When does a plant become a superfood is really the question, and the answer is simple. According to Margaret Roberts it’s all about the plant’s build-up and revitalising action on the body. We learn about the wonders of yucca, tamarind, chia and prickly pear.
Words and Pictures: Julia Lloyd
Production and Styling: Sandy Roberts
“A list of vitamins and minerals won’t count if the plant is devoid of this action,” says Margaret. “The plant needs to be able to work, for instance, to help the body digest and absorb the minerals and vitamins. And what is so valuable about a superfood is that the processes it starts in the body are all so natural. As such a superfood is all about building energy and increasing vitality.”
It’s for this reason that Margaret and her daughter and business partner Sandy Roberts grow these plants by the spadeful on their farm – as health-repairing, restoring and cleansing foods. “Our plantings in the kitchen garden have become so valuable and we watch over them as if they are bars of gold,” says Sandy. “They’re each a food and a natural medicine rolled into one and nothing can describe our huge appreciation of their worth.”
Both of them have devoted their time, energy and thoughts to creating new recipes that have come from years of searching, testing, hunting down age-old remedies, using grandmother’s recipes. “Ultimately, all we want to do is share with everyone our knowledge of the extraordinary new superfoods that we are continually discovering, and that we are continually merging with old, favourite recipes that come from our plantings in the garden. It’s what we hope will form a basís for cooks of all ages,” says Margaret. “And the joy is that it is all so accessible. No matter where you live, with a big garden or just a windowsill or doorstep, you can change your life and your health, and grow your own fruits and vegetables for that organic pantry and medicine chest rolled into one.”
“What a surprise it was to discover that this rather strange sculptural plant was not just something striking but had roots, seeds and flowers with extraordinary health-giving qualities.”
In the Garden
- What a useful plant is the Yucca gloriosa, not just for its sculptural beauty. It’s one of those real survivors, resistant to extreme cold and extreme heat, including long periods of drought.
- As long as it has full sun it will be fine, even in the poorest of soils, but give it a well-composted bed and it will thrive, in summer producing the most beautiful, creamy, scented flowers – quite a contrast to the razor sharp, spiky leaves.
- For hundreds of years the American Indians used the antiseptic properties of the seeds, trunk and roots to make a lotion to treat wounds, rashes, grazes and burns, as well as hair loss and insect bites.
- The flower petals were crushed and used as a poultice to heal cracked skin and bruises.
- In those days, stems and roots were boiled in water and the soapy brew was used for washing clothes.
- To make an easy yucca wound wash gently boil 2 cups of yucca flowers or mature seeds in 3 litres of water for 20 minutes, allow to cool, strain and gently dab on the infected area.
- The flowers can be added to stir-fries and casseroles, soups and pickles. Just cover the flowers with sunflower oil or olive oil in a glass jar and use them when needed.
Yucca Flowers stuffed with Fish Curry
- 24 rinsed yucca flowers
- 4 medium hake fillets, deboned
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1½ cup coconut cream
- zest of 2 limes
- 1tsp ground coriander
- 1tbs chopped fennel
- ground pepper
- Over high heat, in a deep frying pan, add a dash of oil and brown the onions.
- Add the fish and lightly brown, then add the other ingredients and simmer until the fish flakes.
- Once the fish flakes and the mixture is well cooked, allow to cool before stuffing the yucca flowers.
- Serve with slices of limes and fresh crusty bread.
- 1 cup well-rinsed yucca flowers
- 1 roughly broken star anise
- ½ cinnamon stick
- 5-6 jasmine flowers (jasmine sambac is the best)
- 1 slice lemon or orange
- agave syrup to sweeten if needed
- Mix everything together.
- Add boiling water and allow to stand for a few minutes.
“I have become so excited about the taste of the tamarind pulp added to stews, rubs and sauces and to iced drinks such as mango, lime or lemon juice. It is so versatile and exciting and it’s worth experimenting with.”
In the Garden
- Tamarindus indica is an evergreen tree with origins in tropical Africa. It can reach 25m in height but can become deciduous in cold areas. Give it a good hole of well-composted soil preferably in full sun, although in hotter areas it will do just as well in dappled shade. Always remember to insert a piece of irrigation pipe at an angle, from the top of the hole down to the roots to ensure essential deep waterings without wastage. Trim the hanging branches if necessary.
- The easiest way of propagation is by seed – squeeze the seeds from the fruit, soak in warm water overnight, boil for about four minutes and plant into compost and keep damp.
- If you’re buying tamarind you’ll most often find the pods pressed into a block. It’s an exotic taste, fruity and tart, and pieces can be broken off and melted into sauces, jams, jellies and drinks. Tamarind is used in curries, fish sauces and chutneys, and the tea made from its delicate leaves is a remedy for colic, heartburn, nausea and tummy upsets. It also cleanses the liver. Tamarind oil is a superb natural laxative.
- It also treats stomach ulcers, nausea, fevers, liver problems and morning sickness. Most exciting is that tamarind pulp and leaves are being newly researched as a means of removing toxic fluoride from the body.
- The leaves in the bath are exquisite as they soften the skin, and help to ease the stresses of the day, lessen fever and restore balance.
- For a superb tonic that relieves stress, aches and pains, and protects against ageing, make a tea by steeping one cup of leaves in three cups of boiling water and strain, and add a touch of honey if you like. It’s an excellent tonic but can also be used as an antiseptic lotion.
Use hot or cold – its tangy flavour is unforgettable.
- To make the oil, use a good bottle with a sealing lid or cork and fill with 1st grade olive oil. Add 4 good, rinsed and dried tamarind leaves.
- Allow to stand for 1-2 weeks – the longer the oil stands with the leaves the better.
- 1 tbs tamarind paste (remove all pips and pip shells)
- 1 tbs treacle sugar
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- 2 cups balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup water
- In a small pot over medium heat add all the ingredients and bring to the boil, stirring.
- Blitz together well and strain.
“Once dried and stripped of their leaves and small stems, chia branches are tied together and burned as torches during festive celebrations in Guatemala. I have often wondered why it burns so beautifully and I think it’s the magnificent oil content”
In the Garden
- Salvia hispanica is an annual that thrives in plenty of organic compost in full sun, and grows easily from seed. It needs a mineral-rich soil to be rich in minerals and vitamins itself.
- Once they’ve sprouted, plant out the seedlings in spring, about 50cm apart in furrows, where they will reach 2m in height. It grows quickly and can take the cold, but not frost, and it can survive extreme heat.
- Harvest the seeds at the end of summer and into autumn.
Margaret and Sandy are thrilled with their chia plantings that have yielded plenty of seed, and believe they are the first growers of this versatile and extremely valuable plant in South Africa.
- Use the seed in salads, stews, stir-fries, breads and muffins, pancakes, scones and even sprinkled into oats crunchies.
- Known for its fibre content, it cleans the colon, and is essential for digestive and cardiovascular health. It’s also rich in the amazing Omega 3, even richer than flaxseed, which is also known as linseed.
- Chia seed promotes longevity and is also a valuable endurance food for athletes, high in protein, fibre and essential fats.
- The oil is used to treat coughs, flu, skin ailments, and to increase energy and vitality.
- 1 cup boiling water
- 3 rinsed chia leaves
- ½ cinnamon stick
- honey to sweeten if needed
- Mix the ingredients and allow to stand for a few minutes before drinking.
- As you drink it, you can also sprinkle in a few chia seeds that will become soft and gelatinous. Very delicious.
Chia Biscuit Base
Use this biscuit base for savoury or sweet toppings and always sprinkle an extra dose of chia seeds on top of the fresh salads, roast veg or fresh fruit in season.
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1 cup nutty wheat
- 1 dessertspoon baking powder
- ½ tsp Himalayan salt
- 150ml olive oil (change this to sunflower when making bases for fruit)
- ½ cup boiling water
- ¼ cup chia seed
- Mix all ingredients together and divide into four, form balls and roll out into thin 15cm rounds. Place onto a greased baking sheet and bake until golden brown at 160°C for about 8 minutes. Set aside until needed. Be careful – this biscuit base is very brittle.
- Blend together a dressing sauce with 1 cup coconut cream, 1 dessertspoon tamarind paste, juice and rind of 1 lime, pinch of salt and ground pepper, 2 tsp freshly chopped thyme, basil, coriander and fennel.
- Add a few spoonfuls onto the pizza base with a spoonful of good tomato paste before placing on top a salad or stir-fry of your choice.
- Drizzle with tamarind dressing before serving.
4. Prickly Pear
“It’s invasive in the wild but when grown under watch it’s one of the greatest superfoods. Here is a famine food and, like all farmer’s wives, I have made jams and jellies, syrups and cordials from the delicious sweet fruit. After scraping away the thorns I thinly slice the fruit and also use it as ‘green beans’”
Opuntia ficus-indica (the Indian fig or cactus pear) is a Category 1 invader, which may not grow anywhere. However, licenced growers can cultivate it for sale, and it is available in supermarkets for which we must be thankful.
- It’s rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, traces of iron and copper, vitamin C and some B vitamins.
- Crushed fruit can lower fever, soothe rashes and grazes, and give energy, vitality and a feeling of well-being.
- TIP: To peel them quickly and thornlessly, cut off a thin slice top and tail then use a sharp knife to cut a slit in the flesh longitudinally and peel the skin back.
Prickly Pear Iced Drink
- ½ litre pure pear juice
- ½ litre pure apple juice
- 8 large, peeled prickly pears
- 2 limes, zest and juice
- Mix well together and refrigerate.
- Serve with slices of limes.
Prickly Pear Dessert
- Peel two good prickly pears, slice thinly and place place on a plate.
- Add 2-3 sliced tree tomatoes (tamarillos), 1 cup berries of your choice and 1 dessertspoon of plain Bulgarian yoghurt per serving.
- Grind star anise over the dessert and serve.
Plants for Sale
Organically-grown seed and plants are available from the Margaret Roberts Herbal Centre. Seed can be posted to you.
- Contact: 012 504 2121, [email protected],www.margaretroberts.co.za
- Note: Never use plants as medicine before consulting your doctor