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It doesn’t take much to make me happy these days. Eating the tomatoes I planted back in February delights me! Realising the vicious bramble that’s moved in at the bottom of my garden has a point (other than ensnaring me every time I go down there!) makes me ecstatic, providing me with a seemingly endless supply of juicy blackberries to put in my smoothies, jam and pies. Dodging falling apples as I shake the branches of my apple tree makes me giggle. Grabbing handfuls of elderberries to make immune-supporting elderberry syrup excites me. And heading down to the pear tree to pick off one or two for the day puts a spring in my step. Who’d have thought home grown produce could be so good for the soul, as well as the body? And the best thing is, apart from the tomatoes, I didn’t even have to do anything except receive the wonderful pesticide-free nutritional benefits these fruits provide me with.
One of the reasons for my upbeat mood is that all of these fruits are a source of vitamin C, tomatoes, elderberries and blackberries particularly so. As far as I’m concerned vitamin C is a wonder nutrient, and useful for far more than warding off Scurvy!
• It nourishes my immune system and may help reduce the duration of a cold (always useful at this time of year), can help reduce histamine production (useful for the management of allergies), and helps with wound healing;
• It’s a component of collagen, the substance that keeps the skin supple and young looking;
• It’s royalty among antioxidants, helping to counteract all the damaging free radicals we are exposed to in our environment. Free radicals damage body cells and eventually lead to all sorts of problems from inflammation to advanced ageing. Anything that helps reduce things like that is a plus in my book!
But did you know that vitamin C begins to reduce as soon as the fruit is picked from the plant? So having fruits (or vegetables) in your garden that you can pick and eat as you need them has the potential to increase how much vitamin C you get in your diet.
Elderberries also have immune-supporting properties, containing bioflavonoids that are believed to make it difficult for cold and flu viruses to latch on to our cells. (Whatever you do don’t eat raw elderberries though, as they can upset some people’s tummies. That’s why I cook them up into elderberry syrup for myself and my family to take during the autumn and winter).
Tomatoes are a great source of carotenoids. I’m sure you’re familiar with beta-carotene in carrots, but there are many other carotenoids, including lycopene and zeaxanthin. Lycopene is believed to be good for prostate health, and diets high in tomatoes have been linked with lower incidences of certain cancers. It is another powerful antioxidant, and useful for heart, eye and blood vessel health. Unlike vitamin C, which is destroyed by heat, lycopene is easier to absorb when the tomato is cooked, especially when mixed with a healthy oil, such as olive oil. Zeaxanthin appears to target the eyes and is therefore a useful nutrient in the prevention and treatment of Age-Related Macular Degeneration.
One of my favourite things to do with my home grown tomatoes is roast them with some olive oil, garlic and balsamic vinegar, then whizz them up in the blender. It’s absolutely delicious as a sauce for mince (think Bolognese) or over Sausages. My mouth waters at the thought of its sweet, rich flavour.
Apples contain the flavonoid quercetin, which has a long list of potential benefits. You’ll often see it in natural hay fever remedies because it’s believed to interfere with the release of histamine, one of the immune chemicals that causes allergic reactions. Quercetin has also been linked to a reduction in the risk of blocked arteries and high cholesterol. Not only that, apples have enzymes in them that are thought to help support liver and gall bladder health, and are a good source of mucus-busting potassium. Well you know what they say about an apple a day!
I simply love ever so slightly off-ripe pears, so just the sheer delight of biting in to one straight from the tree would be enough for me. But let’s not forget the fibre they contain, some of which is insoluble and helps provide bulk, and some of which feeds the friendly bacteria in your intestines, thus further offering support to your immune and digestive systems.
Oh yes I’m happy with my garden and what it’s giving back to me at the moment, especially as the weather has taken a turn and we are clearly on our way to winter. I definitely can’t be called a green-fingered individual, but nature has been very good to me this year. I hope you’ve had some similar delights from your garden!