We call some foods ‘superfoods’ for their exceptionally high levels of minerals and essential nutrients, antioxidants and other plant hormones and chemicals known to benefit our health. Now, more than ever, we are looking to plants to help our bodies detox, to recover from the ravages of a fast-paced world full of stress, and give ourselves a break from foods that are all too often processed to within a whisker of nil nutritional benefit.
A quick trip to my health food store demonstrated the price we pay for these superfoods commercially. A look at the label of a one litre bottle of goji berry juice, promoted as having the highest source of antioxidants of any fruit you can eat, had me realising that for $99 I’d be getting 70 per cent carrot juice in the mix and a very little of the goji that was named on the label. I know the carotene injection will be extremely good for me, but at $2 a kg for fresh carrots in the supermarket I would be far better off financially to buy dried goji’s and a couple of kilograms of carrots.
The message here is the health food market is doing okay… but why don’t you grow your own at home? The upfront investment may be one week’s shopping bill, but with decades of compounding returns afterwards.
For instance, a potted goji berry will cost under $20 and within two years will provide around 1kg of fruit. Within five years a single plant will deliver around 5-10kgs of delicious fruit that tastes much like raisins when eaten fresh and is incredibly good for you. Goji berry is a borderline weed once established and it will sucker up new plants and become extremely bushy and productive as it ages.
This is, of course, just an example of one superfood you should be growing your backyard, here are more amazing plants to consider adding to your garden – and table.
Horseradish (pictured above) is almost a weed, it is that easy to grow. The roots supply incredible flavour ideal for adding to meat dishes or mixing with seafood. Horseradish grows almost anywhere, although it’s best in full sun in an open, free-draining soil type.
Blueberry is something we can all grow; if you live in alkaline soil types then plant yours in a pot. The further north you live, the more likely your plants are to need afternoon shade or a position with 50 per cent shadecloth overhead. Feed regularly with an azalea and camellia fertiliser for best results.
Avocado trees grow well in most parts of the country and produce prodigious crops as they mature. An avocado or two in a backyard can easily provide 150 to 500 fruit within 5-10 years of planting. In market value that is $600-$2,000 worth of fruit per year for a $50-$70 outlay (for a grafted tree). They love a sunny spot protected from strong winds in a soil that is rich in nutrients.
Kiwi fruit are well known as being good for you, but did you know there is an enzyme in kiwi fruit that assists with digestion? Eating a kiwi fruit after a big meal may relieve heartburn. You need a male and female plant and they are large climbers, so give them space. Ensure they don’t dry out and they will produce ample fruit.
Pawpaw is a tropical fruit that is again suggested to be very good for treating indigestion. Its flesh can be used to tenderise meats due to a naturally occurring plant enzyme that breaks down the meat. When eaten, this helps release protein quickly into your system. Most pawpaw plants are bisexual, having male and female flowers on the one plant, but the best crops are achieved through three plants added to a garden at the same time. Plant in full sun, protect from frosts and enjoy amazing crops in the second year from planting.
Banana is an absolute nutritional superstar, with so many health benefits it is not funny. This giant herb grows well throughout most parts of Australia, making it a great addition to any garden. A two-year-old plant will produce a bunch of bananas around 20kg in weight. Grow in full sun or shade. Bananas will tolerate watering with grey water around the base, which is a great waterwise way to go.
Asparagus is very much a trendy food now and its nutritional benefits are a major selling point. It’s very easy to grow asparagus at home in a free-draining, sunny spot. They go dormant in winter and produce spears in spring. It’s best to leave them until year two before harvesting to allow the root system to properly develop.
Watercress is said to be another amazing health food that is rich in antioxidants, particularly the ones that fight cancer and cleanse the liver and kidneys. Grow it in a water bowl in full sun and harvest weekly for best results.
Olives have so many health benefits, and not just from the oil of the fruit. The olive leaf is said to be an incredibly good source of antioxidants and its antibacterial qualities fight off infections when used regularly (as a tea or as an olive leaf extract). Every garden could do with an olive. Plant in improved soil in an area with plenty of sun for best results.
Pomegranate is an unusual Middle Eastern fruit that is easy to grow at home. Its fruit is one of the trendiest around and another rich source of antioxidants. They love full sun and free-draining soils and are incredibly waterwise. The flowers are also a feature in their own right as they are very attractive.
Mango trees will become more and more common as people realise how easy they are to grow here. The fruit is expensive to buy, but the trees are quite cheap and they produce large quantities of high quality fruit quickly. Mangoes are high in energy, low in fat, and are a great source of calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C. You can buy dwarf varieties for small gardens. My own five-year-old tree typically produces 100-150 fruit a season, which at market prices is around $750; not a bad return on a $50 investment.
Mushrooms can be grown easily at home in kits available at local nurseries and Bunnings Warehouse. The more exotic forms such as the pink oyster mushroom are available at growers markets and from specialist growers. These do well in a bright sunny spot in a protected place, ideally with high humidity, like the bathroom. They are incredibly beautiful too.
About the Author – Trevor Cochrane
Trevor is a born-and-bred proud West Australian who grew up on a dairy farm in Mundijong, just outside of Perth, WA. He launched the media company Guru Productions in 2002 that has since produced over 750 episodes of television telecast on Channel 9 nationally and is now seen in over 100 countries across the globe in 14 different languages. In the years since creating The Garden Gurus he has created and produced over 50 hours of international travel shows, food and wine programs, local WA food program Our State on a Plate and the Destination WA travel series. All Guru Productions projects appear on Channel 9 and WIN Television, as well as nationally on the popular digital TV channel 9 Life. Trevor’s passion for gardening has seen him write four books and regular columns for the The Sunday Times and The West Australian Newspaper.