Monday, February 20, 2017

Want to ramp up your antioxidant intake, boost your health and feel more energized? You can start by integrating a few select superfoods into your diet. We’ve chosen five nutrient-dense dynamos that are easily grown in a home garden, and fare well in our region.

Most of these superfoods don’t take up a lot of square footage in the garden, and also will thrive in outdoor containers, or inside on a windowsill. Taking vitamin-rich produce from garden to table gives you the freshest food available, with the greatest possible health benefits.

The bounty of blueberries

They grow well locally and are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. A hardy blueberry patch will yield bounty for years to come, and kids love to pick the berries every summer.

Spring is the ideal time to plant blueberry bushes. For best results, choose a sunny spot with acidic soil that has been amended with organic material, like peat moss. Add two to four inches of mulch to protect the shallow roots, and water regularly. Fertilize about one month after planting. Finally, blueberries are catnip for birds, so be sure to cover your bushes with netting.

Herbs that pack a nutritional punch

Mint is a nutritional superstar that will amp up your smoothies. Other uses? Stir fresh mint into hot or iced tea, or snip into Mediterranean salads, dips and entrees. Mint is loaded with antioxidants, and is a natural antimicrobial agent and breath freshener. High in chlorophyll, fresh peppermint helps reduce inflammation in the gut and soothe an upset stomach. So much so that it’s sometimes used to bring relief to patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Mint spreads rapidly in the garden. To control the creep, plant in a confined outdoor space or a container.

Parsley, best known as a garnish, is delicious when blended into pesto and chimichurri sauce, or chopped into an array of soups and salads. Loaded with iron and vitamins C, A, K and B-12, parsley may help relieve joint pain, and some studies show it can inhibit tumor formation. Parsley seeds are slow to sprout. To give them a boost before planting, cover in warm water and let stand overnight. Parsley can be planted in pots indoors or out in the garden two to three weeks before the last frost. It likes moist, nutrient-rich soil and does best in partial shade or full sun.

Super seeds and sprouts

More than ever, nutritionists are touting the benefits of seeds and sprouts. Chia can be eaten in both forms. Chia seeds, which have a mild, nutty flavor, can be eaten whole— sprinkled on cereal or yogurt, mixed into vegetable or rice dishes, added to sauces, or baked into muffins.

Sprouted chia has even more vitamins and minerals, and is a tasty addition to salads, soups and sandwiches. Chia sprouts are tiny workhorses, high in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, antioxidants, calcium and magnesium.

Chia sprouts grow happily in a sunny indoor spot. (Remember the Chia Pet?) Use the sprinklesprouting method: Add equal amounts of chia seeds and bottled spring or filtered water to a shallow glass baking dish. After an hour, tilt the dish to pour out the water, leaving behind the moistened chia seeds. Cover the tray with foil or a plastic lid to trap in the moisture, but leave one corner slightly open.

Keep the seeds in a warm place. After about four days, they’ll sprout into seedlings, and when they’re about one-half inch long, it’s time to taste! Leftovers? No problem—you can store them in a sealed container in the refrigerator for two weeks.

One caveat: If you’re taking blood-pressure medications or blood thinners, ask your doctor before eating chia, which can interact negatively with some of those medicines.