Scientific research points to antioxidants as one of the most essential nutrients when it comes to preventing cancer, heart disease and the effects of premature aging. Antioxidants scavenge and neutralize free radicals, which target healthy cells leading to an increased risk in the development of all types of cancer.
Free radicals also contribute to cardiovascular disease and the development of age related eye disease, like cataracts and macular degeneration, as well as skin decline, spots and wrinkles.
The best source of antioxidants isn’t supplements, but fresh, organic foods eaten every day. Many of the most potent sources of antioxidants can be grown in the home garden and even the most novice gardener can cultivate them.
Studies have found that artichokes are perhaps the most potent source of antioxidants of any vegetable. Artichokes grow best in areas with moist, cool summers. Foggy areas are best. They can also be grown over the winter in the deep south. They require regular water and 3-4 months without frost in order to reach maturity.
Broccoli is filled with phytonutrients and has more vitamin C than citrus fruits. This cruciferous vegetable is known for its ability to lower the risk of cancer and its antioxidant capacity is a big part of that. Grow broccoli in the cool of spring and fall. With ample water and nutrients, you should have fresh heads to pick within about 12 weeks.
Russet potatoes are second only to artichokes among vegetables with a high level of antioxidants. Russet is a variety bred to improve on the Irish potato. They are grown all over the United States and as far as China. Potatoes thrive in cold weather and can even be grown over winter in parts of the south and southwest. They are also suitable for containers and can even be grown in sacks. Get them planted in the early spring and expect about 10 weeks to harvest.
Studies have found that wild blueberries have a slightly higher antioxidant capacity than cultivated varieties, but both are potent sources. Cross-pollinate at least two types of blueberries in your home garden for the best and biggest berries. Depending on the variety, blueberry bushes can grow from just 6 inches to 8 feet off the ground. They need acidic soil, lots of water, annual pruning and about 6 years before they produce a hefty yield but the work and wait is well worth the effort.
Perhaps slightly less potent than blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are no slouches in the antioxidant department. All of these berries should find a place in your garden, depending on where you live and the space you can provide. Cranberries are among the most difficult fruit to grow because they are finicky about their growing conditions. Strawberries, on the other hand, grow across a wide range of climates and are suitable for small pots. They also produce fruit their very first season, unlike most bush berries.
Dried red beans, kidney beans and pinto beans have the highest antioxidant capacity among legumes but all beans are great sources. Beans can be grown in most every region, but choose a variety that is best for your local climate. They need long growing seasons, usually 120-150 days of frost-free weather to reach maturity. Don’t give them too much water and avoid high nitrogen fertilizers. Bean crops should also be rotated every year. Legumes affix nitrogen in the soil and should not be planted where others have grown for four years.
Plums, especially black plums, provide great antioxidant protection through three powerful vitamins: vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K. Studies show that the vitamin C obtained from plums helps the body to absorb iron better than many other sources. The plum tree is perhaps the easiest to cultivate for the first time tree gardener. They do not require as much care or intricate pruning as many other fruit trees in order to produce a plentiful crop. Choose a variety suited for your area and give them a lot of space. You can also find dwarf varieties to grow in large containers.
Tomatoes are unique in that they provide one powerful antioxidant that is seldom found in other foods, lycopene. The power of this compound is through its antioxidant protection, which has linked it to a lower risk of cancer and heart disease. Tomatoes can be grown by anyone. Plant them outside of frosty weather or extreme heat and they will thrive in relatively fertile soil with lots of sun and water. If you have limited space, grow cherry tomatoes in pots. Don’t forget to provide stakes for support when growing vining varieties.
Garlic may prove to be one of the healthiest foods you can grow. It contains vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc and selenium, all of which have antioxidant properties. This is probably why it is repeatedly linked with cancer prevention. The jury is out as to how much garlic you must eat to receive significant antioxidant protection, but luckily it flavors many different foods wonderfully and is easy to grow. Unlike most vegetables, garlic is planted in the fall to be harvested the following summer. Be sure its planted in well draining soil with good sun exposure.
It’s no secret that green tea provides some of the best antioxidant protection of any food and has been linked to lower risks of cancer and other diseases. This is due to the high level of catechin polyphenol antioxidants found in the leaves used to make green tea. What you may not know is that you can grow a tea plant (Camellia sinensis) at home, provided you live in a warm, wet environment. Fermenting the leaves into green, black, white or oolong tea is a challenge but can be a fun process.
HERBS & SPICES
Ground cloves, cinnamon and oregano have tested highest among common herbs in total concentration of antioxidants. While herbs are generally consumed in smaller amounts that fruits and vegetables, growing them and including them as a constant addition to your daily diet can make them a great source of antioxidant protection. Herbs are also more easily grown, in most cases, than most fruits and vegetables. You can grow most in pots and even indoors.
Apples, especially Granny Smith and Red Delicious, make perhaps the best source of antioxidants amongst fruit trees, at least amongst those commonly grown in North America. Apple trees require an ideal site that has great drainage and is protected from cold settling air. They do best on top of a hill with lots of sun exposure. They also need to be carefully pruned each year for great, long-lasting results. The effort can be a fun project and the rewards are bountiful. Also, plan to grow more than one apple tree for cross-pollination purposes.
PECANS & OTHER NUTS
Got patience? Pecans have demonstrated the highest antioxidant capacity among nuts, but walnuts and hazelnuts are also great sources. Nut trees require lots of space to grow and usually some careful annual pruning. They’ll take a few years before you’ll see a harvest, but they tend to produce for decades once they get going.