There are many reasons gardeners like to grow their own food, and one is to supplement a healthy diet. You probably already know that freshly grown fruits and veggies are good for you, but some of these specific health benefits will surprise you!
If you’re struggling to grow your own medicinal herbs, you’ll be happy to know there are plenty of health benefiuts avaialbe from a number of common gardening favourites:
- Blueberries Boost the Brain
- Got Garlic Breath? Try Lettuce or Apples!
- Artichokes can Improve Gut Health
- Potatoes for ... Lots of Things!
- The Anti-Bacterial Properties of Onions
1. Blueberries Boost the Brain
Most berries are well known for their antioxidant properties. But, what’s so great about antioxidants?
Over time, the normal metabolic processes in our body create by-products called free radicals; they build up as we age, but we can also develop them by exposure to cigarette smoke and other kinds of pollution.
A build-up of free radicals can cause oxidative stress, a known precursor to many kinds of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and more.
Antioxidants are sometimes called “free radical scavengers”, as they gobble up extra free radicals before they can wreak havoc on our bodies. Blueberries, in particular, are very high in antioxidants: specifically anthocyanin, the compound that gives blueberries their particular hue.
Beyond all the general health benefits of blueberries, they might be especially important for protecting brain health.
A study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience showed that blueberry supplementation increased brain activity in the areas responsible for working memory in older adults with mild cognitive decline.
2. Got garlic breath? Try Lettuce or Apples!
Would you be willing to chew on raw garlic for the sake of science?
Apparently, the participants of this study, comparing several remedies for garlic breath, didn’t mind.
They were first required to chew 3 grams (a little over ½ tsp) of raw garlic--specifically softneck, in case you were wondering (whether the variety had any significance, I would love to know).
After chewing up the garlic, they were given different foods and drinks to compare their abilities to eliminate or at least mask the foul odours.
While the control was given water to drink, the test group was given apples, lettuce, mint, or green tea. But they subdivided each treatment further: apples were given raw, cooked, and as juice (all in separate trials); lettuce was given raw or heated; the mint was chewed raw and drunk as juice; the green tea was served as… tea.
To measure the differences of the different potential garlic-breath remedies, they used two measures: the “level of deodorization”, a subjective measure of smelliness, as well as a much less-subjective “concentration of volatiles” using a fancy device that you breathe into, and analyses your breath for the specific volatiles (molecules suspended in the air) that cause garlic breath.
As it turns out, the raw apple and raw lettuce performed the best in terms of concentration of volatiles, reducing them by 50%. However, they note that chewing mint leaves had the highest overall deodorizing effect.
3. Artichokes Can Improve Gut Health
Artichokes are good for your health for a number of reasons, but aiding your digestion may be one of its most beneficial characteristics.
Like many vegetables, artichokes contain a good amount of fibre, which helps the digestive system in several ways: not only does it help relieve common issues like constipation and diarrhoea, it can also promote healthy gut bacteria.
So much emphasis has been placed on having a healthy gut or the “right” kind of gut bacteria in recent years that it can be confusing to sort out real medical advice from marketing claims.
Luckily, science does have a few things to say about gut health.
Prebiotics, for example, are defined as compounds from food known to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, such as lactobacillus or bifidobacterium.
Prebiotics are generally indigestible fibres that pass through our intestines, and in the process get eaten up by these healthy bacteria. One such prebiotic is inulin, a compound found abundantly in artichokes.
4. Potatoes For… Lots Of Things!
As an “older Millennial”, I’ll admit I was a bit surprised by the hidden nutritional prowess of the humble potato.
It’s understandable, as people from my generation often see potatoes and think “too many carbs!”, “too starchy!”, or “high GI food.” 90’s diet culture taught me that potatoes were largely nutrient-poor starchy lumps that just spike your blood sugar.
In fact, potatoes (yes, even white ones) are packed with nutrients and have many health benefits.
To quickly debunk some of the common myths about white potatoes: they’re not nutrient-poor, they’re just as healthy as sweet potatoes (albeit in different ways), and the nutrients are not all located in the skin.
And while potatoes do have a healthy amount of (complex!) carbs, that’s no longer considered the diet sin it used to be. As for their GI index, it depends, but it turns out that they may actually help control blood sugar, thanks to resistant starches.
What else? These resistant starches also convert into butyrate, which appears to help promote beneficial gut bacteria and improve digestion. And though more often associated with dark, colourful food, even white-fleshed potatoes have lots of antioxidants.
5. The Anti-Bacterial Properties of Onions
When it comes to health benefits, the onion has always seemed to take a backseat to its more prominent cousin, garlic. But both of these members of the Allium family have health benefits that have been known for centuries; they were often used together to treat a number of common ailments.
They’ve also been subject of some bizarre health claims, such as the officially debunked idea that you should put a bowl of cut-up onions in the room of someone with a cold or the flu because onions can “absorb bacteria.”
One: as I hope everybody knows by this point, colds and flu are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Two: raw onions do not attract or breed bacteria, certainly not from across the room.
What onions can do, however, is kill some really harmful kinds of bacteria. Onions contain quercetin, a flavonoid compound that was found to kill MRSA, a highly drug-resistant strain of bacteria. It was also effective against H. pylori, the bacteria responsible for many kinds of ulcers.
There’s no doubt these popular plants have some pretty impressive medicinal skills. And best of all, you may already be growing some of these superfoods right in your own backyard.
This article was put together by a good friend of The Bircher Bar - Elle. Elle is a permaculture teacher, food forest grower, herbalist, and mother of 2 bush girls. She helps people create self-sufficient homesteads and farms in their own backyard on her blog, Outdoor Happens.