Photo courtesy of Getty user Lilechka75
Smoothies have become an increasingly popular and convenient meal choice in the last few years, joining the likes of kombucha and almond butter as one of the latest “trendy” health foods. Most everyone has a go-to blend of fruits and yogurt, and some even toss in a handful or two of leafy greens to give their drink a nutritional boost, which, when consumed on a daily basis, provides the foundation for good health, disease prevention, and real energy. A few uncommon smoothie ingredients are not only healthy and delicious, but also easy to grow yourself, which assures optimum freshness of those life-giving vitamins. Drinking a smoothie for breakfast will nourish you, but won’t leave you feeling as heavy as you would with eggs and bacon, and gives a healthier energy source than a morning cup of coffee.
My own personal favorite smoothie combination includes soaked chia seeds, apples (which contain vitamin C, beta-carotene, flavonoids, and polyphenols), fresh spinach leaves (which I consider medicine in the form of food—the chlorophyll helps to improve red blood cell count and oxygenation of the body and brain, strengthens the immune system, increases enzymatic activity, and regulates hormones), and pumpkin seeds. I also include medicinal herbs at times, my favorites being holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) for their anti-anxiety and blood pressure regulating effects.
My version of the grow-your-own smoothie recipe (vegan):
- 1 cup chia water (made by soaking overnight 1 tablespoonful chia seeds per one cup water)
- 1 apple, cored and cut in pieces, or 1 cup other fresh homegrown fruits
- 1 cup chopped spinach, packed
- 1/4 cup hull-less pumpkin seeds
Directions: Add chia water to blender first, then add additional ingredients one by one. Do not leave the pumpkin seeds in for very long, since they can make the smoothie too thick.
Yield: 1 serving (2.5 cups)
Photo courtesy of Getty user malyguin
Chia seeds are often included in that aforementioned list of “trendy” foods, but don’t underestimate these tiny seeds; they’ve been touted as a superfood since 3500 B.C. for a good reason. Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc, chia seeds pack quite a nutritional punch. They’re also notorious for the gelatinous coating that develops after soaking in water for extended periods. To integrate chia into your morning smoothie, simply soak your desired amount of chia seeds in at least four times as much liquid (1/4 cup chia to 1 cup water) overnight in the fridge, and stir them into your smoothie after blending. Voila, you’ve added an instant boost of omega-3’s, fiber, and texture to your ho-hum smoothie.
For those of you who are garden-savvy or looking to eat more homegrown foods, chia is a great choice to grow on your own! Chia plants are hardy from Zones 8-11, and seeds are available at many nurseries or through Strictly Medicinal Seeds. They’ll need to be planted in late spring in a forgiving climate or indoors, as the plant doesn’t handle harsh weather well. To plant, simply loosen the soil a bit with a rake or your hands, sprinkle the seeds across the soil, and then press them in gently. They will grow to about 4 feet tall and around 18 inches across, so be sure to leave plenty of room between plants. Mature chia plants are quite striking, with clusters of purple flowers somewhat reminiscent of lavender. To harvest your chia seeds, pay attention to the flowers on the plant. Once most of the petals have fallen off the flowers, you can cut the flower head and place in a paper bag to dry. After the head is dry, simply crush the flower heads to loosen up the seeds and use a fine-mesh sieve to filter through the particulate. Store the seeds in a cool, dark place inside an airtight container.
Photo courtesy of Getty user white_caty
Styrian Pumpkin Seeds
There’s another addition to your morning smoothie that you may already have in your garden—pumpkin! Specifically, pumpkin seeds. Blending the hull-less seeds into your morning smoothie adds a dose of protein, fatty acids, L-tryptophan, and oxalic acid. They also act as a thickener when blended, which makes that fruit smoothie feel a little more decadent without adding too many extra calories.
Styrian pumpkins are the best cultivar for high seed yields, and seeds can be purchased from a number of online sources, including Strictly Medicinal Seeds. These pumpkins are a gorgeous orange and green striped pattern when mature, and have thin yellow flesh with dark green seeds. To plant, prepare the hills with compost after all danger of frost has passed, then direct-seed or transplant the seedling. Be sure to form the hills about 10 feet apart, because the vines spread quite wide. Keep the plants weeded and watered until the vines become self-mulching. Harvest the pumpkins after they’ve changed their color, then split them open and scoop out the seeds onto a table screen, working them out of the flesh. Spread them out on a baking sheet and stir several times a day until dry, then store in paper bags.
Other Unexpected Smoothie Additions:
- Hemp seeds
- Hibiscus flower (tea)
- Lemon balm
- Rosehips (seed removed)
Check out Strictly Medicinal Seeds for a wide assortment of organic seeds, growing information, and gardening advice to grow your edible and medicinal garden.