There are a number of vitamins and minerals we need on a daily basis to keep us healthy. Strictly speaking we should be able to get all we need from nature, but when you see those irresistible bottles and jars of ‘extra vitamin supplements, it’s almost criminal not to give them a try. However, it seems that a) most of them get left in the back of a cupboard or b) we didn’t actually need them in the first place. Sometimes both a and b apply!
There are nine main vitamins we can find in everyday food crops and all of them can be grown at home. Vitamins D and B12 are absorbed through sunlight, and in meat and dairy products, so unless you are keeping your own hens, some vitamins will have to be ‘bought’ in – although that still doesn’t mean hitting the pill bottles… buy organic fresh produce as far as possible and grow the rest of the vitamins you and your family need:
Probably the most talked about vitamin, but we often cook out a lot of the goodness from vegetables, apart from tomatoes. They are one of the rare foods that hold their vitamin C during cooking, so grow lots! Other garden produce high in vitamin C includes blackcurrants, peppers and strawberries. Peppers need to be planted every year, but strawberries and blackcurrants need a permanent patch.
Well, yes apparently carrots really do help you see in the dark! One medium carrot can provide all the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, which helps vision, and also acts as an antioxidant in the body to help fight off free radicals. Pumpkin is another good source of vitamin A, as well as winter kale, so remember to plant some before the summer’s out. Fresh green veg in the winter will help ward off colds and flu.
Vitamin B1 converts carbs and fats into energy so for a boost of daily energy, keep up with the B1. Foods rich in this vitamin are broad beans ( which can be grown twice a year ), sweet corn, hazelnuts and garlic. Garlic is easy to grow in a small space and will add that touch of ‘je ne sais quoi’ to your cooking! Sweetcorn and hazelnuts need a bit more space, but are simple to grow and are popular and nutritious family foods.
Although vitamin B2 can be found in spinach and is easy to grow in the home garden, we could diversify a little here and go for different tastes. Mushrooms are a good source of B2 and can be grown in kit form indoors. Salsify is a vegetable that many of us have forgotten about. It used to be called the oyster vegetable and is a great root mushroom growing kit crop as long as you have a good depth of soil in the veggie patch.
This is where we can hit the good old fashioned staples. Potatoes and onions are a good source of vitamin B6. If you worry about potatoes being a weight gaining food, a fresh potato straight from the ground doesn’t need any additional butter, cheese or other toppings to make it tasty! Buy a specially designed potato barrel to save space – and digging! And onions, if stored well, will last for months.
Asparagus and raspberries have often been considered to be ‘luxury’ crops – this is probably because they are so expensive in the shops. They are both perfect for the home-grower. Both crops go on for years with very little attention. Asparagus is cropped during the ‘hungry gap’ – after the winter crops have finished and before the spring crops begin. And raspberries turn up in early summer usually.
Folate isn’t made by the body so must come from a good source. Luckily it is found in everyday veggies we can grow at home. Beetroot and green beans are good sources of folate. Another source, that we often don’t realise, is parsley. Chop parsley finely and sprinkle over your food, rather than leave it on the side of the plate as an inedible garnish – it is really packed full of goodness.
Niacin (B3) is one of the most active vitamins in the body and breaks down fats and sugars. It is generally found in protein rich foods such as meat, fish and pulses. Courgettes (zucchini) are a good source of niacin and can crop right through the summer and autumn months. Peas are also high in niacin and can be started off early in the year. Peas are a good vegetable to grow in the home vegetable patch as they can replace nitrogen in the soil.