Wild Eating: From Your Garden and Beyond

by Linda Wiggen Kraft

The decline in nutrition of plants isn’t something that started with big agriculture, in fact it started during the dawn of the agricultural age, when humans switched from hunter gatherers to growing food.

According to some historians, this decline in plant nutrition is over ten thousand years in the making. But how can that be? Basically we humans usually don’t like the taste of wild uncultivated plants that have the most nutrients. These are often bitter fibrous foods that are best for our bodies. For example, dandelion greens have over eight times the antioxidants as spinach, along with more calcium and vitamins. Yet most of us would choose spinach over dandelions.

Over the centuries, plants have been breed for their sweet, easily chewed tastes, often leaving behind the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and other healthy parts that our bodies thrive on. Our plants have become domesticated, less wild and less nutritious. Fortunately many plants still have wild traits, we just need to know what to look for when we buy them in the grocery store, plant them in our gardens, or get them in the wild.
A recently written book titled Eating on the Wild Side, The Missing Link to Optimal Health by Jo Robinson, has changed the way I grocery shop, store food and plant my garden. The book’s premise is described above. It also shares ways to store food to retain nutrients and what particular varieties of vegetables and fruits to buy and grow.

The author scoured thousands of studies about the nutrients in plants so we don’t have to turn back into hunter-gatherers. Some of the information is well known already. The reds and purples that are the darkest and brightest colors are most often a sign of high nutrients. In most cases this is due to the plant’s exposure to the sun and resulting chemical reaction. Plants have to protect themselves from the sun, and in so doing create “sun screens” for themselves. These chemicals are the nutrients that are good for our health. For example, leaf lettuce has more sun exposure on all the leaves than romaine, therefore more nutrients. The lettuces with dark colored leaves are best. But greens like dandelions and kale with their less sweet taste provide even more for health. Tomatoes that are red have the most nutrients. Purple cabbage is better than white. Colors are important even when plants grow underground; purple carrots are superior to orange, red beets are better than orange or striped, and sweet potatoes better than white. And often the native “wild” edibles way outshine any domesticated plants. Chokeberries, aronia melonocarpa, have four times more antioxidants than blueberries.

There are exceptions to the color rule though. White skinned peaches are better than bright insides. Artichoke hearts are nutrient dynamos even though they are pale. A golden colored Ozark Gold, which is mostly available in Missouri, has four time more phytonutrients than Golden Delicious. Granny Smith apples are more nutritious than red apples

Of course the most recently harvested produce has the most nutrients and chemical free organic is healthiest. What I didn’t know was that many leaf vegetables continue to create nutrients even after harvest, if they are stored correctly. Immersing in cold water, drying and tearing the leaves will increate the health giving qualities of leaves.

I know next year when I plant my edible garden, I will be consulting this book for specifics. I am also keeping lists of the most nutritious plants in my purse to take with me to the grocery store.

Linda Wiggen Kraft is a landscape designer whose work centers around holistic and sustainable gardens. She is also a mandala artist and workshop leader. Visit her blog: www.CreativityForTheSoul.com/blog or website www.CreativityForTheSoul.com. Contact her at 314 504-4266.

Make sure you stop by the Healthy Planet Expo, Oct. 20 in Webster Groves!