Amazing Arugula is Super Healthy and Easy to Grow

Arugula or Salad Rocket

Among the many members of the cabbage family that I have tried planting, Arugula (also called Salad Rocket or Rucola) is the absolute winner in terms of ease of growing and resistance to pests. And I was pleasantly surprised to find out how good it is for your health, packing as much nutrients as its close relatives broccoli, brussels sprouts, and kale.

This is very good news, as our very warm climate here in the Philippines (except in the highlands) does not allow successful growth of those other leafy greens. When I sowed seeds of Arugula months ago, I didn’t really have high expectations because of two main reasons: 1) It sounded very exotic to me, and is not very popular in the Philippine market, and 2) I just lost a difficult organic war with insect pests that targeted members of the cabbage family.

But surprise, surprise… Arugula was the only man (or vegetable) left standing after that great battle. I didn’t even have to fight the pesky cabbage worms — Arugula did it all by itself! The variety I planted seemed to be resistant to those caterpillars. What a treat!

And your body will definitely be treated to loads of good stuff when you consume this salad green, which has a flavor that some have described as spicy or nutty. One of the main natural components found in Arugula and other cruciferous plants are glucosinolates. These sulfur-containing organic compounds give cabbage and mustard their pungent smell and taste. Several research studies have shown certain anti-cancer properties of glucosinolates. Scientific studies on these compounds in Arugula have also demonstrated that they have antidiabetic, antioxidant, and anti-ulcer properties. What a great and yummy way to be healthy!

I really recommend planting Arugula in your home gardens, as it takes the utmost minimum effort to grow. It does well even in small containers. All it needs is a sunny spot and a little bit of watering. It’s very low-maintenance, it grows well in the tropics, it’s better at tolerating wilt than a lot of other leafy greens, and it has very good defenses against common garden pests. Try planting it, and do let me know about your gardening adventures. 🙂

June Vegetable of the Month is Bitter Gourd or Ampalaya

BITTER GOURD or AMPALAYA

Scientific Name: Momordica charantia
Family: Cucurbitaceae (Squash Family)

Ampalaya (Momordica charantia) is literally a bitter pill to swallow. But once you get used to its taste, you will even crave its unique flavor and texture. The fruits should be harvested while young and green (they’re not good once they start turning yellow). They’re best stir-fried with tomatoes, onions, and garlic (add beaten eggs if you’re not vegan). And don’t forget that the leaves are also edible, and are amazing in munggo (mung bean) soup/stew. This plant is also known for its medicinal uses, and has been marketed as an anti-diabetic. Pregnant women should not consume too much of this vegetable though!

Growing this vine, which is also known as bitter melon, is fairly easy. Just plant seeds directly in soil, not need for special germination treatment. It can even thrive in soils that are relatively not very fertile. It can also be grown as a potted plant, but wherever you plant it, you will need to support it with a trellis or if you prefer, just allow it to creep up the stems of your other plants. It may be grown in shady areas to get large leaves, but for it to flower and fruit, a more sunny side of the garden is needed. Flowers are unisexual, so there are pollen-bearing and fruit bearing flowers. Beware of the pests — the fruits and leaves of this plant are prone to insect attacks. Harvest before the bugs get to them!

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Medicinal Herbs that are Mistaken for Weeds

“A weed is a plant whose virtue is not yet known.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

There was a time when people went to their gardens rather than drugstores to get medicines. But did you know that 80% of people in developing countries still rely on traditional medicine, which for the most part uses medicinal plants?

Cracks on the pavement, tiny recesses in concrete walls, empty or abandoned lots, waste open areas — these are some of the many places where you will find weeds growing. But take a moment to look, as those weeds just might be one of the most potent medicines for some of the common (and sometimes not-so-common) human illnesses.

I went around in our garden looking for weeds that have known medicinal properties, and it didn’t take me long to identify a few of them. Here are five medicinal weeds found in our garden, their short descriptions, illnesses they cure, and typical ways that they are prepared. Take note that I am including here only those that are often considered weeds, i.e. herbs that people don’t usually plant on purpose, and that typically grow everywhere voluntarily. Disclaimer: I am not in the medical profession, so I am not giving any exact formulations or dosages for these plants. Please use these plants, or any other medicine, with caution. I referred to the website  http://www.stuartxchange.org for a lot of information, so please visit that site for more details.

1. Oregano (Plectranthus aromaticus)

Description: Like its scientific name says, this plant has aromatic leaves. It belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae), but unlike the mint, it has larger leaves that are a bit succulent and have fine velvety hair.

Used for: Cough, asthma, dyspepsia and many other conditions.

Preparation: Leaves can be boiled or steeped in hot water and drank as tea.

2. Tawa-tawa (Euphorbia hirta)

Description: Leaves are small, and dense tiny greenish flowers are found in the axils. Has a milky white exudate, like many members of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae).

Used for: Asthma, Malaria, Dengue fever and illnesses associated with blood.

Preparation: Whole plant is boiled and drank as tea.

3. Pansit-pansitan (Peperomia pellucida)

Description: Soft small herb with leaves and stems that are translucent, hence the scientific name. Belongs to the black pepper family (Piperaceae), and bears flowers/fruits in a similar manner, i.e. on slender spikes.

Used for: Urinary tract infection, other fungal and bacterial infections.

Preparation: Whole plant can be boiled or steeped in hot water and drank as tea or applied to skin externally. Can also be eaten fresh as a salad vegetable.

4. Kulitis (Amaranthus spinosus)

Description: Looks very similar to the wild spinach (Amaranthus viridis), with its arrow-shaped leaves, and whitish-green numerous flowers on spikes, except it has spines on the stems.

Used for: Fever, snake bites, anemia, and a lot of other diseases.

Preparation: Leaves are usually boiled or steeped in hot water like tea. Also eaten and prepared just like spinach.

5. Golasiman (Portulaca oleracea)

Description: Succulent herb with slimy sap. Flowers usually pink or yellow with petals that bruise and wilt very easily.

Used for: Stomach problems, painful urination, wounds, etc.

Preparation: Fresh crushed or boiled leaf juice used externally on skin. Leaf infusion drank as tea. Eaten as a vegetable, raw or cooked.

Those are the medicinal weeds that I found after just a few minutes of search in our garden. I wonder what other weeds with virtues I can find if I spent more time and searched farther? Do you know of any other plants that are usually mistaken for weeds but are actually medicinal? Let us know in the comments below.