Monday, 19 November 2012



We all want to live long healthy lives, so what we eat is extremely important. Research is giving us the information on the health aspects of most edible plants to allow us to select the best types to grow in our garden. Plants previously thought of as a bit common, e.g. rhubarb, kale, broad beans and beetroot are now almost elevated to superfood status, so lets have a look at a few crops that will help to keep us in good health. I tried to select my best six, then it went to my top ten, but that still left out too many others and we tend to grow more of those we just love to eat like rasps and strawberries. Looking at my crops for this year I have grown a range of about twenty different vegetables and fourteen different soft and top fruit. All of them have beneficial properties but some have a wider range and varying amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
I will mention a few of my favourites here, though not in any order.

Beetroot was traditionally pickled, but today it is now gaining its place as a delicious savoury, spicy chutney and it makes one of my favourite soups. Its red colour is full of antioxidants and vitamin C as well as potassium, sodium and magnesium. This has shown to lower blood pressure and has beneficial affects for cardiovascular health. Grow enough to last from early summer till late winter, though soups and savouries can be frozen.

Rhubarb is one of the easiest crops to grow. Usually planted in a shady spot next to the compost heap giving it plenty moisture and gross feeding which it thrives on. Give it an annual dressing of fertiliser and some compost and make sure it is well watered in summer. You can leave it alone for at least five years. Use it stewed in puddings or for pies, crumbles and compote, or blend with figs for a delicious jam.
It is high in calcium and potassium and antioxidants. When cooked it releases high levels of polyphenols which may have a beneficial affect against some cancers. It is high in fibres which help sufferers with high cholesterol.

Apples are quickly becoming an essential plant for the family garden to encourage children into leisure gardening. Modern dwarfing rootstocks now give us very small trees to fit in any garden, but having normal sized fruit. Popular varieties such as Katy, Scrumptious, Discovery, Fiesta and Red Devil are very reliable croppers with disease resisting foliage with sweet fruit full of flavour. The high levels of pectin in apples helps to lower bad cholesterol, and the fruit is high in boron and a range of flavanoids which helps to strengthen bones.

Tomatoes grown in your own greenhouse and picked when fully ripe have a taste far superior to  anything bought in a supermarket which is harvested unripe so it can travel without being damaged, and last a long time on a shelf. Tomatoes are delicious picked fresh off the vine, added to salads dressed with olive oil, or cooked in pizzas and soups. They contain vitamin A, E and C, potassium, and a wide range of antioxidants which help to reduce the risk of prostate and pancreatic cancer, and heart disease.

Swiss Chard and Kale together with broccoli are at the top of the green leafy vegetables for healthy eating. They are very high in fibre, vitamins and an excellent source of the minerals calcium, potassium and manganese as well as beta-carotene an antioxidant having beneficial effects against heart disease, cancer and age related problems. Kale can be used in soups, stews, added to stir fries and pastas. Swiss chard is used the same way and has a similar range of health benefits as well as iron and the vitamins A, C and K.

Saskatoons, Aronias and Blackcurrants are three black berries very high in anthocyanin, an antioxidant and vitamin C. These are very important in maintaining good health for vision, heart, aging, urinary tract and brain. They are all very easy to grow and can be eaten fresh from the bush or in jams, compote, smoothies, drinks and summer puddings. The new blackcurrant Big Ben has been bred for large fruit for eating off the bush. Aronias, also known as the chokeberry, have a slight astringency so are best cooked or added to other fruit recipes, but they have one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any recorded fruit and are packed with minerals and vitamins.
They also all make a terrific wine that retains its high levels of antioxidants.

Plant of the week

Coral bark maple, Acer palmatum Sangokaku is a large shrub or very small Japanese maple tree. It is very attractive all year round, but is brilliant in autumn with fiery orange foliage, then after leaf fall its coral pink bark just glistens in the sun. Plant it in a sheltered spot in sun or partial shade away from winds in soil that is well drained but retains moisture. It is not fast growing at first but once established it can easily put on a couple of feet per year. I grow mine in my coloured stem border in the winter garden.


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