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5 a Day Garden Stars

We've chosen these 12 plants as 5 a Day Garden Stars. They are plants that are unusually good for your health and easy to grow in most American backyard gardens. If potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets and other wonderful plants aren't included, no slight is intended. The idea behind the 5 A Day Program is to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. With that said, . . . Here are Dave's distinguished dozen!

ApplesBACK TO GARDEN

Apple trees come in all sizes; from dwarf varieties that produce crops quickly to the full- sized Johnny Appleseed type trees that are slower to produce a crop but continue producing for up to 100 years. Traditionally Americans have loved apples and many families had 3 or 4 trees in their yard that ripened at different times to ensure a nearly continual supply of fruit. Apple trees can provide you with shade and fragrant blooms in addition to the apples.

Apples earned our 5 a Day Star with their combination of delicious sweet flavor and crisp texture in a convenient serving size package. Apples contain plenty of fiber, including pectin, a soluble fiber that can help keep cholesterol levels down. The apple skin is rich in the antioxidant, quercitin, which fights cancer and heart disease, so wash your apples well, but don't peel them. "An apple a day, keeps the doctor away. "

BeansBACK TO GARDEN

Beans originated in the highlands of Mexico where they have been cultivated for about 7,000 years. Beans, and related plants in the legume family that includes soybeans, lima beans, peas and black-eyed peas, have a unique value in the garden. They can improve soil fertility because a microorganism, called rhizobia, bonds to the bean root and converts nitrogen from the air into a form that is usable to plants. To take full advantage of this you should coat bean seeds with rhizobia inoculant before planting. The inoculant is available from garden stores or seed catalogs. Bean plants can mold in humid weather and sometimes lose their flowers if summer heat gets excessive, but in general, they are easily grown, productive members of the garden.

Beans can be eaten as immature pods, as immature shell beans, or as fully mature dried beans. In Africa young leaves from bean and black-eye pea plants are important vegetables. Dried beans will keep for up to a year and can supply more protein than any other garden plant. Beans have plenty of soluble fiber that works to lower cholesterol and your risk of heart disease. Beans, and especially soybeans are also excellent sources of isoflavones that are effective at neutralizing hormones linked to breast and prostate cancer. Beans also contain saponins, lignans and protease inhibitors that fight cancer development in other ways.

BlackberriesBACK TO GARDEN

Blackberry plants defend their fruit well with recurved thorns. They make good protective hedges and fences. If you'd rather avoid any blood loss in harvesting, their are now many thornless varieties available for backyard gardens, including two new varieties 'Black Butte' and 'Siskiyou' that have huge berries. For the most part the wild berries have a better flavor, but are also somewhat seedier.

Whether you pick them wild at the edge of fields and forest or grow your own, blackberries deserve a place at the table. Blackberries, and their cousins raspberries, are low in calories and rich in vitamin C. They are the second best source of antioxidant activity among fruits and vegetables tested by the USDA (behind blueberries). This means they are vigilant defenders against free radicals that can damage your body's tissues and lead to cancer and heart disease. Ellagic acid, the key antioxidant in blackberries, is stable even when heated in cobblers, pies, and jam. Blackberries are also easy to freeze by laying them out on a cookie sheet in the freezer until solid then storing in an airtight container. This keeps them from freezing into one solid block. You can freeze them for later but the flavor of fresh picked berries is hard to beat.

BlueberriesBACK TO GARDEN

Blueberries, along with cranberries, are members of the small group of food plants that are native to North America. Because of this they co-evolved with the native population of pests and diseases and are less prone to attack than most introduced food plants. Blueberries require very acidic soil that is rich in organic matter and always moist. The biggest problem for many growers is that birds are as fond of blueberries as people.

The most common varieties of blueberries are; high bush (very cold hardy and about 8' high); low bush (under 2' high and basically a groundcover type plant); and rabbit-eye (specially developed for warm winter areas where the other varieties won't produce). Blueberries are handsome plants year round, with and explosion of small bell-shaped white flowers in the spring and berries that gradually turn from green to red to blue. Once established, they can produce for 20 years or more.

Blueberries are powerful foods, with a rich assortment of antioxidants, vitamin C, pectin, and potassium. Blueberries can help protect against cancer, inflammation and infections, especially urinary tract infections. Best of all they taste great in pancakes or smoothies or out of the hand.

They are an incredibly healthy food that almost all kids are happy to eat.

BroccoliBACK TO GARDEN

Broccoli is a member of the brassica or cabbage family that came to America from Italy. Like all members of that family it prefers growing in loose, rich soil with adequate nitrogen and calcium. It does best in cool weather and is usually grown in the early spring. In some locations a fall crop can be started in late summer, but it will bolt or prematurely flower in hot weather. If you see little white moths hovering around your broccoli plants, you will soon have voracious green cabbage worms eating away at your broccoli. These can be controlled with BT, a safe organic biological insecticide, often marketed as 'Dipel.'

When you grow your own broccoli you can harvest dozens of smaller florets that will keep shooting up after the central stalk is cut. You can also use young broccoli leaves as greens. They are nearly identical to collard greens.

Broccoli is a 5 a Day Star and a symbol of Americans increased interest in healthy eating. We are eating 81% more broccoli than in 1991 and three times what we ate in 1980. This is excellent news because broccoli supplies what the modern American diet lacks. It is packed with vitamin C, folates, calcium, fiber, and a grand assortment of cancer fighting compounds. Sprouted broccoli seeds are an even more compact source of these antioxidant compounds.

CarrotsBACK TO GARDEN

Carrots were originally the very small, tough and bitter roots of a plant called Queen Anne's lace in this country. Varieties that were sweeter, bigger and more orange colored very gradually emerged from over a thousand years of selected seed from the best plants. Carrot seed is very slow to sprout. The roots do best in loose sandy or loamy soil where they don't have to work hard to penetrate down into the earth. In heavy soil, shorter stubbier varieties, such as oxheart, outperform the long slender varieties. Carrots grow best where the temperature remains relatively cool.

Carrot sticks make an easy and crunchy snack and is one of the few vegetables that can be packed (and really get eaten) in school lunch pails. Beta-carotene, the antioxidant that is converted to vitamin A is so plentiful in carrots that it takes it name from the orange colored roots. Carrots are also a rich source of alpha-carotene, another antioxidant that may reduce our risk of getting cancer. Much of the fiber in carrots is in the form of calcium pectate, which is especially good at getting our liver to produce less cholesterol. Carrots are an excellent source of nutrition either raw or lightly cooked. While in general some nutrients are lost in cooking, steaming carrots actually makes the beta-carotene and other nutrients more available to us by breaking open the tough cell walls.

Collards and kaleBACK TO GARDEN

Collards and kale (which is just a variation of the same plant species) are the nearest relatives of the wild cabbage that grew along seaside cliffs in the Mediterranean long before the beginning of agriculture. They are extremely tolerant of cold weather and can survive through the winter to produce tender new leaves in the spring in climates that don't get fierce winters. They can be started early in the spring or about eight weeks before the first fall frost. A simple hoop cover of polyethylene sheeting will increase their productivity in cold weather.

Very young collards and kale leaves can be added raw to salads, but older leaves develop a strong flavor and texture that benefit from cooking. Collards and kale that have been exposed to frost are much sweeter because the plants protect their leaf tissues from freezing by converting some stored starch into soluble sugars.

Collards and kale are the brightest of the 5 a Day Stars and arguably the most nutritious of all floods. They are low in calories and extremely rich in vitamin C, betacarotene, folic acid, lutein, iron, calcium and fiber. They are full of sulphoraphane and indoles, which are very effective at protecting your body against cancers. Research suggests that a diet rich in collards and kale and other members of the cabbage family can reduce the risk of hormone related cancers, including breast, ovary, and prostate cancers by one half. It is a nutritional crime that kale is mainly used as a garnish for salad bars and then thrown in the garbage.

GarlicBACK TO GARDEN

Garlic was a food well known to Egyptians and Mesopotamians over 4,000 years ago. A single clove is used to propagate the plant. Garlic is normally planted in the fall and harvested the following summer. There are thousands of varieties and it is important to grow varieties that are well suited to your climate. They dislike being in constantly wet soil and do better in ground where no cabbage family plants have grown within a year.

Garlic, perhaps more than any other food is known for its healing properties. Several sulfur compounds found in garlic provide many valuable services for our bodies. They function directly as antibiotics, keeping a wide range of infections from taking hold, and indirectly by stimulating the immune system to help it fight off infections. Garlic stimulates production of the antioxidant glutathione, one of the body's key tumor fighters, and can also provide protection against blood clots and reduce the risk of stroke.

Garlic is generally eaten in much smaller servings than other vegetables, and is often used as a flavoring. The French have a dish called "40 clove chicken" that uses the whole garlic, and in many cultures chopped garlic leaves are added to foods. Americans are eating six times more garlic than we did in the 1970's. We think this amazing increase in consumption and the many recent studies confirming its long history of health benefits warrant a 5 a Day Star for garlic.

StrawberriesBACK TO GARDEN

Wild strawberries are tiny delicious fruits that were enjoyed by Europeans since the Stone Age. There are now hundreds of varieties of strawberries with much larger fruit as a result of cross breeding native European and American plants.

There are varieties that bear their fruit all at once (June bearers); twice during the summer (ever-bearers); and newer day-neutral varieties that bear a smaller amount of berries through the whole summer. June bearers are probably the hardiest. Strawberries like a lot of organic matter in their soil. They have a big advantage for the impatient gardener over most other fruits in that you can harvest berries within one year. Strawberries are well suited to growing in special barrels with openings for the plants if you are short on space. Strawberries are most productive if they are grown in a three-year system and kept weed free. They need to be protected from birds that find them as delicious as we do.

Strawberries earned our 5 a Day Star with its combination of wonderful flavor and impressive nutritional value. It's hard to find a kid (or adult for that matter) who isn't crazy about strawberries. With their rich supply of vitamin C and pectin, a soluble fiber, they protect those who indulge from a variety of diseases. Strawberries also contain plenty of ellagic acid, the compound that puts berries at the head of the antioxidant class.

TomatoesBACK TO GARDEN

Originating in the Andes region of South America, tomatoes took Europe by storm. They were called "Love Apples" and for a while thought to be poisonous. Now they are grown everywhere in the temperate and tropical parts of the globe, and thousands of locally adapted varieties have emerged from our collective experience. Most home gardeners grow tomatoes with some type of support or trellis, as this keeps the fruit from rotting on the ground. Paste or Roma type tomatoes are especially bred to have a lower water content that is ideal for making tomato sauces. Roma types are sometimes grown without supports but with a thick straw mulch to keep the tomatoes from touching the soil.

There was no question that tomatoes would get a 5 a Day Star. For starters, we eat more tomatoes than any other fruit or vegetable. Secondly, tomatoes are the richest source of lycopene, an antioxidant which research shows is especially useful in reducing the risk of prostate cancer. Cooking tomatoes doesn't destroy lycopene, in fact, it makes it more available to your body. Tomatoes also contain coumaric and chlorogenic acids that help neutralize nitrosamines, a common carcinogen.

Tomatoes are highly productive in the garden and very versatile in the kitchen. In addition to eating tomatoes raw in salads, we can make spaghetti sauces, soups, salsas, juice and ketchup to preserve the summer' bounty through the year.

TurnipsBACK TO GARDEN

Turnips are an ancient crop that traveled with Alexander the Great on his conquests. The Irish used them as Jack-O-Lanterns long before Americans replaced them with pumpkins for Halloween. They are one of the easiest of all crops to grow and thrive in most climates and soil types. Prolonged hot weather makes for tough woody roots, so turnips are usually started early in the spring and then planted again in late summer for a fall crop.

The turnip is a working class hero of the vegetable world. Its hard to find turnip dishes at restaurants or turnip recipes in gourmet magazines, but the lowly turnip is a reliable source of good nutrition. Turnips deserve a 5 a Day Star because they are really two nutritious vegetables in one; the smooth white or purple-topped roots and the leafy green tops. All the members of the crucifer or cabbage family are 5 a Day Stars because of their ability to reduce our risk of cancer, and turnips are richer in cancer fighting glucosinolates than other members of the clan. They are also rich in vitamin C and fiber. Turnips, and the closely related rutabaga, can provide the beginning gardener with good nutrition almost year round. As for gourmet recipes, try Himmel und Erd (Heaven and Earth) a traditional German dish of sautéed cubes of turnip, apple, potatoes and onion, seasoned with dill.

Winter squashBACK TO GARDEN

Winter squash was eaten over 7,000 years ago in Mexico. Squash is one of the "Three Sisters" of Native American agriculture. Corn, beans and squash grown together in a remarkably stable and productive intercrop system were the heart of the food supply for many of the peoples of the Americas. The sprawling vines of squash plants covered the ground like a living mulch, keeping the soil cool and moist and relatively weed free.


The names of squashes can be a bit confusing. For example, pumpkins are just a type of squash. Zucchini and crookneck are called summer squashes, because they are eaten in the summer when they are immature and their shells and seeds are still soft. The young leaves of squash plants are edible and nutritious, and the blossoms are a delicacy either in soups or lightly fried. The mature seeds of pumpkins and winter squash have long been relished as a tasty source of protein, iron, zinc and high quality unsaturated oil.

The flesh of winter squash and pumpkins is a deep orange color from carotenoids, mainly beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein. All three are powerful antioxidants that protect our cells from oxidative damage and reduce the risk of cataracts and other eye problems. Pumpkins and squash are also sources of fiber and iron. The ground covering ability of winter squashes make them useful in the garden. Their hard shells preserve winter squashes for months after the harvest and what's inside those hard shells makes them 5 a Day Stars.

 


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