Monday, 14 January 2013



Our generation benefits from modern technology where it is relatively easy to research any aspect of everything we ever wanted to know from the internet. Television has also given us fantastic enlightenment on the foods we grow and eat, as well as how best to live a healthy lifestyle, and what happens when we stray off the recommended path. We get bombarded with warnings of the effects of too much sugar, smoking, alcohol and drugs, (Brian Cox did an excellent TV series on that) and to increase our intake of fresh fruit and vegetables to improve our health. However the latest revelation is that modern crop breeding in the past has been concentrating on everything concerned with producing heavier crops, more pest and disease resistance, and produce that is uniform and long lasting on a supermarket shelf. The health benefits, vitamin and mineral content and other aspects that give us a better plant to eat have been ignored. Scientists and plant breeders are now addressing this problem and in future we will all benefit from healthier fruit and vegetables. While deciding what fruit and vegetables to grow I am very aware that I should go for those with the healthiest attributes. This is why I make sure I grow a lot of fruit with a predominance of black and purple colours, and although our local raspberry may not be black, it scored very highly in health ratings.
My healthy fruits include chokeberries, blackcurrants, saskatoons, blueberries, brambles and black grapes.
The dark colour of these berries is caused by the very high levels of anthocyanin, an antioxidant. The fruits are also packed with dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. Research on the health benefits of these fruits is still ongoing, but results to date are very encouraging. Antioxidants prevent free radicals from damaging cell components. These plus the other vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre  assist the fight against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, alzheimer’s disease, reduce the absorption of high cholesterol, and can delay macular degeneration.

Chokeberries are not very common at the moment but they produce one of the healthiest fruits on the planet, and once this is realised everyone who wants a healthy lifestyle will want to grow a few bushes. Research has shown them to be one of the best superfoods because of their very high levels of anthocyanin an antioxidant(1480 mgs per 100gms) high levels of dietary fibre, plus vitamins A, C and E and the minerals potassium, iron and manganese.
However chokeberries are too astringent to eat in any quantity straight off the bush but can be juiced, cooked, added to compote, yoghurts and makes a delicious jam. They also make a heavenly wine, but I have no knowledge at this stage of just how healthy my wine is though red wine taken in moderation is said to have health benefits.

Blackcurrants may only have half the level of anthocyanin, but at over 700 mg per 100gms they are still very high. They are also high in vitamins, dietary fibre and minerals similar to chokeberries plus calcium and zinc. Plant breeders have now produced plants with very large sweet fruit aimed at the fresh fruit market. This is the best way to use this fruit as none of the goodness is lost in the cooking process, but go easy when adding them to dairy products such as cream or yoghurts as it has been shown that this can reduce the absorption of the antioxidants.

Saskatoons are also very high in anthocyanin (562mgs per 100gms) plus high levels of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. The berries can be eaten fresh off the bush in season, usually July, and frozen for future use in compote, summer puddings, juices, added to cereals, yoghurts and cooked in cakes, oaties and jams. It also makes a fantastic deep red wine.

Blueberries, Brambles and Black grapes have similar properties to the above (blueberries have 386mgs per 100gms anthocyanin) though each one will have different amounts of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. However they will allow you to extend the season of use for fresh healthy fruit from summer till winter. My Black Hamburg grapes last into December in most years. Although I grow some seedless grapes, both my Black Hamburg greenhouse grape and my outdoor black grape Brant have pips in them, but now we find that these seeds are packed with goodness. So instead of discarding these pips as a nuisance, give them a wee crunch and swallow them. They are anti allergenic, antihistamine and anti inflammatory. They strengthen blood vessels, aid circulation, improve skin elasticity and promote healthy hair.

Plant of the week

Viburnum bodnantense Dawn brightens up the winter months as this is its flowering period, from late autumn till spring. The clusters of pink flowers are strongly scented opening brightly every mild day throughout the winter. This deciduous shrub can grow ten feet tall and as it flowers in winter when there is no leaves on the bush it is best planted in front of some evergreen bushes to give the flowers a background. It flowers best in full sun in Scotland, but is also useful in partial shade as it is a woodland fringe plant enjoying deep fertile moist but well drained soil.


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