Master Gardener: Plan an immunity garden for 2022 – Fremont News Messenger

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The cold and flu season are here. Many herb lovers planted their immunity-boosting garden last spring and now have a full stock of medical plants on hand to get them through the winter season. You can plan for the next growing seasonHippocrates said, “Let food by thy medicine.”  Today this is all too true. A diet of foods rich in vitamins and minerals will help support a strong immune system. The health experts recommend eating a wide variety of plant-based foods in a rainbow of colors for optimal health. Here is a list of staples that are particularly potent and beneficial to supporting good immune health — herbs being on the list.Ginger (Zingiber officinale) — a beneficial anti-inflammatory and antioxidant in many cultures and is backed by rigorous scientific research. It contains copper, magnesium, manganese, and potassium for antimicrobial properties. It is reported that Confucius ate some at every meal. It loves to grow in pots and containers in humid subtropical conditions, but it also grows well in the north if protected. Plants require 8-10 months of frost-free weather to reach maturity. Water regularly during summer. Fertilizing is optional but organic fertilize once a month if you choose. Harvest when leaves turn yellow. Uproot the entire plant, store in a paper bag at room temperature, or freeze for up to six months. Use in stir fry or drink as a tea. Combine slices of ginger in a saucepan with water to a boil, then add honey.Dandelion (Taraxacum) — linked to good health of our microbiome, the complex web of microorganisms that live in our intestines. The key is finding the healthy microbiome balance in consuming a mix of probiotic foods like fermented vegetables which contain good live bacteria, like dandelions. Lucky the landowner who does not treat his lawn.  The bitter perennial is super accessible and can be safely harvested for consumption. Dandelion is easily grown or foraged in forests. It will germinate in 7-21 days, start indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost or plant seeds outside after the last chance of frost. When harvesting, the leaves grow from a low rosette so you can harvest the leaves individually or cut the plant at the base. Place the flowers in salads. Cook the mature leaves like spinach, stir-fry with oil and garlic for a side dish, steep flowers in warm water for a delicious tea, and the roasted root makes for a coffee or tea substitute.Garlic (Allium) — also a good prebiotic food that will fuel good bacteria to keep your gut microbiome healthy. It also possesses antimicrobials against potentially harmful enterobacteria like salmonella. Garlic has the ability to differentiate between beneficial intestinal microflora and dangerous foreign bacteria. It is one of the most impressive medical foods. They can be frozen. The taproot is bitter but edible. Flower heads are edible also. Pick them in early morning after the dew has dried. It is best to purchase garlic at a farmers market if you plan to plant it. Plant in October or November on a dry, cool day, 1 to 2 inches deep about 8 inches apart making sure the tip is pointing up. Harvest when the bulb is completely filled out and plump.  Lift with a fork or shovel.  Do not pull it out. Do not store in fridge unless it has been peeled or chopped. Place one cup of chopped garlic in a mason jar with one cup raw honey, loosely place lid, store in cool dry place for 3-5 days.  After the 3-5 days secure lid, tip upside down, loosen lid after 3-5 days — repeat process for a month. Bubbling is normal. Use honey in tea for an immune boost during winter. Echinacea (Echinacea) — many studies report that this popular herb supports immunomodulatory effects as well as its antiviral and antimicrobial effects. We also call it “coneflower,” used to treat respiratory tract infections and inflammatory conditions it is well documented. It is easy to grow echinacea. It loves full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. Sow seeds directly in soil 12-24 inches apart. Watch each year for their return. Flower heads can be used as tea by measuring 1/4-1/2 cup of leaves to one cup of boiling water. Steep for 15 minutes. To make a tincture, fill a mason jar 2/3 full with fresh parts or half with dried parts. Fill with vodka to top. Store in a cool dry place, shaking several times a week for six to eight weeks. Tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts made by soaking herbal plant parts in alcohol or vinegar.In addition to creating a healthy foundation it requires a multi-tiered approach. For a strong immune system, you must include regular exercise and a balanced healthy diet complete with a range of vitamins and nutrients. Lowering your stress level is also linked to improving the immune system function, and luckily, home gardening has been shown to have therapeutic, stress-relieving effects.Susan La Fountaine is a Master Gardener for the Ohio State University Extension Officers in Sandusky and Ottawa Counties.
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