Danger in the Raw

There has been a lot of information in the popular press about the benefits of a raw diet. According to WebMD, those who eat their food raw believe that cooking destroys the nutrients and natural enzymes present in our food. Eating raw foods ensures that we get the full benefit of all the intact nutrients in the food items, which results in a more nutritious diet and healthier bodies among the humans who consume raw food.

The overall benefits of a raw diet are debatable. What is not debatable is that certain fruits and vegetables should never be eaten raw, as doing so can cause illness or even death. These particular vegetables either have harmful microbes or contain compounds that can cause digestive upset. Cooking inactivates the compounds and kills the microbes, rendering the foods safe to eat.

So which fruits and vegetables should never be eaten raw?

Brassicas (e.g. cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, mustard, etc.) — While most people can eat these vegetables raw, others may experience gas and bloating from the complex, difficult-to-digest sugars present. Those who have thyroid conditions should definitely cook these vegetables, as they also contain thyroid inhibitor compounds that can worsen these conditions.


Beans — Raw beans contain lectin, a glycoprotein, which, when consumed, can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea within three hours of consumption. Eating five uncooked kidney beans is enough to cause illness. Boiling beans, however, inactivates the protein and renders the beans safe to eat.

Beans 2
Potatoes — Uncooked potatoes, especially those that have a greenish color to them, contain high levels of the toxin solanine, a very dangerous toxin. And if the solanine doesn’t get you, the uncooked starch will — with the gift of gas and bloating. And if that isn’t enough, the hemagglutinins present can disrupt red blood cell function.

Mushrooms — Though not a vegetable, I’m including them here because we often consume them along with vegetables. Raw mushrooms contain agaritine, a suspected carcinogen. Cooking, however, inactivates agaritine and renders it harmless.

So go ahead and eat that raw diet if you think it will benefit you. But if you want to really want to live a little longer, and you plan on eating the vegetables mentioned above, then cook them. The life you save may be your own.

Support Your Local Farmers Market

Farmers Market


They show up every spring; they’re here through September or October; then they’re gone for the year. Nearly every town and city has one, and they are growing in popularity. I’m speaking, of course, about farmers markets, and, next to your own garden, they are one of the best sources of fresh fruits and vegetables you’ll find. In addition, you’ll find vendors that sell baked goods, meats, soaps, spices, eggs, and honey straight from the hive. Some even have live music provided by local talent.

Most farmers market vendors accept cash only as payment for their wares, but some will accept credit and debit cards. A few farmers markets are set up to accept food stamps and their equivalents — a wonderful way to provide good nutrition to lower income people.

But just as a movie theater needs butts in seats to survive, farmers markets need bodies in their booths to stay alive. So I encourage everyone to patronize their local farmers market. Yes, we should all plant our gardens and grow our own food. I encourage that; that’s what I’m all about. But a garden is merely a means to a goal — providing a consistent supply of fresh produce that hasn’t been tainted with potentially harmful chemicals. Farmers markets can be another means of helping you to reach that goal. Though you may have your own garden, your space for it is limited. As much as we may like to, we gardeners cannot grow everything. Furthermore, due to city ordinances, many of us cannot raise our own chickens or keep our own beehives. Farmers markets, with their wide array of fresh food offerings, can provide for us the items that we cannot produce for ourselves. And when you buy from a farmers market, you’re helping small family farm operations to stay in business.

So get yourself down to your local farmers market and avail yourself of all the wonderful fresh offerings. It’s good for you, good for your family, good for farmers, good for the economy, and good for America!

I’m The Garden Troubadour, and I approved this message!

Hydrogen Potential


Hydrogen, We all know it as a highly volatile gas, but it is also a necessary element for life and growth. After all, hydrogen and oxygen together make water — and we all know how important that is!

In it’s ionic form in the soil, the amount of hydrogen present can determine how well your plants are able to take up nutrients. Too little or too much and the soil will become a toxic environment that will poison the plants.

The amount of hydrogen in soil can be measured and expressed as potential hydrogen or pH. Wait! Come back! This is a science lesson, but I promise that I’m not grading anyone! And my apologies if I’ve awakened anyone’s high school science nightmares.

The pH measurement scale goes from 0 to 15. A pH of 7 is considered neutral. Anything less than 7 is considered acidic. Anything greater than 7 is considered alkaline. The pH of chromic acid, for example, is around 1. If you got a drop of chromic acid on your skin, it would burn like fire, and I speak from personal experience (but that’s another story). Sodium hydroxide (household lye) has a pH of around 13.5, which is highly alkaline. Garden soil is typically at a pH of around 6.6-7.0 — between slightly acidic and neutral.

So what does this mean for us and our plants? At a soil pH of less than 6, plants are unable to take up calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium. In addition, micronutrients such as zinc, manganese, boron, iron, and aluminum will become so readily available, that the plant will take up too much, resulting in a toxic condition. If the soil pH is too high, iron and phosphorous also become unavailable.

The ability of our plants to survive depends in part on their ability to take up nutrients from the soil, and they do it best if the pH conditions are favorable. This can vary from plant to plant, but the majority of our garden vegetable do best at a pH of around 4.5-8.0. Potatoes, for example, do best at a pH of 4.5-6.5 — a slightly more acidic soil than is preferred by asparagus, which grows best when pH is 6.0-8.0.

How do we know if our soil is the right pH for a successful garden? Well, the best way to find out is to test your soil. You can do it yourself with soil test kits that can be purchased at nurseries or online gardening catalogs. Or if you want more accurate results, gather a sample of your soil and send it to a laboratory.

So what if your soil pH is too high or too low? Can it be adjusted? Yes. If your soil is too acidic, you can raise it by adding in ground limestone. If your soil is too alkaline, you can lower it with sulfur — either elemental sulfur, or as part of a compound such as ammonium sulfate.

So if your vegetable crops didn’t do so well last year, it may be due to the presence — excessive or deficient — of those critical hydrogen ions.

Bring Your Garden to the Feast


The holiday season is a time of feasting, drinking, and merrymaking. There will be dinner parties galore with all kinds of delicious food served — turkey, ham, beef, sweet potatoes, stuffing, pies, cakes, and the list goes on. Many of us will be attending these parties, and we will probably be bringing a dish to pass, especially if the party is pot luck. In this area we sometimes struggle. What should we bring? Sometimes the host or hostess will assign certain meal types (e.g. main dish, salad, dessert, etc.) to individual guests or ask in advance what each guest is bringing and coordinate accordingly. But what should we bring if the host or hostess does neither of these?

Why not bring a gift from the garden? If you were successful in your gardening endeavors, harvested a bumper crop, and took steps to preserve some of that harvest through canning, freezing, fresh storage, etc., then why not share some of your bounty with your fellow dinner guests? You can bring over a jar of pickles to serve with the meal. Or you can whip up a special dish using some of your preserved harvest. A vegetable soup or a salad is always welcome — especially if it was made with your fresh vegetables. A potato salad or mashed potatoes are positively scrumptious; even more so if it is made from your garden potatoes. Do you have apple trees growing in your yard or did you pick apples from a commercial orchard? You can turn those apples into apple pie or apple cider and share some of that with your guests. Hot apple cider is body and spirit warming treat during these cold holiday months. Do you grow your own corn or wheat? You can grind it to meal and make your own bread.

Anyone can bring a dish to pass. But to bring a dish that you made yourself with your own garden harvest will not only provide a mouth-watering treat for everyone, but will also gain you the respect and admiration of your friends and family. What’s not to love? So go ahead; bring your garden to the feast! It doesn’t need a special invitation and it is always welcome.

Danger in the Garden

Poison Garden

“You will be interested to learn what charming vegetation grows on the surface of the globe.” — Tiger Tanaka to James Bond in Ian Fleming’s “You Only Live Twice.”

In Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, the evil Dr. Shatterhand is causing headaches to the Japanese government with his “garden of death” — a castle and grounds filled with all manner of poisonous vegetation which the doctor has planted.  His garden has become a mecca for those citizens looking to commit suicide, and Japan’s secret service recruits James Bond to “enter this castle of death and slay the dragon within.”

Such is the stuff of adventure novels, but bears little resemblance to real life.  I say “little,” because most of us lack the time, money, and the insanity to plant a garden filled with strictly noxious plants for nefarious purposes.  However, many of the common ordinary plants that we don’t think of as deadly may contain, in part or all of the plant, toxins that, if consumed, may cause illness or in some cases even death.  Here are a few examples.

Asparagus – Eating the raw shoots when they’re young and green, can cause dermatitis. The berries that grow on the feathery leaves of the mature plant are also toxic. Eating more than a handful can cause nausea and vomiting.

Castor Bean — From the seed we get ricin, a highly toxic substance.  Eight beans is enough to kill an adult human.

Foxglove — Ingestion of the leaves can cause irregular heartbeat and pulse — enough to kill.

Hyacinth, Narcissus, and Daffodil — Eating the bulbs can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea — and even death.

Kidney beans – Kidney beans contain the toxin phytohaemagglutinin. A few raw beans will make the consumer violently ill; more than a handful can kill. To inactivate the toxin, beans must be boiled for at least ten minutes before being used raw in salads, cooked with other foods in a slow cooker.

Lima beans – Lima beans should never be eaten raw, as the raw beans contain the toxin limarin. A mere handful of raw lima beans can make someone violently ill.

Potato – The leaves, stems, and tubers that have turned green contain solanine. Solanine can cause gastric distress, headache, delirium, shock, paralysis, and occasionally death.

Rhubarb — The leaves contain oxalic acid.  Eating the leaves can cause convulsions, coma, or death.

Tomato — Leaves contain tomatine, an alkaloid that can cause gastrointestinal upset.  Tomato leaves can be used to make a homemade insecticide.

While most adults are smart enough not to consume stems and leaves from these aforementioned plants, a small child or pet may not know better.  And one mistake could be the last.  So let’s be safe in the garden and keep pets and children away from these and other potentially deadly plants.