Do you eat enough vegetables? Almost no one does. The current USDA nutrition guidelines for adults recommend 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables to be eaten daily. Other nutrition sources indicate this number can be upwards of 6 cups of vegetables daily for optimal health.
This means, at any given meal, half of your plate needs to be vegetables. And vegetables are not to be confused with starches, such as corn and potatoes. Broccoli, cauliflower, celery, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and zucchini are a few examples of non-starchy vegetables.
Part of the guidelines also include directives on green, leafy vegetables. For these, adults should aim for two cups per day, minimum. If you are not a salad eater, this may seem impossible. However, it is very important for overall health.
Raw, leafy greens provide a wide array of vitamins and minerals. They also provide a large amount of antioxidants, those compounds that help to fight cancer and help to regulate blood sugars. Leafy greens contain large amounts of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, iron, and are usually a higher source of calcium for our bodies than dairy products.
It can be difficult to determine how to include more vegetables in the diet, both from a culinary standpoint and in regard to affordability. With the minimum recommendation, 60 cups of vegetables must be consumed for each adult in the house with a little less than that recommended for children.
And while it might be fun to take a grocery cart brimming with eggplant, carrots, kale, brussels sprouts, and tomatoes through the checkout line every week, the check book may take a beating from doing so. At the same time, it is important to invest in one’s health and longevity. Luckily, this time of year, there are many FREE sources of green leafy vegetables in your own backyard for the picking.
It may seem strange to eat weeds. Apart from the fact that they cost you nothing, there are additional benefits. Research has shown that even our organically grown crops are not as nutrient-dense as they once were, and leafy greens of the grocery store variety are lacking in essential minerals—especially trace minerals. What this means is that to get all of your vitamin and mineral needs, you will have to eat even more vegetables.
Weeds to the rescue! These amazing plants overall contain higher concentrations of antioxidants, minerals -- including trace minerals -- and fiber, than typical salad greens. It is a way to increase the nutrient density of your food and increase your overall vitality, all without any financial strain.
First of all, make sure you are choosing plants from areas that have not been sprayed with any kind of chemicals. Once you have determined you are sourcing your wild greens from a clean place, here is where you can dive in and have some fun.
Dandelions are tasty, it is true! And not only are they some of the important early spring food sources for bees, they are an amazing source for you as well. Dandelions are potent greens, filled with Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, minerals, and trace minerals. They are also quite high in fiber. They contain 10% of your RDA for calcium intake.
More importantly, dandelions help to support and cleanse the liver and increase the flow of bile, thereby helping your body to get more nutrients out of any food you are eating. Avoid the bitter plants by picking smaller, younger leaves. The flowers are edible as well. Chop them finely and add them to your salads. Put them in soups. Blend them in green smoothies. Or include them in Meadow Tea (recipe below).
Lamb’s quarters is a famous weed, known to gardeners and farmers alike. Use it like spinach in salads or just munch on it while you are weeding. This plant is one source of the an important amino acid, the building blocks of muscles, that is not produced by our bodies. Lamb’s quarters are also very high in minerals—in fact, if you look at or feel the bottom of the leaf, you will find a white dust comprised of minerals and salts. For the mildest flavor, use lamb’s quarters before they start to grow flowers.
Another common yard weed is plantain. This plant is used more for herbal purposes than culinary, but still has many benefits. Plantain tea can be made by steeping fresh leaves in hot water. This tea is a tonic for the entire digestive tract.
The most fun tea from wild plants, though, is called Meadow Tea. This tea is a summertime staple of Pennsylvania Dutch country, and typically includes wild-harvested mint and sugar. This version below, however, has the added benefits of dandelion, and instead of high-glycemic sugars, I recommend sweetening with stevia or just a touch of wild honey. The mints in this tea will be energizing and refreshing, especially on a hot day if you are working in the yard. Mint also helps to aid digestion.
First collect wild mint. This can be cat mint, spearmint, peppermint -- whatever you can find. Of course, whenever collecting wild plants, please be sure you have identified the plant correctly.
Next collect some dandelion greens and flowers. Total you should have two and a half cups or so of plant material, loosely packed.
Add the plants to a French press or other large teapot. Pour the boiling water over the top, cover, and allow to sit for at least 20 minutes. Then, strain the plant material out if you like, and sweeten to taste. The tea will keep in the refrigerator for four or five days, but I doubt it will last that long.
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