushi, soups, and tempura, or added to rice. In Korea, a larger variety is marinated and used as a wrap for barbecue or eaten raw in salads. Plant the seeds in spring and allow about 70 days to harvest.

Napa Cabbage

Napa cabbage, also called Chinese cabbage, produces dark green, thick leaves. Young, tender leaves and stalks are excellent for salad mixes and stir-fry dishes. A cool-weather crop, sow seeds 4-6 weeks before the average last frost date.

Pak Choi 'Shanghai'

Popular in South China, Pak Choi 'Shanghai', a green-stemmed variety of bok choy is tender and tasty. The plants are prolific and heat-tolerant. Saute it with garlic and soy sauce, or snip the leaves to add to salads. This "baby" choy can take light frosts.

Garlic 'Pskem River'

Uzbekistan is the home of this flavorful, hardneck garlic, 'Pskem River.' Each bulb produces 4 to 5 cloves with purple marbling. The cloves keep a long time in storage.

Chinese Flowering Leek

Chinese flowering leek is a perennial used for its flower buds, stems and long, flattened leaves. It's used by Asian chefs to add a subtle garlic and onion flavor to foods. The flowers usually take two years to appear; the plants need low temperatures in the winter and long growing days in the summer. Use this herb in stir-fry dishes or salads.

Winter Squash 'Delica'

'Delica' is smaller than most winter squash and easier to clean. Also called a kabocha—or Japanese pumpkin—'Delica' has a rich flavor said to resemble that of butternut squash or sweet potatoes. Roast them with a little olive oil and salt, stuff or boil them, or make them into tempura. They're ready to harvest in 45-47 days.

'Thai Dragon' Pepper

The 'Thai Dragon' pepper is about twice as hot as a Tabasco pepper and can be picked or left on the plant to dry. The pungent, red fruits mature in 70 to 80 days. They're used not only in Asian cuisine, but as ornamentals in the garden.


Ginger grows readily, but unless you live in zone 9 or 10, frost can spell the end of your ginger plant when the weather gets cold. Ginger planted in a pot can be kept indoors all year long or moved outside when the weather warms up.

Coriander and Cilantro

Coriander is considered both an herb and a spice since both its leaves and its seeds are used as a seasoning condiment. It is a popular ingredient in Asian and Latin American cuisine. Cilantro, fresh coriander leaves, have a strong fragrance and taste. Cilantro bolts quickly in the heat, so plant in the spring or fall. To harvest coriander, cut off the seed heads once the plant browns and place in a paper bag until the seeds dry.


Lemongrass is an herb with a tangy lemon flavor and scent. It can be rooted and grown easily from an existing plant bought at the grocery store or farmers' market—just put the stalk in a jar of water, changing the water daily until the roots are about 2 inches. 


There are two types of fennel: 'Florence' and the herb. Florence fennel is grown for its aniseed-flavored root. The herb is grown to add tang to salads. The plant looks great, too—it has wispy foliage that can grow to 5-feet tall, depending on the variety. Though it is grown as an annual in cooler northern climates, fennel self-seeds easily, so warm climates can expect to see the plants pop up in their gardens the following growing season.

Greens, Salt Wort

Add young, tender 'Salt Wort' greens to salads or sushi. The Japanese name means “land seaweed.” Nutrient-packed and succulent, the leaves grow on sprawling plants that reach 20 inches high with a 25-inch spread.

Thai Basil

Thai basil is a compact plant with narrow, deeply veined, anise-scented leaves that are widely used in Thai cooking. Smaller than sweet basil, squeeze it into your containers if you're looking for something different.

Chinese Daikon Radish

Daikon radishes, also called white radishes, can grow well over a foot long. Like its other radish cousins, daikons have a spicy, tart taste. They can be chopped up and added to salads, stir-fries and even pickled. Plant seeds in loose, deep soil as soon as the ground can be worked—daikon radishes need 60-70 days to fully mature. Keep the plants well-watered throughout the growing period. Because of their cool-weather requirements (they grow best in temperatures below 80 degrees), try growing daikons as a fall crop rather than a spring crop.

Chinese Mustard

Oriental mustard greens, also called Chinese mustard, are very popular in Chinese and Vietnamese cooking and pickling. They grow best in temperate, cool climates and can be grown as fall and winter crops. Mustard has a mild flavor that will increase in pungency in maturity.

Asian Pear Tree

Asian pears are a common ingredient in Korean barbecue marinades and are tasty additions to cole slaw, compotes and other dishes. Often called apple pears because of their round shape, this fruit does not soften like a Bartlett pear but is crisp in texture and sweet and juicy when ripe. Plus they provide a striking visual accent to your yard when they are flowering.


This sweet and scaly fruit is about as weird-looking as it gets. Native to Mexico and Central and South America, the dragonfruit plant (pitaya) is part of the cactus family and grows best in tropical or subtropical climates. The fruit can be pink, red or yellow, and its red or white flesh, dotted with small black seeds is almost as strange-looking as its scaly exterior.

Bean 'Red Noodle'

Also known as Asparagus beans, Yard long beans, and Chinese long beans, 'Red Noodle' beans grown to 22 inches long. They’re known botanically as Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis. The plants are vigorous and heat-tolerant. Beans are ready to harvest in 50 to 80 days.


Guava plants will be the star attraction when grown in a bright sunroom. The tropical tree needs plenty of space, light and warmth. Unless you live in a climate with warm winters, bring the plant inside during late fall. Ripe guavas have a sweet, minty, pineapple flavor.


Native to China, kumquats are a slow-growing citrus. Fruits are small and egg-shaped with sweet skins and sour flesh. Kumquat trees are hardy in zones 8-10, but able to withstand temperatures as low as 20 degrees F. In cooler climates, they are best grown as container trees that get brought inside during winter. Kumquats typically produce fruits starting in the fall, continuing through early spring.


Calamondin are a small citrus with fruits that taste like a sour tangerine. The skin can also be eaten and is sweet, balancing out the sourness of the fruit. They are easy to grow and can be kept indoors, but prefer to be grown outdoors, if climate permits, in full sun to part shade.


Kohlrabi, which translates to "turnip cabbage" in German, is a small, sputnik-shaped green or purple member of the Brassica family. It can be eaten raw or cooked, and tastes a lot like broccoli stems. Purple varieties are slower to mature, but hardier. For a fall harvest, sow seeds in late summer; for spring harvests, sow seeds a few weeks before your last average frost date.


Jerusalem artichokes, called sunchokes, look similar to ginger roots, with light brown skin which may be tinged with color depending on the soil they are grown in. Sunchokes are better-adapted to the cooler climates of the northern United States. The tuber tastes similar to a water chestnut and can be eaten fresh or pickled.


Tomatillos are actually more closely related to the gooseberry than the tomato. The main ingredient in salsa verde ("verde" meaning "green" in Spanish), these Mexican natives grow easily in hot sun and rich soil. The fruits are encased in a papery "shell" that grow prolifically along the plant's stems. Like tomatoes, remember to plant deep for best results. Image courtesy of HGTVGardens community member SunshineDaydreams

Goji Berry

Goji berries come from a shrub that's native to China. These undemanding shrubs, which are hardy in zones 5 to 9, thrive in full sun. The flowers start opening in early summer and form juicy fruits that taste somewhat bitter until they’re completely ripe. It’s best to let them stay on the vines for several weeks before harvesting.

Lettuce 'Yugoslavian Red'

Mild-flavored ‘Yugoslavian Red’ lettuce forms loose heads with green leaves tinted with red. Inside, the heads have white centers. This butterhead lettuce grows to 12 inches in diameter in about 55 days from planting.

Sweet Leaf Stevia

The leaves 'Sweet Leaf' stevia are a natural sweetener--as much as 30 times sweeter than sugar. Dry them in the sun, and then powder and store them in airtight containers for later use. Expect a single plant to yield up to a half-pound of dried leaves.

'Galeux D'Eysines'

Don't let the warty skin of this heirloom winter squash, 'Galeux d'Eysines', fool you—its orange flesh is sweet and delicious when baked or used in soups. Each  fruit weighs 10 to 15 pounds and can be stored up to 6 months.

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