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Chinese Vegetables: Warm-Season Varieties

Bitter melon
Bitter melon

Chinese vegetables, sometimes called Oriental vegetables, favored in Chinese and Asian cooking are easy to grow. They are tasty, vigorous, and highly adaptable. Most are fast growing and suitable for small gardens and containers.

Chinese vegetables can generally be broken into three groups: those easy to grow in temperate regions with cool and cold winters, those that require higher temperatures and long-growing seasons–sub-tropical plants, and, finally, a small group of water vegetables, tubers, and herbs.

Like other vegetable crops, Chinese vegetables can be divided into warm-season and cool-season growing crops. Here are common warm-season Chinese vegetables. For cool-season varieties see the article: Chinese Vegetables: Cool-Season Varieties

Warm-season Chinese vegetables:

Vegetable amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus for seed/ Amaranthus tricolor for leaf). Amaranthus tricolor also known as Chinese spinach, edible amaranth, hiyu, and callaloo. Cook greens like spinach. Sow in spring; can be grown in summer. Sensitive to frost; germinates best in warm soil. Sow ¼ inch, row 18 inches apart. Greens ready in 50 days; 100 days for seed. Try varieties: Red Stripe Leaf, Tender Leaf, All Red.

Arrowhead (Sagittaria sagittifolia). Also called Chinese arrowhead, swamp potato, and kuwai. The tubers of arrowhead are eaten; bitter when raw but full-flavored like a nutty sweet potato when cooked. Roast, or boil like a potato. Best grown in boggy soil set about 3 to 6 inches below the surface of the water; leave room for root to grow. Harvest tubers all season long. Store for winter in water garden that will not freeze.

Adzuki bean (Vigna angularis). Also know as aduki bean or red beans and in Japan as azuki. A sweeter flavor than most beans. Young beans can be served like snow peas after brief cooking. Puree after simmering dry beans. Cook dried beans like navy beans–just simmer about 40 minutes until tender. Sow ½ inch deep; sow 2 to 3 inches apart in rows 24 inches apart; no need to thin. For green beans harvest when beans just begin to show in pod; for dried beans allow to mature, about 120 days.

Mung bean (Vigna radiae). Also called Chinese green bean and known in India as green gram or golden gram. Not commonly grown in home gardens; mung beans are easy to sprout and often used for sprouting. Young pods can be eaten like snow peas; shelled beans can be boiled. Sow when danger of frost is past. Sow ½ inch deep and 6 to 8 inches apart in rows 24 inches apart. Grow on pole, fence, or trellis. Harvest immature pods to eat in pods after 90 days; for dried beans, let bean pods dry on plant and harvest at 120 days. Varieties: look for green or golden. For sprouting see article “Vegetable Seeds for Sprouting.”

Yard-long bean (Vigna unguiculata ssp. sesquipedalis). Also called asparagus bean and Chinese long bean, Green beans can be boiled briefly and served; also use in stir-fry. Beans can also be dried. Plant when soil has warmed in spring and no danger of frost. Sow seed ½ inch deep, allow 4 inches between plants. Grow on poles or on teepees. Best harvested when immature when bean has barely swollen in pod. For dry beans harvest about 90 days after sowing. Try varieties: 3-Feet Plus, Chinese Red Noodle Beans, Canton White Pod.

Water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis). Water chestnuts are not nuts but edible roots grown in rich very wet soil; the “chestnuts” form in the mud at the base of stems and are about the size of a walnut. Used for their nutty flavor and crispness. Eat raw or cooked, added at the end of cooking. Slice thin for salads, stir-fry, or add to soup. Grow in soil immersed about three inches below water level. Water chestnuts mature in about six months but can be gathered sooner. Store roots out of water in cool, moist place where they won’t freeze.

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum). Fresh leaves tender and young will add zest to salads also can be minced and sprinkled. Use cilantro at the end of cooking cycle in stews or soups. The seed–called coriander–has a spicy citrus-orange flavor; use to flavor breads, puddings, and pastries. Sow seed from early spring through late summer. Barely cover seeds with soil; thin to 6 inches apart; sow successively for fresh cuttings. Leaves are ready for harvest in 50 days, seeds in 90 to 100 or more days. Try varieties: Asia Choice, Glory TW, Slow Bolt Winner.

Asian cucumber (Cucumis sativus). Also called Chinese cucumber or long cucumber; burpless cucumbers. Served sliced and marinated, stuffed, sautéed or cooked with other vegetables and meats. Sow when ground is warm in spring. Sow seed ½ inch deep, thin to 12 inches apart. Grow on trellis or fence. Harvest frequently, daily is best. Harvest 60 days after sowing. Try varieties: Hybrid Crisp Winner, Hybrid Malai, Hybrid White Star.

Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva). Flower buds are eaten fresh and dried, sometimes served as “golden needles.” Buds are cut into lengths to serve with meat and vegetables; stir-fry or cook tempura-style. Daylilies grow from fleshy tuberous roots. To plant, set fleshy roots just below soil level, dig in compost and water well. Harvest buds when they are plump but before they open. Fleshy roots and young leaves can also be eaten. Varieties: look for Hemerocallis fulva and Lilium lancifolium.

Chinese eggplant (Solanum melongena). Also called aubergine. Asian eggplant is not bitter and does not need peeling. Serve fried, baked, or roasted or stuffed and roasted; also can be pickled. Eggplants require a long, warm season; usually started indoors a month before setting out; do not set out until the weather is warm and settled at least two weeks after the last frost. Sow ½ inch deep. Requires side-dress feeding and regular, deep watering during the season. Ready for harvest 60 to 75 days after transplanting into the garden; best picked immature when skin is glossy and smooth. Try varieties: Ping Tung, Hybrid Purple Excel, Ma-Zu Purple.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale). Grown as a spice: use ginger root with main dishes and desserts, salad or stews. Ginger adds zest to many meat dishes; it eliminates fishy odors or seafood. Best started from root indoors and planted outdoors in late spring when all danger of frost has passed. Start new planting from a clean root cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces with at least one “eye” per section. Plant 2 inches deep in a 6-inch pot. Plant will develop numerous reedy shoots. Harvest shoots anytime after plant is 3 inches high. Harvest immature, rosy-pink roots as “green ginger” in three to four months. Mature roots can be dug up after the plan has died back.

Fuzzy gourd (Benincasa hispida var. chieh-gua). Outside coat is fuzzy like a peach and must be removed. Also called hairy melon, hairy gourd, and hairy cucumber. Eaten like a vegetable rather than a fruit; use in the same ways as yellow summer squash and zucchini for soup, bread, casseroles, and stir-frying. Sow seed 1 inch deep, 2 inches apart next to a pole or trellis; must be staked so fruits hang. Harvest in 75 to 80 days. Try varieties: Severn Star Long, Chiang Shin Joker, Fuzzy Star RF1 Hybrid.

Chinese lotus (Nelumbo nucifera). Also called Chinese lotus or sacred lotus, different from Egyptian lotus (Nymphaea lotus) or water lily. All parts of Chinese lotus are edible raw or cooked. Add leaves to salad, add petals to cold soup or use as salad garnish; add sliced roots to other vegetables raw or dip in batter and fry as tempura. Grow from rhizome in full sun; set rhizome in horizontal position sprouts will point upward at a slight angle. A single plant requires a 25 gallon container and will grow to fill space. Set root in pot with from 6 to 10 inches of warm water above the soil line. Once planted keep in warm, not cold, water. Growing season from late spring to early autumn. Buds, flowers, and seedpods all come to harvest at the same time. Root can grow to 4 feet and can be harvested in segments; break apart roots to store in winter. Store in winter where roots will not freeze.

Luffa (Luffa acutangula, L. cylindrical). The leaves and flower buds are edible when young; the fruit is edible when immature. Prepare the fruit like zucchini: simmer, stir-fry, stuff. Sow after the soil warms in spring; luffa requires a long, warm season of 115 days from sowing to harvest. Sow 1 inch deep; sow two or three seeds every 3 feet and thin to the strongest plant. Side-dress with an all-purpose fertilizer every three weeks and keep well watered. Ready for picking when gourds are 4 to 6 inches long. Try varieties: L. acutangula: Summer Long, Hybrid Green Glory; for L. cylindrical: Hybrid Summer Cross, Hybrid Smooth Beauty, Southern Winner.

Bitter melon (Momordica charantia). Also called bitter gourd, balsam pear, and kerala. This is a fruit eaten as a vegetable. Young leaves can be steamed as greens. Stir-fry or stuff and cook. Sow when danger of frost is past and soil has warmed. Grows best on a fence or trellis. Sow seed 1 inch deep, 6 to 8 inches apart. Side-dress with fish emulsion every three weeks and keep well watered. Pick when fruits are no longer than 6 inches otherwise the flavor will be bitter. Try varieties: Taiwan Large, Hong Kong Green, Hybrid White Pearl.

Pickling melon (Cucumis melon Conomon Group). Use any standard pickle recipe to make sweet or sour pickle, will be ready in a week refrigerated or three months in salt, vinegar, and sugar with chilis. Sow when danger of frost is past. Sow ½ inch deep, 4 inches apart and thin to 8 inches apart. Spreading vine can be grown on trellis. Harvest in 65 days. Try varieties: Green Striped, Shimauri Stripe, Numame Early.

Sweet melon (Cucumis melo). Similar to but better tasting than honeydews and cantaloupes. Use in desserts and fruit salads; very sweet and fragrant. All melons require long, very warm growing season. Sow when soil has warmed in spring; sow in hills of rich soil; four seeds per hills, hills spaced 4 feet apart. Support fruits off ground if possible. Harvest 115 to 130 days from sowing. Try these varieties: Hybrid Gold Sweet, Hybrid Jade King, Hybrid Golden Liner.

Winter melon (Benincasa hispida). Also called white or wax gourd. Use in stir-fried or in seafood curries and often pickled and prepared like pickled watermelon rind. A large oblong or round melon requiring a long, very warm growing season of about 150 days. Sow seed 1 inch deep and 10 inches apart. Try varieties: Hybrid Wonder Wax, Round Tong Gwa, Hybrid Small Round.

Hot pepper (Capsicum frutescens). Hot peppers unlike sweet peppers are not eaten as a vegetable rather they are added to cookery as a seasoning or herb. Grow in the warm season; peppers will not tolerate frost. Sow seeds ½ inch deep in a shallow container to grow on for transplanting out to garden. Sturdy seedlings can go to the garden after weather and soil has warmed. Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in rows 24 inches apart. Peppers can be harvested at almost any stage; color indicated the age of a pepper–green or yellow is early, orange is maturing, red is mature. Allow 65 to 85 days from transplanting for harvest. Try varieties: Chi-Chien, Hybrid Golden Hot, Goat Horn.

Chinese pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima, C. moschata). Also called Oriental pumpkin, Oriental squash, Asian squash, kabotcha. Like winter squash use Chinese pumpkin in soups, pies, pureed, baked or fried. Start indoors 4 weeks before soil warms or sow in place in long, warm growing season regions. Grow in hills near trellis or support. Sow 1 inch deep, three to four feet apart. Require constant moisture. Harvest in 130 days. Try varieties: Asian Gold, Hybrid Papaya Golden, Hybrid Sunday Sweet.

Sesame (Sesamium indicum). Grow sesame for seed to be used as a snack, as a garnish, add to stir-fry dishes or press into crust of pies. Seeds can be toasted in oil to add flavor. Sow plants in spring after soil has warmed; requires a long growing season of 90 to 150 days. Sow seed ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart; thin plants to 3 feet apart. Seedpods burst when ripe, but no all pods burst as the same time. Harvest before leaves and stems start to turn color; begin harvest when bottom seeds begin to turn tan: cut the whole plants and hang upside down in a paper bag. Try varieties: Black Seed, White Seed.

Soybean (Glycine max). Eat as a green vegetable, the Japanese name is edamame, or as a dry bean. A source of soy milk and cheese. Soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans. Green soybeans can be cook in their pods until tender for edamame; shelled green soybeans have a mild, nutty flavor. Soybean sprouts can be used as a fresh vegetable in winter. Sow after the soil has warmed in spring. Sow 1½ inches deep, 5 inches apart, in rows 24 inches apart. Harvest 75 days after sowing for green beans, 115 days after sowing for dry beans. Try varieties: Taiwame, Green Legend, Late Giant Black Seeded.

Violet-stemmed taro (Colocasia esculenta ‘Fontanesii’). Also called black taro and black elephant ear. Violet-stemmed taro is grown mostly for its foliage in Western countries; in Asia plant is grown for its root. Use taro in any potato recipe usually baked; also peel, slice and cook until tender and serve with dressing. Grow in pot of soil immersed in water to about 4 inches from soil to water level; space roots in pot evenly. Foliage will die back in fall, harvest roots then. Store roots in winter at 32°F in cool, moist place; do not let the roots dry out. Other varieties: green taro (Colocasia esculenta) also called dasheen.

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale). Use watercress in sandwiches, cream cheese, yogurt; use as a garnish for hot or cold soup; add sprigs to mixed green salad; use in stir-fry or in tempura. Start seed in early spring for best results. Requires wet feet–cool water. Grow from seeds or sprigs; root springs in fresh water. Just cover seeds with moist soil. Must stay moist through growing cycle; grow in shade. Harvest whenever you like but before flowering; grows to maturity from seed in about 60 days; harvest as early as 10 days.

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  1. The most important spice pepper is Piper nigrum, called pepper or black pepper. Piper nigrum is the source of both black and white pepper, the spices. Piper nigrum is a tender perennial climbing shrub that grows in highly humid tropical regions. The plant grows to 20 feet or more, is woody with twining stems, with broad, oval glossy dark green leaves, and prefers the shade. The plant’s white flower clusters appear in summer and are followed by globular, wrinkled green eventually turning red fruits–when left on the plant. These fruits–called peppercorns–are commonly harvested green and then dried in the sun until the skins turn black and shrivelled; and these are the source of black pepper. White pepper is made by harvesting the fruit after it turns from green to red on the plant, removing the red skins, and then bleaching and drying the skinned fruit in the sun. (Green pepper is made by pickling or freeze-drying the fresh green fruits.) Piper nigrum originated in the Malabar region of southwestern India and today is grown mainly in India, Sarawak, Indonesia, and Brazil. As for China, Piper nigrum will grow best in the most tropical portions of the country during the summer.

Chinese Vegetables: Cool-Season Varieties

How to Grow Hot Peppers