Yes, there are SOME edibles that do just fine with part shade. Please note: when I say “edibles” and “part-shade” in the same sentence, I mean that the area still gets a solid 4-6 hours of sunlight a day — for really deep shade, you’ll have to be a little more creative about your definition of “edible.”
Fruits (all of these are perennials):
Cranberries (warning: requires acid soil)
Serviceberries (also called Juneberries)
Notes about fruits:
I planted 40 alpine strawberry plants as well as a currant bush in May ’10. The alpine strawberries were wonderful, and fruited in a few different light scenarios. The plants get to be about 6″ tall, so they work great as a border. I’ve heard that they are difficult to start from seed, so I purchased mine at the Friends School Plant Sale. They were very inexpensive. I’ve also read that they will not set fruit in deep shade, so be aware of the note above.
I also planted lingonberries, but I think I will have to move them to a full-sun area, if they even survived the winter. They looked pathetic the whole year. My dreams of lingonberry pancakes may not ever come true, alas.
The currant did all right, though it stayed quite small, which is another good thing to note: in part shade, bush-type plants will not reach the size listed on their plant tags, so don’t worry if they are slightly more crowded than indicated.
Vegetables that can thrive in part-shade (aim for 4-6 hours of sunlight):
Sorrel (a perennial green)
Vegetables that can tolerate light shade (aim for 6-8 hours of sunlight):
Notes about vegetables:
I got this list from a fellow Master Gardener. I’m a little skeptical, especially about the root crops like carrots, beets, and turnips. Greens work great in part-shade, though; it keeps them from bolting too fast. I will consult this list when I add new raised beds in my partially-shaded back yard this spring and record how it goes.
UDPATE, April 19, 2013: I’ve separated the list above into two categories. Really, I’ve realized that only greens can tolerate a low level of sunlight. Root vegetables need a solid 6 hours.
Parsley (curly- and flat-leaf varieties)
Fennel (bulbs will be very small)
My cilantro, parsley, fennel and dill have all been re-seeding themselves and coming back, all over the yard, in several different lighting situations. I have so much parsley that I actually use it in place of lettuce sometimes.
Mint can be rather invasive so planting it in heavy shade helps control it. We planted mint in a VERY shady spot last year and it did very well. I plan to expand that operation this year.
Deep shade edibles:
I’ve not tried mushrooms or ramps, so I’ll have to get back to you on that.
This is by no means a complete list. Anyone have anything else to add?
Update, 2/21/2011: Edible Hostas? Interesting idea, Renee!
Update 2, 2/21/2011: Nice timing. Emily Tepe, of the U of M Edible Landscaping blog, has just posted links to several University Extension Office publications about how to grow several different fruits, along with recommended cultivars. Currants/gooseberries | Blueberries