Saturday, August 6, 2016

Maximizing Health Benefits from Cultivated Crops

Many of  mushrooms' medicinal properties come from agents they use to protect themselves from pathogens in their environment. Mycelial hyphae are only one cell wall thick, so they must be well armed to fight off whatever threats come their way.

Plants behave similarly to mycelium by manufacturing chemical agents to stave off invaders. It would seem that these special chemicals would also be of use to humans who cook and consume their hosts, just as when they eat mushrooms.

Without going into a plant by plant breakdown of these medicinal compounds, we can still consider what it takes to maximize their presence in our food. Just growing and cooking your own food is the most important step to improving nutritional and pharmacological content in your diet.

Some vegetables lose a large percentage of their nutrients in the transition from farm to table. Considering those from the list of important nutrient sources in my last post,

  • Produce items to eat ASAP after harvesting include strawberries, mushrooms, parsley, snap beans, and spinach. 
  • Tomatoes are best ripened on the vine. Grocery store tomatoes are often picked green and ripened on the way to market, but are not as nutritious as vine-ripened tomatoes.
  • Darker tomatoes have more lycopene than light colored varieties. 
  • Garlic should be left uncooked for 10 minutes after cutting or pressing to allow a chemical reaction that creates allicin to occur.
Plants get the majority of their chemical constituents from the surrounding soil, so rich soil is the key to maximizing plant food and medicinal value. Healthy plants, grown in healthy soil have a richer store of medicinal agents, since they did not need to expend them all fighting off soil-borne foes. Healthy soil is, principally, deep topsoil with good structural, textural, mineral, hydrological, and biological properties. Organic matter is a key component of healthy soil. Biochar and earthworms multiply and stabilize the effects of added organic matter.
Photo by Charles Wiriawan

Organic gardening and farming are not only good for the environment, but also a path to High Performance Agriculture, producing the most nutrition, yield, and pharmacological benefit.
The most healthy plants, according to Amish farmer +John Kempf, are those that have attained the pinnacle in his plant's version of Maslow's hierarchy, going beyond microbial resistance to being able to chemically fend off attacks by insects through manufacturing of plant secondary metabolites (PSM's). I think a good test of how well my soil and plants are doing on this score is to see how disease free they are when grown at our community garden surrounded by other plots whose owners often ignore organic principles, leading to an external environment rife with biological threats. Progress was made this year, but we still have a long way to go.

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