By Shannon McCabe
America’s industrial food system has waged war on our most fundamental means of nourishing ourselves. Vegetables once celebrated for their nutritional content have been stripped of their superfood status and reduced to merely a flavorless vessel for pesticides. Supermarket produce aisles are bursting at the seams with these sad vestiges of a war waged on healthy produce. Factory farming has robbed the people of their most basic and affordable medicine: healthy food. For thousands of years, humans have harnessed the nutritional powers of food to prevent and cure disease. America’s food oligarchy is bent on high yields and pesticide resistance with a blatant disregard for nutritional content. Grow your own nutrient-dense, heirloom vegetables, or seek them out at the farmers’ market; it will be the most rewarding act of treason imaginable.
It’s time to approach the garden as a pharmacy. Here at Baker Creek, we are celebrating our favorite antioxidant: anthocyanin. This cancer- fighting compound is responsible for the blue and purple pigment in fruits and veggies. Anthocyanin has been shown to aid in healthy aging, to prevent and fight certain cancers, and to protect against cardiovascular disease. Anthocyanin rich foods are lauded for their ability to help prevent age-related mental decline and to enhance the memory. Fortunately, this naturally occurring panacea won’t cost you 50 dollars a bottle or cause any scary side effects. In fact, this beneficial pigment is found occurring naturally in many heirloom vegetable varieties.
Purple sweet potatoes are a fantastic anthocyanin—rich root crop; you can store tubers in the root cellar to ensure a heathy and colorful staple for the cold winter months.The molokai purple sweet potato is a local Hawaiian variety that is as tasty as it is nutritionally beneficial. The deep purple skin and flesh is super high in anthocyanins. Purple sweet potatoes are a fantastic food for people with diabetes: the carbohydrates in sweet potatoes break down more slowly than white potatoes, releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream. Anthocyanin have also been shown to aid in the prevention of diabetes. The flesh is super sweet and creamy, perfect as is when baked or roasted, needing no further adornment. Check out Molokai Purple (pictured above) Here.
The purple tomatillo is a rare variety. Eating them is a unique way to add anthocyanin to the list of tomatillos’ already impressive host of nutritional benefits. Tomatillos are known for their beta carotene levels, which improve vision health. Tomatillos are a good source of niacin which helps to improve energy levels throughout the day. Perhaps one of the most intriguing qualities of fresh tomatillos is their positive potassium:sodium ratio, which reduces blood pressure. The purple tomatillo is naturally sweeter than green tomatillos; you can eat them fresh out of the garden, no cooking needed. Tomatillos produce so aggressively, you will have more than enough to can or freeze for the winter. Check out Purple Coban (pictured above) and our other tomatillos here.
Cauliflower is one of the most rewarding crops for the home gardener. The flavor is nutty and rich, and the nutritional benefits are generous. Purple cauliflower is tasty raw or cooked. The purple tint in cauliflower will help to control body weight, prevent cancer, prevent eye disorders and improve brain function. Purple of Sicily cauliflower is an ideal variety because it is naturally insect-resistant. This reduces the need to use chemicals which can compromise the health benefits of this tasty vegetable. Check out Purple of Sicily (above) and all our cauliflower here.
Another important purple root crop is the earthy and magnificent beet. Beets are so rich in the dark purple anthocyanin pigment, they are often used as a natural dye! Aside from the benefits of of their purple color, beets’ fiber helps to reduce harmful cholesterol and triglycerides by increasing the level of good cholesterol. Beets also help to prevent cardiovascular disease, as well as age related cataracts. Beets are a favorite of vegetable juice enthusiasts who enjoy the earthy sweet flavor of the syrupy dark juice. Beet juice helps to stimulate liver function, and it has been shown to slow tumor development. The best beets are the ones planted for a fall harvest just after the first frost. Plant a bumper crop this season to keep the antioxidants coming all winter long! Get a packet of classic Bull's Blood Beet (above) and choose from a variety of beets here!
The ancestral carrots grown in Afghanistan were a purple color. They are high in anthocyanin (although not as high as the black carrot); they also have been shown to be a good source of fiber and to help lower cholesterol. Purple carrots have anti-inflammatory properties, as well as anti-carcinogenic properties, which help to reduce the risk of cancer. Because they contain high amounts of vitamin A, they can help to prevent clogging of arteries. Cosmic Purple carrots are the best tasting purple variety available. They have a spicy-sweet flavor that makes them an outstanding fresh eating variety, and they are no doubt one of the most beautiful carrots around. Get Your Cosmic Purple Carrot (above) Seed Here.
Pungent and healthful, the purple onion is a serious superfood. They have high levels of vitamin C that boosts your immune system. Vitamin C is also helpful in building collagen in your skin which aids in wound healing and skin elasticity. Thank purple onions for aiding in digestion and the uptake of important vitamins and minerals. Purple onions also aid in cancer prevention. Purple onions are best eaten raw in salads and on sandwiches; however, studies show that the anthocyanin present in the skin will not diminish if cooked at a low heat. Onions are a perfect addition to the garden as an early crop that will naturally keep garden pests at bay! Check Our Wethersfield Red (above) and many other purple onions here!
Purple beans have the prettiest flowers and will turn a functional bean trellis into a floral statement in the garden. The gorgeous flowers will yield to a magnificently bright purple bean. Looks aren't everything; these purple beans are a delicious snack that provide vitamins K,C, A and Manganese. They are also a source of tryptophan, a naturally occurring chemical that aids in getting a good night’s sleep. Purple beans will also add potassium, folate and iron to your diet. The purple podded pole bean is an old variety from the Ozarks that is beloved for its beautiful purple color and high yields. Enjoy purple beans fresh in salads or for snacking; cooking them will diminish the precious purple color and the nutrients associated with that pigment. Check out Royalty Purple Pod (above) Here.
Artichokes have been appreciated for their health benefits since ancient times. They are a member of the thistle family hailing from the Mediterranean. Purple of Romagna artichokes will dazzle you with their ornamental qualities and superior flavor. Enjoy a flash of purple color as the flower booms, the chokes themselves are purple streaked. Fresh artichoke is a good source of folic acid, which is crucial in the early stages of pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defects in the newborn baby. Artichokes also provide vitamin C, which aids in the immune system functions. Purple of Romagna is an old Italian Heirloom, it is a striking ornamental with big nutritional benefits. Shop for Purple of Romagna Artichoke (above) here.
It’s high time we take back our most important ancestral skills of planting to prevent and treat disease. Planting a purple garden will add a pop of color to the landscape as well as provide you with a year long supply of anthocyanin and other important plant nutrients. Maintaining a steady supply of these cancer fighting, health promoting, veggies is the most sustainable way to keep you and your loved ones happy and healthy without a trip to the pharmacist. Try incorporating these purple-hued, nutrient-dense vegetables in your garden this season; you will have the prettiest medicine cabinet in town!
Post By Shannon McCabe a native Rhode Islander and garden expert for Baker Creek Seed Company.