I often describe the home vegetable garden as the ultimate wellness tool because it can provide fresh, chemical-free, nutrient-dense food that is often not readily available elsewhere. It is a primary tool that allows the reclaiming of responsibility for our own health because we now control a major source of our food.
Minerals, microbes and humus are the drivers of healthy vegetable production, but there is another factor that can increase the medicinal value of our food. This factor is often overlooked in the nutrition equation, but it can make a real difference. The vast majority of commercial vegetable seedlings and seeds are now hybridised and, while this might increase profit for seed merchants, it is not necessarily a benefit for consumers.
The Problem with Hybridisation
Hybridisation essentially involves a situation where a plant breeder decides he can do it better than nature, so he creates a new plant with more “desirable” features. The problem here is that we cannot increase the number of genes in the gene pool. When we hybridise, we are essentially shuffling around this limited gene pool. We are moving genes from one area of activity to another and very often that means that the original role of the genes can be corrupted. This “corruption” often seems to impact the capacity of the crop plant to uptake nutrients. We work with strawberry breeders in Holland, for example, where the three most popular hybrids all suffer an incapacity to uptake manganese. However, this fatal flaw in the plant breeding bonanza usually impacts more than one nutrient. A prime example of this phenomenon involves a “weed” called purslane. This is actually a tasty delicacy that was apparently the favourite food of Ghandi and is a sought-after food in the Middle East. It is tremendously alkalising, to the point that purslane tea was the major strategy King Henry VIII used to counter his recurring gout. It is a tremendous source of omega-3 fatty acids, GLA and vitamin A and enterprising growers are now offering purslane by the kilo at farmers’ markets around the world.
When it was decided to hybridise purslane to achieve a colorful flowering plant called portulaca, there was a price to be paid. Portulaca has no nutrient value at all.
The green revolution involved the hybridisation of our main food – cereal grains. There were increasing problems with lodging, which rendered affected plants unharvestable. Instead of addressing the root cause of poor stem strength, which is a deficiency of copper, potassium or silica, we opted to ‘improve’ upon nature by producing a more squat plant that did not lodge so readily. Most of us are not aware that this solution brought more problems than it solved. The green revolution cereals uptake far less nutrition than their predecessors and several of them are unable to uptake cobalt at all (hence a widespread problem with B12 deficiency, as this nutrient is created from cobalt).
Save Your Seed
Growing heirloom vegetables will improve your nutrition and it also gives you a chance to improve your crops season by season. Practicing the age-old strategy of saving seed from your very best vegetables each season ensures that you are improving the gene pool that feeds your family. My grandfather grew extraordinary vegetables and his porch cupboard was filled with labelled plastic containers containing the dried seeds from his prize pumpkin, cucumber, tomato and capsicum. It is amazing how prolific and abundant nature can be. A pumpkin, for example, has enough seed to grow enough pumpkins to feed a small town. Your involvement in fast tracking natural selection by saving the best of the best each season can only lead to an improvement in your food and it is also great fun.