Nature's Medicine Cabinet
Category: Food Education
By: Jennifer Black on February 21, 2013
Since the beginning of civilisation people have grown and harvested plants to heal and promote health. In our modern times much of this knowledge is lost to us, we turn to the pharmacist for our health care, but the plants are still there and the knowledge can be learned. By eating healthily and choosing fresh, wholesome food we can work towards optimal health, but more than that, by using herbs and flowers in the ways of our forefathers we can cure some of the ordinary maladies that afflict us.
The Importance of Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is one of the best ways to ensure good health, especially for children. The World Health Organisation considers low fruit and vegetable consumption to be among the top ten risk factors for global mortality. With the rise of convenience and processed food it can be easy to neglect to include enough fresh produce in our diets, and it can be hard to convince children that an apple or an orange is a better choice than a chocolate bar. The health benefits however, as well as the variety and versatility of fruit and vegetables make them indispensable as well as delicious.
Even the healthiest eaters among us, however, are likely to succumb to the occasional illness or indisposition. Turning to the garden to find relief, rather than the medicine cabinet, can be surprisingly efficacious. Of course, no one would suggest that modern medicine has no place, nor is it ever sensible to ignore symptoms. If you are concerned about your health it is always wise to seek medical advice. An electrolyte test can help set your mind at rest, if the results are abnormal then visit your physician who can help you to find the appropriate treatment. In all cases it's important to pay attention to your health and try and be in tune with your body. If you are in good health, then using herbs and plants to help ease those occasional minor afflictions, might be a good way to naturally and gently take care of your wellbeing. The overuse of antibiotics is linked to the emergence of new 'superbugs' which are resistant to known antibiotics, using natural remedies is a good way to help your body take care of itself.
Assuming then that your basic health is good, there are many plants which can be grown for medical use. Aspirin, for example, was developed from an ancient, fever reducing, preparation made from the bark of the willow tree. Scientists now create aspirin artificially however the active ingredient remains the same. Many other plants share the usefulness.
Taking a headache as an example there are numerous plants which can be used to relieve the pain, without reaching for pharmacy analgesics. Much depends on the type of headache; a tension headache can be eased by peppermint, valerian or rose hips, made into a tea. Ginger, which can be easily grown in the home, can be used to combat headaches associated with colds. Clematis, when made into a tea or a tincture, can fight migraine.
What is a weed?
One definition of a weed could be a plant which is growing where it is not wanted. It is true that many of the plants which might be the most useful as natural remedies might not be the ones that gardeners are familiar with, or feel comfortable encouraging into their gardens. However many of the plants which we disdain as 'weeds' are valuable tools for the natural healer. Our forefathers knew which plants to pick to concoct remedies and tonics; we need to learn to look through the eyes of the healer, not simply those of the gardener. Stinging nettles, for example, are very useful in cases of bladder infection; they are also a useful and healthy vegetable, as well as encouraging butterflies and wildlife. A small patch of nettles is a bonus in any garden, just be sure to wear gloves when harvesting.
A diligent gardener may pride himself on his lush green lawn, but a few dandelions among the grass would be no bad thing. Dandelions have many uses, including the treatment of diarrhoea and constipation as well as indigestion. The leaves and flowers can also be eaten as salad.
It is not wise to start picking and eating plants indiscriminately, some are very potent and some may be toxic. The best way to learn is from someone who knows your area and has knowledge of which local plants can be used to heal. There are also many books and websites available that have information to help a novice learn which plants to grow and how to prepare them. The use of natural plants to promote health and to heal is an ancient tradition and in our modern times it can be of huge benefit to all those interested in promoting natural good health.
Category: Food Education
By: Megan Brancaccio on January 31, 2013
We’re nearly through the month January, and the days are becoming longer again. With snowy storms afoot and temperatures below freezing, though, it’s hard to imagine that our local food supply is flourishing. However, there are still quite a few Vermont-grown items found at farmers markets and locally-supplied supermarkets/cooperatives all over the state. One of these key products: PARSNIPS!
Parsnips, to the naked eye, look just like white carrots. Upon tasting, one might describe them as carrot-like potatoes. Contrarily, these root crops are delicious and unique enough to stand on their own. After eating them in several ways, one will easily recognize their sweet taste.
Parsnips were the perfect crop to focus on this month in the elementary schools for a multitude of reasons; the list is exhaustive. First, they were readily available from one of our favorite farmers: Greg Soll, of Sol Fresh Farm in Hinesburg, Vt. Second, the vast majority of students had no idea what a parsnip looked like or tasted like. Third, parsnips are one of the hardiest crops around: we can leave them in the cold, cold ground until we are ready to eat them—your garden is like a backyard built-in root cellar. Fourth, they are full of essential nutrients like potassium, fiber and Vitamin C. Fifth, and the last I will mention, is that parsnips are really, really interesting root crops—have you ever seen a vegetable that sometimes has so many little roots that it resembles an octopus?!
Because parsnips look, smell, and grow in the ground just like carrots, students were quick to point out that they must be in the same plant family. Indeed, they are. The Apiaceae family includes edibles like carrots, celery, fennel, dill, cumin, parsley, and of course, parsnips. Other plants in this family are Queen Anne’s lace, lovage, and hemlock.
In the classrooms, we reviewed all of the other foods we focused on thus far: tomatoes (salad bar), kale, butternut squash, and finally, garlic. The students demonstrated a complete understanding of plant parts (i.e. seed, stem, leaf, fruit, root, bulb) and plant families (i.e. Brassica, Cucurbita, Allium). Parsnips are much unlike the four other themes this school year, especially because they are biennials—meaning they have two growth cycles instead of just one, like most other vegetables we have in our gardens.
I encourage everyone to try making a dish that includes parsnips. Eat them as fries, or mashed like potatoes. They can also be shredded onto a salad in their raw state. Support local farms by eating foods that are still available to us from Vermont farmers!
Category: Food Education
By: Megan Brancaccio on December 03, 2012
Once again, I find myself writing a wrap-up for another month of Farm to School lessons. Time flies when you’re having fun with food!
November was centered around winter squash—especially butternut. Students in the three SBSD elementary schools learned tons of interesting facts about this storage crop, including why it makes for such a great storage crop!
Butternut squash has some of the most gorgeous flesh in terms of fruits (yes, I said fruit!). When a butternut squash is cut open, it reveals a bright, vibrant orange. The vitamin responsible for this orange color is beta-carotene (which is also found in carrots and sweet potatoes). Beta-carotene is converted in the intestine and liver into Vitamin A. This vitamin is great for our eyes, skin, hair, and for tissue growth and repair.
Students were able to compare the major differences between squash and kale. Kale, we learned, is a hardy green—meaning we leave it in the garden, where it will continue to grow and thrive on its stalk. Squash, however, needs to be harvested in the early fall just like most other crops. It must cure, or dry, in a warm place in order for it to become a storage crop that we can keep through the cold, barren, winter months. Just like squirrels storing acorns, we must store our healthful winter squash!
All members of the squash or gourd family—the Cucurbita genus—grow on a vine. When we look inside of cucurbitas, we see seeds. That tells us they are fruits. This family contains squash, cucumbers, and melons!
At the lesson’s end, everyone tasted roasted butternut squash with a pinch of brown sugar added for sweetness. Overall, half of the students enjoyed the squash, while the others decided they would try it again in another way—on pizza, on pasta, or in a pie!
This month’s focus: garlic! One thing’s certain: by the end of the month, each school will be free of vampires.