An Article to Digest
Here’s an article that was just recently published by Independent Science News detailing studies on the importance of having diverse gut bacteria when it comes to battling inflammatory diseases and how that all relates to diet diversity. One of the many reasons why Laura and I decided to stretch our diets and eat more wild and odd-ball fruits and vegetables in our diet is that Laura struggles with inflammation. Another primary reason is that we love to geek out on plants of all kinds, especially useful ones that we can eat!
(These pictures are a recent hike I took with my daughter to berry-pick our land. I’ve only used them here because I wasn’t sure what to use for photos. Plus, it furthers the plant- geek vibe.)
But the health component is always looming in the background and it’s good to know that a decision to diversify and work toward getting the most nutritionally rich food through gardening and harvesting nearby can pay you back in health points.
There were some things that I didn’t agree with in the article (for example where the author links diabetes to an argument about how organic farming is better than conventional ag??), but overall it was a good read.
Evolutionary plant breeding and Landrace Farming
Evolutionary plant breeding as discussed here (this article is from Europe) sounds a lot like the landrace farming that we practice here in the states. Landrace farming entails sowing seeds and growing plants for survival characteristics, seeing which plants adapts to our soil and rainfall and saving the seeds from those hardy-cultivars for next season’s crops. Stress and a forced survival can be good for plants and people. As the late great herbalist James Duke observed many plants undergo physiological changes when having to adapt on their own, and these changes can be beneficial to humans.
Many Phytonutrients Increase When a Plant is Under Pressure
Many phytonutrients (polyphenols, etc) increase during these times of stress, because the plant is forced to protect itself from the elements. Think for example of how a dandelion leaf tastes much more bitter in the sun versus the shade. This is due to the plant increasing its chemical components in response to its environment. This ability of plants to modulate their biochemistry to compensate for environmental factors is a fascinating subject all on its own that hopefully we can talk more about in future posts.
One thing that we should look into is what is the difference in amount between a stressed plant’s phytonutrients and an unstressed plants, and does this make a difference physiologically in the human body. That is, even if these phytonutrients increase during stress, if the increase is miniscule, does it matter to our nutrition? I’ve seen some evidence around that wild plants have higher nutrients than similar cultivated varieties. But again, does this make a difference when it comes to your health.
This article in particular doesn’t answer these types of questions, rather it argues for an evolutionary / landrace model to breeding so that we are selecting plants on the ground that are more adaptable to their environment. This in turn would increase genetic diversity, because different lands would grow different varieties–each growing better in their locale, depending on their genetics. Genetic diversity in agriculture (vs the genetic uniformity we have today among most farmers, each getting seed from the same centralized seed companies) leads to diet diversity. Diet diversity leads to a more diverse microbiome which would theoretically prevent inflammation and possible more severe diseases that benefit from a weakened and stressed system. Perhaps the benefit of this more “survival of the fittest” approach to plant breeding would also result in plants that have a higher amount of beneficial phytonutrients as well. So not only do you get a better gut from a nutritional way of farming, you also get to feed your gut better too.
All which justifies our “plant geekery” even more! Anyway, read the article and let us know your thoughts below. Or if you want, find articles similar to this topic in our wildcrafting section.