Thinking big is what’s happening in the superfood garden of Margaret Roberts and her daughter and business partner Sandy Roberts, as they show us the powers of the moringa tree and the large shrub called jaboticaba.
Words and Pictures: Julia Lloyd
Production and Styling: Sandy Roberts
If ever there was a time to marvel at the range of edible plants growing before our eyes it’s in Sandy Roberts’ kitchen garden at this time of year. You really do need to pinch yourself. Take a deep breath and then get going with removing the blinkers we’ve been wearing for who knows how long.
Wise up to just how much there is to be grown that is gorgeous to look at, delicious to eat, and packed with everything needed to give us all the energy and good health.
What a sight it is to see row upon row of Bellis perennis, marigolds, evening primroses, snapdragons, day lilies, roses – and much, much more – all bursting forth waiting to be picked for the table.
To see it all before me is quite the sit-down-and-pause moment. Soak up what these two ladies are really giving to anyone wanting to get the most from a garden. Stop thinking of a boring veggie patch (usually placed at the back of the house – can’t think why), and plant out the hundreds of superfoods Margaret and Sandy are introducing to us. Enjoy their beauty in the garden, and in the vase, and their magnificence as we whip them into foods, juices, teas, face creams, face masks, cough syrups, insect repellants, compost activators, you name it. It’s nothing short of magical.
Take the moringa tree for example. “As far as I know I was one of the first growers of moringa, but that was 25 years ago when no-one was interested in the weird and wonderful,” says Margaret. She tells the story of a caretaker of orphans and children not thriving in a rural area, who used moringa leaves in the youngsters’ porridge. “The kids thrived, and now everyone’s talking moringa. It just has so many vitamins and minerals and gives such vitality. Where we lack green chlorophyll we get it from the moringa. I have grown it forever but am still intrigued by its properties.”
Margaret describes it as a real survivor tree. “It’s so easy to grow and is one of those plants that can thrive on negelect. And it has so much to offer and so many possibilities it really should be heralded as a superfood, and a super-medicine.”
The evergreen jaboticaba is just as fascinating. “Another plant terribly easy to grow, and with such rewards,” adds Margaret. “The marble-size berries that it bears three times a year right on the trunk taste like a mix of litchi, grape and cherry and are nothing short of divine. Also packed with vitamins and minerals it’s one of those plants for the future. Its only problem is the birds. They adore the berries, can you blame them, and you just have to be quicker than them when it comes to picking.”
“This plant needs to get known. I have dedicated all my baby shrubs to spreading awareness of this easy-to-grow and delicious-to-eat superfood.”
In the Garden
- It’s a plant of evergreen abundance, indigenous to Brazil. It might only bear fruit in its seventh year but it’s so worth the wait. Often in its fifth year Myrciaria cauliflora starts producing fruit – black berries, soft and sweet, encased in a thick, grape-like skin. The tree can reach about 12 metres in height, and the berries that appear from early summer grow directly on the trunk and branches.
- It can be grown from seed or cuttings of the stems that bear the berries. Plant in a deep, compost-filled hole in full sun and water very well once a week. You’ll have to keep an eye on the birds or use some netting for protection (or get in their first), but that’s all you’ll have to do to be rewarded with buckets of berriies to harvest three times in summer every year.
- What a health plant – so tasty and never in need of any added sugar, a perfect ingredient for cordials, syrups and desserts. And in the berries is all the goodness you could wish for – vitamins C, D and E, as well as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and fructose.
- Keep the skins, dry them and store in a jar, and add to syrups and fruit stews for a real boost of beta-carotene, and to add texture and colour.
- Simmer 1kg whole, crushed jaboticaba fruit in 250ml water until the fruit is pulpy (about 20 minutes).
- Add the juice of 1 large lemon, plus 1 cinnamon stick, 4 cardamom pods, and allow to cool.
- Strain and add iced water, ice, freshly sliced lemon and mint leaves. Enjoy.
Mulberry and Jaboticaba Crumble
- Mix together 1kg jaboticabas and mulberries (if you have them) with 2 tbs cake flour and 1 dessert-spoon honey. Place into well-greased ramekins.
- For the topping, in a separate bowl mix 2 tbs cake flour, 3 tbs rolled oats (non instant), 1 tbs honey and 2 tbs butter.
- Pour topping over the berries and bake for 20 mins at 200°C until golden brown. Serve with a dollop of ice cream and jaboticaba syrup.
- Halve about 25 berries and simmer with 1 cup of water in a heavy-base pot for 15 minutes.
- Add 2 tbsp honey and 2 tsp grated ginger.
- Simmer for another 15 minues and strain.
“Now here’s a powerhouse, a real survivor against all odds, and in fact a legume so it adds nitrogen to the soil. It’s the health food of the century.”
- Moringa oleifera reaches about 8metres in height and has trusses of pretty, creamy flowers. These are followed by long beans enclosing succulent seeds – it is also known as the drumstick tree, as the 30cm-long pods have been traditionally used to beat the drums in religious ceremonies.
- It’s indigenous to Northern India and is one of those plants that can withstand all weather, even cold winter wind if it is protected.
- Grow your own from seed but first scarify each seed against a hard surface and then plant in a compost-filled bag in the shade. Soak well. Water daily and transplant into a bigger bag when necessary, in semi-shade. When it has hardened off, plant it out in a sunny spot. Water very well once a week and give it a good dose of compost every year.
- It’s packed with goodness – vitamins C, B and E, calcium, iron, potassium, phosporous and manganese. The flowers and leaves are edible, the beans are delicious, and the tuberous root is grated to make a tasty horseradish-type sauce, excellent as a digestive.
- Moringa has been used traditionally to treat heart and circulatory ailments, to clear infections in the lungs and chest, and to stabilise blood pressure. A wash made from the flowers and leaves is excellent for problem skins, even eczema.
- Add the tiny leaves to tomatoes and onions for a delicious pasta sauce, or to breads, pastries, soups, stews, stir-fries and salads.
- Make a medicine of moringa tea with the leaves and flowers, and use the pods that taste like green beans and are delicious curried.
- The seeds, when dried and roasted, taste like peanuts.
Moringa Water Cleaner
- Crush the seeds, mix them with water into a paste, and add 2-3 tsp of paste to every 20 litres of river water. Leave the water to stand overnight. The moringa takes all organic waste – even the finest particles – to the bottom of the container, leaving the water completely clean and clear.
Moringa and Feta Cheese Phyllo Wraps
- Phyllo Pastry: On a large tray brush 2 sheets of phyllo pastry with melted butter and stick together. If you like you can place pretty moringa leaves in between the sheets. Make 4 double sheets. Cover with plastic or place a damp cloth over the pastry and set aside.
- Moringa Spinach Filling: Mix 4 cups of young moringa leaves and 4 cups of chopped spinach leaves and steam until tender. Allow to cool. Add 1 cup chunky full-cream cheese, ½ cup feta cheese, ½ cup fresh, chopped thyme, celery and basil leaves, ½ tsp ground coriander, and salt and pepper to taste. Divide the mixture into four and spoon each quarter in a long line across the shorter side of the phyllo pastry, and roll the pastry evenly. Repeat for the other pastries and place on a well-greased pan to bake for 20-30 mins at 180°C until golden brown. Serve with a side salad.
- For a true dose of daily health and goodness, always use fresh leaves and flowers, instead of the commercially available powder.
- Pour 1 cup of boiling water over ¼ cup fresh leaves and flowers and add a slice of lemon. Stir well and allow to draw for five minutes. Strain, add a little honey or stevia, and sip slowly.
Did You Know – Mulberries
- If you have a Morus alba (above) in your garden, nurture and treasure it. Mulberries are now declared Category 3 alien invaders as they are easily spread by birds. As such trees can no longer be bought at nurseries, and seed may not be sold. However you are allowed to keep a tree if you have one already growing in your garden and, if so, enjoy the culinary gold that lies in those berries.
- They are a real blood tonic, rich in vitamins, especially vitamin C, and also contain beta-carotene, magnesium, potassium, phosporus, calcium and antioxidants. The juice is excellent for coughs and colds, bronchitis and post-nasal drip. The antioxidants in the ripe berries reduce inflammation and have also shown some anti-cancer effects.
- TIP: The stains from ripe berries are a pain but just rub them with green berries and problem solved.
Nature’s pantry has a lot of goodness to offer us. See more of our superfoods series here.