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Superfoods have become a big market in the US, with loads of healthy eaters shelling out big bucks for powders and liquids to help them stay healthy and in shape.
The funny thing about all this to us gardener folk is that we know that many of these superfood supplements can be grown at home very easily, with next to no work and little investment. In fact, my family gets all of its superfood right from our backyard or from our weekend foraging trips into the local hillsides. There's such an abundance of vibrant nutrition available right at our fingertips, if only we knew about it!
So in this article, I’m going to introduce you to my top 3 PERENNIAL superfoods.
What’s a perennial, you might ask?
A perennial is a plant which lives for longer than two years, which means they live for a long, long time compared to your regular vegetables, and require less care and water.
So here they are:
1. Sunchokes also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, are among the easiest superfoods to grow, and the most delicious.
Sunchokes are indigenous to North America, and despite their name, are actually related to sunflowers (they're not at all related to artichokes, but have a taste similar to artichoke). They're edible tubers, produced in the root system of the sunchoke plant, which produces a beautiful yellow sunflower-like flower. Sunchokes are high in essential minerals potassium, magnesium, and iron, all of which assist in the healthy functioning of the heart.
Sunchokes are also high in many B vitamins (specifically, B3, B5, & B9), which promote health of the skin, eyes, and hair. Finally, sunchokes are an important source of inulin, a form of carbohydrate which causes no increase in blood glucose levels (making sunchokes an excellent potato-like substitute for diabetics) and acts as a pre-biotic in the digestive tract. To grow sunchokes, you simply need to find some tubers.
I’ve found them before at Trader Joe’s, and from farmers at my local farmers market. Once you have the tubers, just stick them in the ground and wait for them to come up. In about 4 months time, plant will have put up flowers and then started to die back. Pull up the plants to find beautiful, organic superfoods in the roots, leaving a few tubers in the ground to come back next year!
2. Aloe Vera has been known for quite a while as a healing plant for the skin, but few people know this plant is also a great edible superfood.
Aloe Vera is very high in vitamins A, C, and E as well as rich in anti-oxidants, which are thought to prevent cancer.
In Ayurveda, Aloe Vera is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, which is why it is commonly prescribed for many chronic illnesses.
Of course, taking Aloe Vera internally also has an amazing affect on the skin, hair, eyes, and nails, and I know several of my friends and family swear that it makes them glow.
Growing Aloe Vera is extremely simple.
You’ll need to start with a plant from a nursery (they are very easy to find), and you’ll want to plant your aloe in a partly shaded area (under a tree works well). Once the plant is established, you can start harvesting the outer leaves.
One leaf a day is great as an overall tonic. Simply slice off the outer skin and spines, and eat the inner flesh straight or in a smoothie. Another option is to slice the leaf in half, skin and all, and dry it out in a dehydrator to make a aloe vera powder which can be added to any green drink.
3. Tree Collard is literally a collard green plant that grows like a tree.
Most people don’t get too excited when they hear that collard greens are for dinner, but few people know that these greens have been ranked as one of the most nutritionally dense foods in existence. In the ANDI score rating, which stand for aggregate nutritional density index, collard greens have been given a score of 1000 out of 1000. The leaves of this plant are literally packed with energy of Mother Nature. They contain more protein by weight than beef.
Tree collards are also an excellent source of vitamin K, A, C, folate, manganese and calcium. Their high concentration of fiber means they’ll keep you regular too. Tree collards can be eaten any way that regular collard greens can be eaten, as a wrap for a raw burrito, sauteed with other vegetables, or as a raw green juice. To grow tree collards, you’ll need to get a plant from a friend or nursery. There are two varieties available, white veined and purple veined. (Either is great.)
Tree collards are becoming quite popular these days, so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding them at your local nursery. If they don’t have them in stock, many nurseries can special order them for you. Personally, I’m growing twenty of these plants at The Growing Home, because we just can’t get enough.