If you think you need expensive and exotic vegetables and fruits or extraordinary superfoods to be healthy, then you are wrong.
Seasonal vegetables and fruits bought locally are a brilliant source of not only delicious taste, but also vitamins, micro elements, freshness and health. And Spring is a perfect time to introduce more vegetables and fruits to your diet. I wanted to prepare a list for myself of vegetables and fruits according to the season, but I thought it will be a great idea for a blog post, so I prepared a vegetable and fruit calendar for you. Availability of all vegetables and fruits in supermarkets all year round made me lose track a bit when it comes to their seasonality. As I currently live in the UK, I chose this country as my fruit and vegetable base. But I encourage you to prepare your own vegetable and fruit calendar for the country you live in.
We have access to fresh vegetables and fruit all year round. Obviously, if you look at the labels lots of these veggies and fruits are grown thousands of miles away from UK. It’s because some of them do not grow in UK at all, like tropical fruits and veggies, others does grow but in different season, like tomatoes in January. But imported vegetables and fruits have one big drawback – in order to survive, they are sprayed with pesticides, which cannot be fully removed, even by washing and scrubbing the plant. This is not the case with seasonal fruit and vegetables, as they are usually grown on nearby farms, so we can be sure that they are fresh, and even if they are sprayed, to a much lesser extent. In addition, fruit and vegetables from abroad are harvested not fully ripe (so that the banana comes to us yellow, it is picked when it is still green), so they are not fully developed with vitamins and minerals. This takes away their health benefits and makes them less valuable for our body. My friend who lives i Malawi told me once, that bananas that we eat here in UK have absolutely different taste that the one that grow until ripen in Malawi. It’s like completely different fruit. You can easily experience that eating juicy strawberry from your garden in the middle of Summer, and large and beautiful but absolutely tasteless strawberry bought in the supermarket in the middle of Winter.
It’s also worth knowing that vegetables and fruits begin to lose their nutritional value at the time of harvesting and larger amounts of bacteria responsible for spoilage begin to appear. So by eating them as quickly as possible since harvesting, we gain more benefits for our body. Also imported fruits and veggies are more expensive than seasonal ones. They need to be transported many miles before they reach to your local shop.
Transporting such fruit and vegetables leaves behind a huge carbon footprint and a multitude of other pollutants. I’m not saying that we should suddenly stop eating exotic fruits or imported vegetables if we like them. I love vegetables myself and I like to eat them all year round, and it would be difficult for me to only eat root vegetables out of season. However, if we would like to introduce more seasonality into our diet, it is a good idea to start from buying vegetables and fruits in season. A great idea in my opinion is also buying vegetables and fruits from local farmers – such vegetables will not only be much healthier but also cheaper, and their cultivation and sale more environmentally friendly (if you’d like to know more about the difference between supermarket veggies and the one from sustainable farms, take a look at my interview with one of our local farmers).
Lastly it’s worth mentioning that seasonal vegetables and fruits are simply much tastier. It’s much nicer to enjoy the taste of strawberries on a sunny Summer day, when they are juicy, full of flavour and sweet, than to spoil your experience by buying an expensive small plastic box of strawberries that taste like nothing.
Very often the simplest solutions are the best, so if you want to make a little revolution in your vegetable world this Spring, start by downloading the calendar I have prepared (you’ll find it on the bottom of this post below the photos). Keep it on your phone, for easy access when you go shopping, or print it and stick to your fridge.
Did you know that some parts of vegetables that you usually put to rubbish are in fact edible? If you buy veggies from the farmers market or in small local shops, often you can get broccoli, cauliflower or carrots as a whole veg – with leaves and stems. When I was getting my veg delivery from a local farm I was feeling sorry to bin carrot, cauliflower and broccoli leaves, so I’ve made a research and see if I can use them anyhow. It turned out that there’s plenty of veggie parts we usually get rid of, that we could actually eat. And if you get your veggies from a sustainable and good source, that are harvested locally during the natural growing season you can go ahead and eat them whole. Moreover, sometimes leaves that we usually put to rubbish are more nutritious that the actual vegetable. There’s also couple fruits which parts you always throw away, but even though unbelievably they are edible. I will tell you about them at the end.
Why locally grown and seasonal veggies and fruits I think are the best?
Nutritional values are highest immediately after harvesting and decline over time. Long transportation and storing time requires some kind of chemicals that will make veggies and fruits look good for a long time. According to EWG there’s couple veggies and fruits that should be considered as highest content of pesticides. Strawberries are first. Apples came second in the ranking. The third place was taken by nectarines, and the fourth by peaches. There’s also: celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, red peppers, cherry tomatoes and green cucumber. Unfortunately also very popular as a healthy food – kale. That’s why it’s so important to avoid buying vegetables from big supermarkets, or the one that where growing thousands miles from where you live. Buying locally means that fruits and veg are much less likely to be treated with chemicals to increase their shelf life during transport and storage.
Obviously it’s not always possible, and not everyone has an opportunity to buy only organic and locally grown products. But there’s still something you can do. Try to buy seasonal fruits and vegetables, and when you’re in the supermarket take a good look on the label to see where the fruit or veg is from – choose these ones that was growing closest to you.
And now let’s see which parts of veg and fruit you’ve been foolishly putting to rubbish bin 😉
If you buy cauliflower with leaves, do not get rid of them. As the cauliflower have a lot of vitamins – from A and C to E, K, B6, folic acid, thiamine and niacin, also minerals like: zinc, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. Cauliflower leaves are perfect as homemade chips. Just drizzle them with olive oil and spices, and then put in an oven preheated to 200 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Cooked in vegetable broth and blended with cream and spices, turn into a delicious green soup. Fried with clarified butter, can even be eaten solo. You can easily add them when making caulislaw (coleslaw made with cauliflower). Sky is the limit!
Broccoli stem and leaves are edible too. They contain a lot of fiber and are rich in, among others, valuable vitamin K. Just cut the stalk a little from the fibrous outer part and cut it into slices, and then boil it in water or steam. The leaves can be added to a salad, a green smoothie, or sautéed or baked with salt and pepper. If you like preparing homemade vegetable juices, you can also add broccoli leaves and stems.
Although it’s not very popular, but sometimes you can buy a beautiful bunch of carrot s with leaves. If you do so, never get rid of the leaves, because they contains more nutritional properties than the root itself! They are full of chlorophyll, magnesium, potassium, calcium, vitamin K and C, helping to cleanse the body of toxins and deposits, detoxifies the liver and boosts your energy. You can use them to make pesto, green smoothies, chimichurri sauce, can be added to vegetable broth or different kind of salads.
Comparing to the root kohlrabi leaves contains much more vitamin C that the root. If you don’t want to loose this valuable vitamin put leaves to a salad. They also contain large amounts of iron. So if you deal with anaemia, you’re pregnant or just delivered a baby, make yourself a salad with kohlrabi leaves. They have quite intensive taste, so young leaves will be the best to spice up your salad, and larger leaves can be added to the soups.
Do you also always get rid of them? They contain twice as much vitamin C as lemon juice! They are a rich source of iron and calcium (they even win over spinach). They perfectly detoxify the body and improve metabolism. Finally, they regulate blood pressure and increase natural immunity. Young radish leaves can be added to a salad, larger ones because of their hardness and roughness will be better added to a green smoothie, soup or as a base for green pesto.
Surprised? If you do, take a look at these two fruits – the parts you always get rid of are also edible:
Strawberry stems and leaves
As it turns out, strawberry leaves are teeming with bioactive compounds, including anti-inflammatory, disease-fighting flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol. Chlorophyll, protects the body against the harmful effects of free radicals and slows down the ageing process, and because of the fiber that supports the functioning of the intestines. Strawberry stalks also contain vitamin C and iron. You can obviously eat the stems with the strawberry itself, but you can also add the stems and leaves to a salad, green smoothies or pop them into a bottle with water to infuse. If you decide to eat the whole strawberry make sur that it’s from a good source. According to EWG strawberries contain, on average, as many as 13 dangerous pesticides. If you buy the perfect strawberries – large, red and without any blemish, you must be aware that such fruits are grown with pesticides.
Would you ever consider watermelon rind? It’s edible as a cucumber. Watermelon rind is full of easily digestible fiber, which helps to remove toxins from the body. The same as watermelon flesh has plenty of nutritional benefits. You can either pickle the rind, or remove the hard green skin, finely chop the rest and prepare a summer salsa or chutney – perfect as an addition to BBQ. Also watermelon seeds are edible. If you always spit them out, try to save them, dry and roast on a hot pan and you’ll get a great healthy snack.
As the icing on the cake, there’s quite a good few edible flowers you can add to your food if you’re lucky enough to have a garden or a meadow near by. Of course never pick up flowers that are growing near busy roads and industrial areas. I’m very curious about them, because I’ve never tried any edible flowers and they look so amazing as a decoration or a salad garnish. Have you ever tried them?
basil – flowers come in a variety of colours, from white to pink to lavender. The taste is similar to the leaves, but milder
garden pansy – petals have a slightly vague flavour, but if you eat the whole flower, it has a more mellow flavour. A good addition to cheeses and salads
courgette and pumpkin – flowers of both are wonderful stuffing “vessels”, each with a delicate flavour. The stamens must be removed before use
violet tricolor (Johnny Jump-Up) – lovely and delicious, the flowers have a subtle mint flavour, great for salads, pasta, fruit and drinks
arugula (rocket) – flowers are small with dark centres and a peppery flavour that resembles leaves
chamomile – small and daisy-like. Its flowers have a sweet flavour and are often used in tea. Allergy sufferers must be careful because they may be more prone to chamomile allergy
lavender – sweet, spicy and fragrant flowers are a great addition to spicy and sweet dishes or homemade ice cream
mint – flowers are just mint. Their intensity varies depending on the variety
radish – variegated flowers of the radish have a distinct, peppery flavour
rosemary – flowers taste like a milder version of the herb
sage – flowers have a subtle flavour similar to the leaves
daisy – has an interesting mint flavour.
For a change parts of vegetables and fruits
that you should never eat:
potato stems, shoots and leaves – they contain solanine – toxic compound. Solanine is also found in unripe green potatoes
tomato leaves and stems – they also contain solanine
aubergine leaves and stems – can cause abdominal pain and food poisoning
rhubarb leaves – contain large amounts of the dangerous oxalic acid. It can cause acute food poisoning, vomiting and severe stomach pain
asparagus – only the young shoots of this plant are edible. We colloquially call them “asparagus” even though they are merely asparagus spikes. After the harvest period, the female variety of this plant produces buds and flowers, which develop red, berry-shaped fruits. Although they look tempting, they cannot be eaten. They contain a toxic chemical called sapogenin that can cause severe diarrhoea and vomiting.
I can’t wait until spring and summer when I will get my veggie delivery again. I hope I encouraged you to try and instead of getting rid of some veggie parts you’ll use them to make a smoothie, pesto or delicious salad. Also take a look at your local community or farmers market when the Spring comes – I’m sure you will find plenty of healthy and delicious seasonal vegetables and fruits.