This post is a continuation of yesterday’s post on antioxidants in stored foods. Today we consider sources of antioxidants in the garden. Your options widen when you are growing your own food. Many healthy foods are difficult to store long-term. And although you are probably not going to grow your own coffee or tea — two top antioxidants — you can grow a range of fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants in your survival garden.
Take a look at this Chart of Antioxidant Levels in Common Foods [PDF]. You can grow almost all of the foods listed as having ‘Very High’ and ‘High’ levels of antioxidants. The H-ORAC rating is a direct measure of the food’s ability to neutralize free radicals (molecules that are overly-reactive and can therefore damage cells).
Blueberry – wild blueberries have substantially more antioxidants than the cultivated varieties. However, you can buy the wild varieties from nurseries that sell fruit plants and cultivate them. The wild varieties have smaller blueberries and a more intense flavor. Blueberries are very cold hardy and can be grown almost anywhere in the U.S.
Artichoke – The food of this plant is an immature and very large flower with the surrounding fleshy leaves. It is a perennial plant, so you don’t need to keep replanting it, year after year. However, it does not produce much food per unit area of land. I’d pass on this plant, unless you have a large area for your survival garden.
Black plums – You’ll notice that color is often specified in lists of healthy foods. This is because some antioxidants have a particular color. For example, beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A) gives an orange color to carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin. The black plums are higher in antioxidants than other color plums. Since plums are a tree fruit, the trees you plant will take a few years to reach maturity and offer a substantial crop. But perennials are a useful source of foods for a survival garden — plant once and harvest every year. Perennials offer more food with less labor.
Broccoli raab – not actually a type of broccoli, but a related plant, broccoli raab is easy to grow. The plants mature in as little as 2 months, and are very cold hardy. Broccoli raab is a complete protein, and has about as much total protein as cooked rice (just over 3%).
Blackberries and raspberries are top antioxidant fruits. The blackberries score higher than the raspberries, but both are worth growing. Once a crop is established, it takes little effort to maintain a stand of these perennials. The berries are easy to pick and delicious. And if you were instead to buy all the berries that a modest stand of this plant can produce, it would be very expensive. Berries are a labor-intensive crop for commercial producers because they have to be picked by hand. But for the backyard gardener, picking berries is fun and not very labor intensive. Just pick, clean, and wash.
Strawberries are a little tricky to grow. They are a perennial, but are often grown as an annual. Here’s a rundown on the cultivation of strawberries. I’d pass on this fruit, since it is more time-consuming to plant than many fruit trees and bushes.
Apples are a good source of antioxidants. The ones you buy in the supermarket are, unfortunately, high in pesticide residue. They are number 1 on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen Plus” — a list of the foods highest in pesticide residue. But if you grow them yourselves, apples are a very healthy food.
Red cabbage is very high in antioxidants, but regular green cabbage is low in antioxidants. As I said, color is related to antioxidant content, since many antioxidants are also pigments. Cabbage is easy to grow, withstands hard frosts, and is easy to harvest. Make your own coleslaw from red cabbage instead of green.
Several more fruits are on the ‘Very High’ list of antioxidant foods: navel oranges, sweet cherries, prunes, and the Red Anjou variety of pears (not the regular green variety). Red grapes are also in the ‘very high’ category, and green grapes are in the ‘high’ category. Grapes are an interesting perennial crop. They are usually grown, commercially, in warm climates. But cold-hardy varieties are available that will grow in all but the coldest areas of the U.S.
Pinto beans and red kidney beans are very high in antioxidants. These are easy to grow and also easy to dry and store long-term. Black-eyed peas are lower on the list of antioxidant foods, but they are still a good choice.
Russet potatoes make the very high list due to antioxidants in the skin. “there are between five and ten times more antioxidant compounds in the skin as in the flesh.” University of Maine, Potato Antioxidant Research . An even better choice would be one of the red or purple varieties of potato. The more color in the potato, the higher the antioxidant level.
Raisins are a good source of antioxidants, as are other dried fruits. But these are much easier to buy and store, than to grow and dry yourself.
On the ‘High’ but not very high list are some easy to grow crops:
Asparagus is a perennial that will regrow every spring. But it is perhaps not a favorite food for most people.
Yellow peppers have almost twice the antioxidant content as green peppers. If you want antioxidants, choose a colorful meal.
Red leaf lettuce is higher in antioxidants than spinach or green leaf lettuce. Beets and yellow onions are also high in antioxidants.
From the above list, you can see that it is easy to grow a wide range of garden-sourced antioxidants for good health year-round, even if there is some type disruption in the commercial food distribution system. We have quite a few articles now at Prep-Blog labeled “Survival Gardening”. The goal is not necessarily to obtain all your food from your own land, but rather to supplement stored food and food that you continue to buy at the store.