Winter Salads for Health and Energy by Margaret Roberts
Now is the perfect time of the year for growing those quick and easy winter salad crops that don't take up much space in the garden and which look so pretty and so appetizing, and which withstand the frost cold nights and which steadily produce.
Through the years I have put together a superb selection of seeds with BallStraathof and this is the cream of the winter crop: Start by digging over a bed in full sun with lots of compost and old manure. Rake and level it and mark with strings so that you sow the seeds in straight lines, and water well.
1)Mustard - Brassica alba - This tender succulent annual quickly germinates and it can be pulled up and eaten even when it is quite small. It has a bite and the leaves get hotter as they mature. The yellow flowers are delicious too. Eating fresh mustard in salads and on sandwiches boosts the immune system with its high Vitamin A, B and C content, and minerals potassium, iron, calcium and phosphorus. Mustard greens aid digestion, boost circulation, ease bronchial infections and even arthritic and rheumatic pains. All this by just adding about ¾ of a cupful of freshly picked leaves and sprigs to your daily salad.
2)Fenugreek - Trigonella foenum-graecum - One of the oldest and most respected medicinal herbs, fresh fenugreek is loved by the Egyptians and the Arabs for its pungent rich flavour, and the seeds for making curries and sprouting. It's a pleasure to grow, every seed germinates and the lush 3-lobed leaves are so rich in minerals and Vitamins, specially Vitamins A, B and C, and can be a real health boost for gastric ulcers, lowering of blood cholesterol, for stomach upsets and for treating anorexia. Just ½ to one cup of fresh leaves in the daily salad will treat all these ailments and act as a tonic as well. I am mad about fenugreek as it can be sown all year round, but it is at its best now! Fenugreek seeds added to coarse sea salt and used as a scrub in a wet face cloth are excellent for cellulite too!
3)Celery - Apium graveolens - At this time of the year I grow celery in a mass of small seedlings which I pull up, roots and all, when they are about 12 cm in length. They are so tasty and so healthy as they help to remove toxins from the body. Leave some of the seedlings to mature and add chopped to salads, stirfries and soups. It's a marvelous plant for soothing and clearing chest ailments, urinary problems and cystitis, it improves kidney function and circulation, reduces acidity, eases gout and lowers high blood pressure. It grows easily and quickly and is so rewarding, we should never be without it. A cup of fresh chopped stems and leaves added to our daily salad is a tonic no one can do without, and it lessens the need for salt. Let it go to seed, for both flowers and the seed are equally delicious!
4)Buckwheat - Fagopyrum esculentum - Ancient, revered, respected buckwheat has been one of the world's most precious ancient grains. Did you know the succulent heart-shaped leaves and little white (and pink in the cold) flowers are high in Rutin which makes it a valuable circulatory herb? Buckwheat leaves and flowers, 1 cup a day, eaten fresh will aid poor circulation, varicose veins, chilblains, clear spotty skin, warm cold hands and feet, lower high blood pressure, and put a sparkle back in your eye as it assists the removal of little haemorrhages into the retina of the eye. It's quick an incredible plant and makes a pleasant tea: ¼ cup fresh leaves and sprigs and flowers, pour over this 1 cup of boiling water. Stand 5 minutes, strain and sip slowly. 1 cup a day is the standard dose for all the above ailments and eat lots in the daily salad.
5)Alfalfa - Lucerne - Medicago sativa - The alfalfa means "life" and in ancient times lucerne was fed to the soldiers to give them strength and energy, and by the 17th century the uses of lucerne - not only as a superb fodder crop, but as a medicine - became legendary. Rich in Vitamins A, B, D, E, K and U, and one of the rare sources of Vit. B12, lucerne contains 19% protein (beef has 16%, milk has 3%), and its high mineral content of potassium, calcium, sodium, magnesium, iron, silicon and chlorine, make it one of the most incredible health foods in the world. The young and tender new shoots on this tough and sturdy and very pretty perennial, are delicious, one of the best tonics in the world, one of the best energizers and blood and bone builders, and will help you build health by just eating a few sprigs a day in your salad (don't let them wilt) and the flowers are edible too! Make a tea - ¼ cup fresh sprigs, pour over this 1 cup of boiling water, stand 5 minutes, sip slowly, 1 cup a day for 10 days, then give it a break of 4 days, then start again - to treat acne, colds and 'flu, scalp infections, and to stimulate hair growth. Cut back heavily to ground level once its flowers fade, add more compost and water deeply twice weekly, and new tender and delicious shoots will quickly emerge.
All these herbs can be combined, served with fresh lemon juice and a grind of black pepper!
The seeds are available at your nursery under the BallStraathof Margaret Roberts Seed Collection.
Come and visit Margaret Roberts Herbal Centre on Wednesdays (012-5041729, www.margaretroberts.co.za) to view their vegetable plant house growing oakleaf and lollo rosso and butter lettuces, broccoli and spinach with the above herbs in a micro climate of 20% shade cloth all winter long. Baskets of these succulent health boosting greens are collected for the Centre's restaurant.