Archive for the ‘fruit’ Category

The Perennial Paddock: Goji Berries

I planted Goji berries years ago when I was interested in eating the berries, and hadn’t yet discovered how invasive they were. I am told that they like slightly alkaline soil, and indeed mine revel in it and come up everywhere despite whatever obstacles I put in their way.  But as far as I’m concerned their invasiveness is a positive boon, since my favorite part of the plant is the young shoot.

Gojis want to ramp away into big lanky vines that sprawl everywhere and don’t bear much fruit,  but some trimming helps them settle down and stick to their work.

I tie mine to fences or stakes about 40 inches above the ground, and then in the spring I whack off everything above that point.  There is no artistry involved in this pruning; you can do it with a hedge trimmer.  Then they grow new branches which drape down artistically from the point where they are tied, and are covered with fruit in season. They are very ornamental and can be grown in the front yard.  They are also highly drought  tolerant once established. The fruit tastes rather like a tiny tomato with a hint of bitterness. I use it mostly for fermenting into hot sauce and making superfruit sauce.  You will find material online suggesting that the berries will prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s and make you live longer. I don’t get excited about that kind of talk, and I hope that you don’t either. They do have a good nutrient content, including doses of lutein and zeaxanthin that might be useful in helping to prevent macular degeneration, however be aware that the berries have not been researched for that purpose.

My favorite part of the plant is the young shoots that come up in places where I don’t want them, so I can pick them and eat them.  Please note that the shoots are only edible when they are young, tender, and snap cleanly off as soon as you try to bend them. If they will bend without snapping, they are not fit to eat.  I chop a bundle of shoots into fine cross section, about 1/4” lengths, and stirfry with some garlic, ginger, and soy, and find them very good. If the stems are getting wiry and bendable, you can still harvest the leaves and add them to mixed greens or cook them lightly in a Thai-style curry.

Now, about those health claims: I find two opposite sets of claims being made about Goji berries and leaves (the leaves are widely used for tea in Asia and are used in traditional Chinese medicine.) One is that the components of both leaves and berries include multiple antioxidants and compounds that act as anti-inflammatories in vitro and in vivo. This view is based both on their traditional uses and on the fact that multiple flavonoid antioxidants have been identified in both leaves and berries.

Below is a link to a simple analysis of components of the leaves.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28095717

Below is an analysis of anti-inflammatory activity in extracts of three berry species, including Goji berries, in vivo in mice.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27114691

The other point of view is that, as a distant member of the nightshade family, this plant should be avoided in its entirety. I have not found any credible research suggesting that the vast majority of us have any reason to avoid nightshades. I also don’t find it credible that a plant which contains numerous compounds that have demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity both in vitro and in vivo (beta-sitosterol, betaine, and hydroxycinnamic acid amides, to name only a few) would suddenly become inflammatory when eaten. If you feel that eating gojis makes your stomach burn or your joints hurt, by all means avoid them.  You are the author of the owner’s manual for your own body.  But to go from there to saying that nobody should eat them is quite a leap, and ignores demographic evidence.

This is a picture of goji berries being grown commercially in China, apparently staked up in more or less the same way that I do it but more neatly and artistically.  When covered with their fruit in summer, they are as radiant as Christmas trees.

 

 

Natural Chaos

A garden bed with edible weeds in glorious (?) array

For a brief period earlier this year I had a lovely young helper in the garden, and he was a sponge for any information about plants and animals and a joy to have around. At one point, as he talked about how much he wanted a “yard farm” of his own, he looked around my yard and said thoughtfully “But mine will always be neat as a pin.” He didn’t say “by contrast,” but the implication was clear, and quite true.

Well, if there is one thing my urban homestead is not, it’s neat as a pin. Nature grows and blooms. Nature also surges, intrudes, overwhelms, dies back, regrows,  creeps, climbs, and insidiously gets Her own way. The gardener plays a part in natural chaos too; all the photos of lovely front yard veggie gardens that you see in magazines are taken before harvest. The gardener cuts the glowing rainbow chard, harvests the multicolored row of lettuces, picks the crimson tomatoes, and plucks the shiny apples, and suddenly things aren’t so camera-ready. Admittedly, many are neater than mine, since many gardeners lack my taste for edible weeds and my belief that nearly any plant has a purpose.  But if you want to get the most that you can get out of gardening, a degree of chaos tolerance may be a useful asset.

My blogging friend Luke of the Mortaltree blog summed this up so superbly that, with his permission, I’m linking to his post on the subject. So please hit this link and read his post “Taste of Chaos,” which really sums up the land-healing experience:

Taste of chaos

Superfruit Sauce

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A couple of years ago I started my low-carb fruit project, aimed at growing maximum antioxidants with minimum carbohydrates.  This summer my plantings started to bear. Here are a few observations:

1. A good Italian plum tree is abundant beyond rational imagination. In season the branches are weighed down with thick ropes of plums and its overblown beauty warms your heart at sight. Make sure you have plans for the fruit. Prune plums are not low-carb at all but have plenty of soluble fiber in a delicious form, so I eat some.

2. Goji berries are my worst garden invader so far. They seem to behave better in other parts of the country, but they love my alkaline desert soil and go wild. Everywhere I look, yards from the parent plant, eager offspring are poking up among the broccoli and muscling aside the beans. The plants are rather thin, though, and don’t block any appreciable amount of sunlight, so I am happy to have them. But if your nature and aesthetic are more meticulous than mine, better plan to use a root barrier. The shoots, gathered when they still snap cleanly, were one of my favorite perennial vegetables this year. The flavor of the fruit is nothing to write home about, but I enjoy them in savory dishes or mixed with other berries.

3. Clove currants, when left on the bush for a couple of weeks after they turn black, are delicious. Eat them before that and you’ll wonder why you wasted space on them.

4. Goumi berries are very well suited to alkaline soil and tolerate heat well. They smell heavenly when they bloom in May, with a far-reaching honeyed sweetness that is free of the grape Koolaid note that can be overbearing in their close relative the Russian olive.  Again, once they turn red, start tasting every few days, and don’t harvest until they taste good. It’s very worthwhile to buy the expensive named varieties. I didn’t, and my wild-type berries are so tiny that harvesting is very slow and tedious. I’ll be planting some selected varieties next spring.

I had relatively small amounts of all the berry types this spring, so I decided to mix them together and add plums to make a sauce base for producing my own hot sauces and chutneys. Other than stoning the plums, I didn’t do any other prep. I threw roughly equal quantities of the four types of fruit in a stockpot, added good red wine to just cover the fruit, and simmered slowly until the fruits were soft. I think it was about 90 minutes. Then I put the mixture through a food mill to remove any woody seeds that the goumis had contributed and to smoothe and thicken the mixture.

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Add salt to taste. Now you have an antioxidant-rich purée that can go in a number of directions. Cooked down a little further until it thickens up, and sweetened to taste with sugar or your favorite artificial sweetener, it makes a tart local substitute for cranberry sauce. Cooked a bit with sweetener and chopped garlic and ginger, it makes a delicious Asian sauce for garnishing pork, dipping dumplings, or just as a table sauce. Make hot sauce by pureeing a can of chipotles en adobo in the blender and adding to the superfruit base by spoonfuls until you get the heat level that you want. Sweeten or not; I like some sweet with my heat. My favorite use is superfruit chutney: to a cup of base add a couple of teaspoons of mustard seed lightly toasted in a dry skillet, a teaspoon of garam  masala, a small onion and a clove of garlic finely chopped, and a small piece of ginger grated. Crumble in a dried chile or two if you like heat.  Salt a little less than you think is optimal. Simmer together, adding a little water if necessary, until the alliums are cooked and soft. Taste, adjust seasoning and salt, and cool. Serve with nearly anything Indian.

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I froze some superfruit base in cartons to use this winter. It could also be canned, although I would suggest pressure canning for safety.

 

Canna Lilies

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Every year I try a few new edibles, and I try to lean toward perennials. I have a lot of edible perennials in the spring but very few that produce in hot weather, so I’m especially interested in any heat-tolerant edible. This spring I read about canna lilies as a multi-purpose edible, with young leaves, rhizomes, and flowers all edible. I have seen them perennialized in my area, they tolerate heat beautifully, and I grew up in Louisiana and still have a taste for overblown tropical flowers, so putting in a canna patch was a natural. They grew well and were very pretty, and didn’t even need that much water since they were well mulched.

The hitch came in the kitchen. I tried young tightly rolled leaves sliced on salads, flower petals on top of salads, and finally the season’s new rhizomes boiled. In all three cases the problem was that there was no objectionable flavor but also no desirable flavor. Cannas taste as much like nothing at all as it’s possible to imagine. Since I don’t know of any pressing nutritional reason to eat them, and since yield is low and they use up a fair amount of space, I doubt that I will try them again. I imagined that my goat would enjoy the leafy adult stalks, but to my astonishment she won’t touch them.

So, overall, no reason to keep growing them except that they’re pretty and can make a dramatic addition to summer flowers. And this leads to a bit of ranting about the concept of permaculture. I have recently perused with interest a book claiming that  permaculture could help feed a rapidly expanding world population in an environmentally sound way, but the picture of the authors’ market display shows nothing but standard annual vegetables.  Another book which purports to be a permaculture cookbook has recipes based almost entirely on standard annual vegetables.  If you hope to eat something other than asparagus and spring greens, what exactly do you grow? My weed patch is a partial answer to this question in my own yard, and I’m experimenting with a few Japanese and Andean perennial edibles (so far without much success.) Fruit is an obvious possibility but many of us have weight or blood sugar issues and need to limit the amount of fruit we eat. So in my view the question remains unanswered, and I will be growing and eating annual vegetables for the foreseeable future.  I’m also interested in the concept of wild-crafting, and in my case this means that I attempt to grow edible perennial weeds in my own yard, where I can control soil and moisture and not worry about overharvesting in the wild.

In springtime, the asparagus springs up, nettles and a host of other wild greens sprout, and I can feel like a real permaculturist for the entire month of April. After that, it gets a lot more limited and I’m a more traditional gardener. Unfortunately, canna lilies are not going to do anything to change that.