Powered By Blogger

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

How to grow your own SUPERFOODS

Superfood is the label given to a food which is considered especially nutritious or in some way of benefit to our health. 

But I would be the first to admit that I have always been put off by such descriptions and the media attention superfoods attract. We have always thought that eating a balanced diet which includes lots of fruit and vegetables and which avoids too much sugar, salt and saturated fat is all we needed. 

However, if you investigate these foods we would be silly to ignore the extra nutritional and health benefits they provide. Especially when these foods have been shown to lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer and, apparently allow you live a longer life. 

But what could be better than growing your own organic superfoods and eating them when they at their best or preserving them to enjoy later.


The following are 14 superfoods grow well in Cyprus and in Mediterranean area or you can consider adding them to your diet. 

1. Avocado

Avocados are high in calories but full of essential nutrients, including potassium, B-vitamins and folic acid. They act as a nutrient booster when eaten with other foods, as they help the body to better absorb cancer fighting nutrients found in vegetables such as spinach.  Avocados have  also been shown to lower cholesterol levels, aid in regulating blood pressure and help protect against heart disease and strokes. Try to include, when available, half or whole avocado several times a week.
2. Beans

You can grow all sorts of beans in the Mediterranean area and with drying and freezing have your own beans available all year round. The Cypriot favourite is black eyed beans planted in June and harvested from August to October. However, you can grow broad beans, French beans, soya beans, butter beans and many other legumes.

Beans are rich source of calcium, iron, potassium, B vitamins, plus protein and fibre. They may also lower cholesterol levels, which can help keep your heart healthy. Replacing a few meat based meals per week with beans is, therefore, a recommended change we should all consider. 

The fibre in meat is digested by our bodies quickly, whereas the fibre in beans is digested slowly, keeping you full longer. Replacing meat with beans will, more importantly, reduce your intake of saturated fat but at the same time providing you with the protein required.

Beans also have phytochemicals which are compounds high in antioxidants and these can fight cell damaging free radicals in the body which have been implicated in many diseases including cancers.
So try, as the latest dietary guidelines recommend, to eat 1 to 3 cups of beans per week.

3. Broccoli

Broccoli has a long growing period and is started around September and harvested during February to March.

Broccoli is a rich source of vitamin A, which is good for the repair of body tissues. It is also has vitamin K, which is important for normal blood clotting and healthy bones. But it's broccoli's cancer fighting powers which makes it a superfood. Broccoli, along with cabbage and cauliflower, contain phytochemicals that stimulate the production of cancer fighting substances by the body. And studies have shown that there is strong evidence that broccoli lowers the risk of tumours in the prostate, uterus, stomach, throat, lungs, colon and pancreas.
Try to eat two portions of steamed or raw broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage a week.
4. Figs

Fig trees can be seen everywhere in Cyprus and across the Mediterranean and is a beautiful tree to include in your garden. The flavour of a fig just picked is a delight.

Figs have the highest overall mineral content of all common fruits and are packed with potassium, manganese and antioxidants. The high potassium level in figs may help to control blood pressure.

Figs are also high in calcium, iron and vitamin B6.

Figs are a good source of fibre, more fibre than any other dried or fresh fruit and this helps lower cholesterol and protect against colon and breast cancer.

Try to include 3-4 dried or fresh figs in your weekly diet.
5. Garlic

Plant your garlic cloves in December and harvest once the leaves have turned yellow and dried out. Carefully dig out the bulbs and allow to dry in the sun for a week before storing.

Garlic is the most widely used medicinal plant in history. A member of the allium family, it is known for its antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral properties and has been used for centuries to treat  a variety of ailments.

Modern scientific studies have confirmed garlics ability in helping to fight infections and help protect against heart disease by thinning the blood and helping to lower cholesterol. 
Try to include garlic in your daily diet, preferably raw or lightly cooked. Try to eat garlic soon as possible after peeling, as its potency fades when exposed to light. Cooking diminishes the garlics properties, but it is still better to eat it cooked than not at all. If you don't like the smell on your breath try chewing parsley afterwards.
6. Globe Artichokes
Plant globe artichokes offsets in November and harvest 10-12 heads per plant between April and June.

Globe artichokes are a good source of potassium, vitamin C, folate, magnesium and dietary fibre.
Studies have shown that artichokes contain a very high amount of antioxidants in the form of phytonutrients. Among the most powerful phytonutrients are cynarin and silymarin, which have strong positive effects on the liver and help to detoxify harmful chemicals from the body.

Recent studies have also revealed that globe artichokes help with digestive troubles, irritable bowel syndrome and in lowering high blood pressure. 

When artichokes are in season, find as many recipes as possible to include them in your diet. 

7. Red Grapes

Grapes can be harvested from July to October. Besides being enjoyed fresh, they can be pressed to make juice, wine, must roll or dried to make raisins. Vines are traditionally planted in March and at a distance of 2.4 metres apart.

The benefits of grapes have been long known. And particularly, red grapes which contain flavonoids which are the powerful antioxidants that give grapes their colour. These flavonoids help to prevent blood clots forming in the body, are anti-inflammatory, help in protecting against cancer and have been shown to increase life expectancy.

Grapes also contain resveratrol which has been shown to protect against damage to arteries,  help in lowering blood pressure and reduce the possibility of cancerous tumours.

Grapes are also a good source of manganese, vitamins B1, B6 and C and potassium.

Enjoy red grapes whenever possible, fresh, juiced or as a glass or two of red wine.

8. Goji Berries

Goji berry (also known as wolfberry) is a fast growing plant which grows in all climates and all soil types, as long as there is good drainage. It's berries are harvested from August  to November and each plant will produce about 1Kg of berries in its second year.

Goji berries have been found to have the highest antioxidant level in any food and these compounds act to destroy free radicals that cause cancer and speed up the ageing process.

Goji berries also contain beta-carotene, vitamins B1 and B2, minerals and amino acids.
Goji berries are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine and are believed to strengthen the immune system, help eyesight, protect the liver and improve circulation.
Harvested berries can be dried, eaten raw or brewed into a tea.
9. Leeks
Maincrop leeks are sown in Cyprus in September but can be sown until December and are harvested between March and May.

Like garlic, and the rest of the allium family, leeks can help the liver eliminate toxins and contain quercetin an antioxidant which protects the body against cancer. Leeks also contain sulfur compounds that may protect against heart disease and can lower blood pressure.
Leeks contain prebiotics, which are essential for probiotics to thrive in the intestines  which help boost the immune system. They can also help stabilise blood sugar levels because they are high in folate, manganese, iron, vitamin C  and vitamin B6. 

Try to eat allium vegetables regularly and everyday if possible.
10. Oregano and Other Fresh Herbs and Spices
Many herbs are native to the Mediterranean area and are easy to establish and grow.

When researchers analysed foods to identify those with the highest level of antioxidants, of the 50 foods highest in antioxidants, 13 were herbs and spices. Herbs are also an anti-inflammatory and can assist in keeping your heart healthy.Try to include these herbs and spices in your weekly diet; oregano, basil, ginger, black pepper, rosemary, cinnamon, turmeric and chives.
11. Pomegranate

Grown throughout the Mediterranean, pomegranates are easily established and, once mature and fruiting, can be harvested between September and October.

Pomegranates have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries particularly for digestive problems. But modern scientific research has revealed its true health benefits.
Pomegranates are now known to combat heart disease and lower blood pressure. They also contain three times as many cancer-fighting antioxidants as green tea and are believed to be particularly effective in fighting off prostate cancer and breast cancers.
Pomegranates are rich in vitamins A, C and E, and iron, which helps the blood maintain an effective supply of oxygen to the body.
Try to eat one fruit, several times a week, or drink it juiced.

12. Spinach

Can be sown regularly between September and February for a continual crop between December and May.
Spinach is an excellent source the B vitamin folate which helps to prevent heart disease, dementia and colon cancer. 

Spinach is rich in antioxidants, vitamins A, B2, B6, C, E and K, magnesium, folate, iron, copper and zinc.

Another compound in spinach is lutein which aids against macular degeneration, which causes age-related vision loss. 
Because of it's high vitamin K content, spinach also helps protect against strokes and build stronger bones which can lower your risk of osteoporosis.

Finally, spinach contains nutrients which have been found to increase the skin's ability to avoid damage from sunburn and reduce your risk of various skin cancers. 

Try to eat two portions of spinach weekly.
13. Strawberries

Plant October to November and harvest from May to September.

Strawberries are a rich source of vitamin C, K, B2, B5 and B6, potassium, copper, magnesium and omega-fatty acids.

In addition, strawberries contain anthocyanin, which has been shown in various studies to help in preventing cancer and which has anti-inflammatory properties. Strawberries are higher than most fruits in antioxidants, which give strawberries their red colour, and these help to strengthen the bodies tissue defences against oxidation and inflammation which are underlying factors in most age-related diseases. 
Enjoy strawberries when fresh and preserve for later use.

14. Tomatoes

Start your tomatoes under heat indoors during January and start enjoying freshly picked tomatoes from May onwards.

Tomatoes contain high levels of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that supports the immune system and helps maintain healthy skin and tissue. They are packed with antioxidant flavonoids and vitamin E, both of which are essential for a healthy heart . 

Tomatoes and are a good source of potassium and one medium sized tomato can provide 50% of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C.

Tomatoes are a very rich source of an antioxidant called lycopene which is the pigment which makes tomatoes red.  Lycopene neutralises free radicals which, if allowed to build up, can cause cell and arterial damage triggering cancer and heart diseases.
Eat tomatoes regularly either raw or cooked. Studies into the Mediterranean diet, which is known as one of the healthiest type of diets, suggests that cooking tomatoes with olive oil further improves their potency. 
Tomato juice is also a good way of increasing your dietary intake.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Which vegetables and fruits contain the highest pesticide residues?

One of the primary reasons we started growing our own vegetables, herbs and fruit, over twenty years ago in the UK, was the worry over what we were feeding our young family.The over use of  pesticides which are toxic chemicals mainly used to kill weeds, insects or fungal growth leave residues in most of the food we consume. These toxic chemicals can harm our health, wildlife and the environment. Every year agricultural workers are accidentally poisoned or after constant exposure to these harmful chemicals many suffer from long term health problems such as cancers. After researching the control of pesticides, I found that the government tests thousands of foods a year for pesticide residues. These results are published by the Pesticide Residues Committee quarterly. 

These reports show that between a third and half of all fruit and vegetables sampled contain detectable traces of pesticide residues and somewhere between 3% and 4% have residues over the legal limit. Residues get into the produce when overused on crops or when crops after harvested too soon after pesticide usage but can even be detected if used according to the pesticide manufactures instructions.

A few thousand tests are a very tiny percentage of the fruit and vegetables consumed and can only provide an indication of which produce are more likely to contain residues. A high dose of chemical residues may cause a short term problem such as a stomach ache but I am more worried about the long term damage caused by small amounts of a chemical cocktail. Although the manufactures tell us that individually these chemicals are safe in minute doses, it is the damage caused by a lifetime of exposure to a cocktail of chemicals which has never been tested.

The amount of pesticides applied to crops is high and one crop may be treated with several different chemicals all leaving residues. For example, a lettuce may be treated up to five times and strawberries about twelve times.  

So it is wise to grow as much of your own food as you can. Or alternatively buy organic fruit and vegetables. If using conventionally grown crops - thoroughly wash all fruit and vegetables and scrub root vegetables, discard the outer leaves of leafy crops, don't use the peel or zest for cooking and for small children peel all fruit.

If you can only afford limited organic produce or limited space to grow then concentrate on the following which have consistently been found to contain the highest pesticide residues.

Apples, strawberries, grapes, peaches, celery, peppers, spinach, nectarine, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and potatoes. 

Saturday, 27 June 2015

What is a healthy diet?

The Mediterranean diet and lifestyle has been scientifically analysed and has proved to be one of the healthiest with its main benefits providing for a healthier heart and a greatly reduced risk of diabetes but was does it include?

1. Fresh air is something we never consider but generally air quality is better in rural rather than urban settings

2. Regular exercise – in whatever form it takes. I find growing food keeps me fit. People who lead active lives are generally healthier and less likely to develop serious diseases. It is recommended we get 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times a week.

3. Water – many of us do not drink sufficient for our bodies needs. Whether it be plain water or teas we need 8-10 glasses per day but we should avoid sugar laden calorific drinks.

4. Fresh herbs – grow as many of your own as you can and many are recognised as being beneficial to health. Use fresh or dry for later use.

5. Fresh vegetables and fruits which includes plenty of legumes – harvested each day whether grown or bought. You do not need multivitamins to get all the minerals, vitamins, fibre and nutrients the body needs. Try to eat 6-12 servings per day.

6. Seeds and nuts – grown or harvested from own trees. Try to get 1 to 3 servings a day.

7. Fresh fish - 2 to 3 servings per week.

8. Some naturally reared meats and poultry but only 2 servings per week.

9. Local sheep and goat cheeses, yoghurt and milk.

10.Sun dried pulses, vegetables, herbs and fruit.

11. Local red wine and grape juice, preferably your own, family or neighbours which has not been over processed.

12. Local honey.

13. Homemade wholegrain organic breads (try making your own sourdough bread its delicious) or buy wholegrain organic bread if available.

14. Olives and olive oil – locally produced or from your own trees. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats.

15. Locally produced free range organic eggs but only 4 per week.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Strawberry Cordial

It is easy enough to buy a good quality cordial but I doubt it will ever taste as good as one made by yourself and from your own freshly picked produce.

Here is a recipe for and easy to make strawberry cordial which does not have as much sugar as some recipes I have come across. Hope you enjoy it.


1 kilogram of strawberries with hulls removed and well washed
2 cups of water
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
575 grams of sugar

Add the strawberries, lemon juice and water to a food processor. Once finely chopped place in a bowl, cover and leave in the fridge for 2 days to allow the water to absorb the strawberry flavour.

After 48 hours sieve the liquid through a sieve with added muslin to squeeze out all the juice into a pan. Add the sugar and stir whilst heating until all the sugar is dissolved. Gradually increase the heat and bring to the boil for 5 minutes and skim off any scum that forms.

Using a funnel pour into pre-sterilised glass bottles whilst still hot.

Once opened keep in the fridge and use within one month or freeze it for later use.

Lovely if diluted in sparkling water.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Cucumber Pickle

Great to make when cucumbers are in season


1.4 Kg of cucumbers
85 grams of cooking salt
350 grams of brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large onions
1 pint wine vinegar
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 dessert spoon mustard seeds


Wash the cucumbers and slice very thinly and place in a large bowl

Add finely sliced onions and sprinkle with salt,

Mix well and leave to stand for 3 hours.

Rinse thoroughly in running cold water and put into large pan, add the vinegar, bring to the boil and simmer until the mixture is soft, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Add the sugar and spices, stir over a low heat to dissolve the sugar and bring back to the boil,

Then remove from the heat. Pour into a large bowl and leave to cool. Pot the pickle in sterilized jars and cover tightly. This recipe will make about 1.8 Kg of pickle.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

How to make carob syrup and powder

To make homemade carob syrup remove 300 grams of  seeds from the pods, break up using a flat stone and soak in 750 ml water for 12 hours.

Blend in small amounts and then continue soaking for 2 days.

Filter though muslin and pour into pre-sterilised bottles.

Place in the fridge for a day to settle. Filter the solution through muslin, measuring the volume at until it represents a fifth of the original volume.

The syrup makes a delicious topping for ice cream, for use in milk shakes or to marinate meat.

To make carob powder. Pressure cook pods, depending on the size of your cooker, in sufficient water for 20 minutes. This softens the pods and allows for seed removal. Discard the seeds and cut the pods into small pieces then sun dry. When dry place in a blender and grind into a powder as required