We’re Looking for Growers!
This past weekend we hosted a small group of people who are interested in working with our company to help us create new products. We toured the Napa garden and spoke about new and innovative approaches to using plants as medicinal food. I had many ideas and examples of plants for them to see, feel and even taste, but I focused on five that I am particularly excited about and that will help us fulfill the dictum “let thy food be thy medicine.”
The first plant is summer savory. As I have described before, the husband and wife team of researchers at Purdue University, the Mourres, have found a protein in the blood that is a reliable marker of the aging process. One’s biological age can be accurately assessed by the level of this protein. They found many natural substances that lower the level of the protein, thereby, potentially, slowing the aging process. The most effective was the peppery herb summer savory. Right now, we have a wonderful biodynamic grower who is growing and drying this herb for us, which will be released in a limited supply very soon.
The next plant is native to Latin America and is called chayote. This prolific grower was described by an organization called Leaf for Life as the plant with the most potential to supplement the diet of nutritionally unstable communities throughout the warmer regions of the world. The leaves (see photo above) are nutrient-dense, high in minerals and especially high in protein. Chayote produces zucchini-like fruits, but the real excitement is in the profuse, nutrient-rich leaves. I showed them our 3-month-old chayote plant, which is now covering a large area of its 60-foot trellis. We are looking for a grower who is interested in growing and drying chayote leaves for us.
The third plant is the Okinawan bitter melon (see photo above). Also a member of the squash/cucumber family, it is another climber that is growing on the trellis next to the chayote. The bitter-melon fruit is used as an anti-diabetic, anti-aging medicine, particularly in Asia, and seems to be as effective as conventional diabetic medicines for lowering blood sugar. It is, of course, very bitter, but I’m told that if one sprinkles salt on the cut fruit and leaves it for 30 minutes, the bitterness is diminished. The traditional use is to make bitter-melon elixir with the salted fruit, along with a touch of honey and lemon. I am about one week away from harvesting our bitter melon and beginning to experiment with recipes. We are looking for a grower to grow chayote for us as well.
The fourth plant is the Chinese yam, also called “cinnamon vine” for its cinnamon-scented flower buds. The third climber of the group, our Chinese yams are happily growing along side the chayote, bitter melon and not far from our new passionflower plants. The aerial flowers produce tiny tubers, but in two years, large underground tubers are formed. These are used like sweet potatoes, but Rudolf Steiner named them the “light-root plant” for their ability to bring light into the human being. While I’m not sure what he meant by that, we do know that the Chinese yam tubers are highly nutritious, and the starch is one of the few abundant sources of carbs that actually helps lower blood pressure. We have a biodynamic grower who is able to supply us with dried tubers, which we’ll hopefully turn into powder soon.
The fifth and final plant I showed our visitors was the humble true dandelion. While everyone has some experience of the dandelion plant, not everyone knows that the dandelion root is under investigation for its distinct anti-cancer properties. Dandelion has been used in European herbal medicine as a liver tonic, for lowering blood sugar and as an overall detoxifier, but its anti-cancer effects are a new development. At this point, we have a biodynamic grower who is drying a small batch of dandelion roots that we will test out.
If you’re an organic or biodynamic farmer interested in growing and drying any of these plants for us, please contact my son Joe at email@example.com.
Food as medicine is an ancient concept whose time has arrived again. The plants are there to be worked with, and my guess is they are as eager as we are to usher in a new era of medicine, one based on cooperation instead of exploitation of nature.
With hope and gratitude,
For many of us, our relationship to food is a never ending journey. Sometimes to move forward one finds themselves looking back. For bread and specifically the grains used to make it I find that the best results are indeed found in reflection. It is sometimes true that modern ingenuity has value for us, but that is usually only when paired with ancient wisdom. For grains, that wisdom is in the ancient varieties that have been grown for thousands of years.
During this time of relative uncertainty, we have decided to renew our commitment to gardening. Dr. Cowan’s Garden was originally a place, located in Napa Valley on a plot of land generously donated by a friend. It embodied our ideals and was a sanctuary for growth and learning.
The garden was our muse for new product offerings and for improving existing ones. The garden kept our ambitions grounded to certain fundamentals, as the practice of gardening can be challenging.