That’s Quite A Controversial Smoothie I Made There!

They’re green.  They’re leafy.  They contain a great supply of chlorophyll, protein,  potassium, and  vitamin K (something you can’t get from the roots).  They taste a little like ginger and I think that they make a fabulous edition to a fruit smoothie.  However,  some people say they may be toxic… even deadly.

What is the controversial smoothie ingredient that am I talking about?  Carrot tops — that much overlooked end of the sweet, crunchy, orange (or yellow, or red, or purple, or white) root that we are all so familiar with.

Until I started looking into “green foods”, I had no idea that they were even edible.    Yet, after doing some internet research I found out that both culinary and medicinal uses for the leafy, green tops abound.

Here are just a few ways that I’ve found they can be put to use:  Prepared in the same manner that you would any other leafy green such as turnip greens, spinach, kale or collards;  added to soups and stews for extra flavor; Sauteed with seasonings such as garlic, ginger, salt and pepper; sprinkled  over cooked dishes or casseroles as a garnish; Added to salads for a bitter crunch, or smoothies for extra nutrition; and juiced to create an antiseptic mouthwash.  You can read more about it here: http://www.livestrong.com/article/554177-cooking-green-leaf-carrot-tops/#ixzz24WwuLbyE

So, after reading all about the nutritional benefits of carrot tops, I decided to give them a try in a  green smoothie with bananas, mangoes, peaches, lemon juice, water, and a little agave nectar…

…believe me, it really did taste good — I loved the unexpected gingery taste that the carrot tops added!  After consuming nearly two full quarts of the stuff, I experienced no negative side effects whatsoever.

Yet, the World Carrot Museum says, “There is some debate about whether you can eat the green leaves of carrots.”

According to the museum,  the leaves contain furocoumarins that may cause allergic contact dermatitis, and later exposure to the sun may cause mild photodermatitis.  Also, the toxicity issue related to carrot tops  is one that all greens face – alkaloids, “a group of organic compounds that includes caffeine, cocaine, and strychnine” (Judith Sumner, author of “American Household Botany” and a faculty member at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Mass.), whose effects, according to Ms. Sumner, range from “slightly elevated blood pressure, and slightly elevated alertness and heartbeat, all the way to death.”  According to the University of Idaho extension office, the risk of death by nitrate poisoning is highest in pregnant women, young children, and individuals with immune disorders.  Yikes!  That is  a tad bit scary!

However, as the World Carrot Museum points out, as far as they know, there is no documented evidence “of a single person, ever, who has been poisoned by the consumption of carrot greens”, and when asked if carrot tops are safe to eat, a responder at the College of of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State answered, “I don’t see any problem from a food safety point of view.”

It’s also interesting to note that Kevin Gillespie, season six winner of Top Chef, won an elimination round with a recipe for Roasted Beets and Carrots with Carrot Tops, which used one full cup of carrot tops for the puree base.

So, what’s the verdict when it comes to eating carrot tops?   It seems such a shame  to toss the tops onto  the compost heap when they provide such an easy way to add vitamins, minerals, and protein into one’s diet, but perhaps a little caution should be exercised before diving in head first…

Here are some guidelines, I found in conducting my internet research on the topic,  that would be wise to follow, if you decide the benefits outweigh the risks:

  • use only the tops of organically grown, pesticide-free carrots — not only does the good, healthy stuff get concentrated in the leaves, but the bad stuff can, too.  Your best bet is to grow your own, so that you know exactly what’s in them.  Carrots are fairly easy to grow, especially if you’re only growing them for the tops.  For more information on how to grow them, check out this link.
  • do not consume carrot tops on a daily basis (I suspect this is the number one reason why people may get into trouble with greens).  As with other greens that have the potential to accumulate a lot of nitrates and alkaloids, you need to rotate them in your diet so they do not have a toxic effect – did you know that, if you’re not careful, you can potentially even be poisoned by consuming too much Romaine lettuce, or chard?  For more information on why it’s good to rotate greens in your diet, check out this blog post at Incredible Smoothies.
  • some people may be allergic to carrot tops — you should be able to tell just by rubbing them on your skin.
  • make sure that it is actually carrot tops that you are consuming, and not another member of the same family, which includes Queen Anne’s Lace and Hemlock (again, growing your own will take care of this).
  • According to the World Carrot Museum, “If you notice the carrot greens taste bitter, you may want to steer clear” because this could be a sign of high levels of alkaloids.

So, what do you think?  Do you feel confident that it’s safe to consume carrot tops   – especially if you follow the guidelines I mentioned above?  Have you ever eaten carrot tops?  If so, how do you prepare them, and have you ever experienced any negative effects from them?  If not, do you think you’d like to try them?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject!

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The Power of Weeds and Greens

Weeds.  They are in abundance, right now, out at our homestead:  dandelions, purslane, lambsquarters, clover, stinging nettles, spurge, and a myriad of other “undesirables”.   I’ve learned to tolerate them, to a large extent, because of the benefits they bring, mining  trace minerals from deep under the ground and bringing them up to the surface where they can replenish the nutrients that are lacking in the soil.   I should have made the connection before, but,  after reading the book, Green for Life, by Victoria Boutenko, I now have an even greater appreciation for the weeds that blanket my yard — not only are they wonderful aids in helping restore soil fertility, but they are also an amazing, free source of powerhouse nutrients for the human body!

Along with other greens from my garden, like lettuce, arugula, beet greens, carrot tops, and certain herbs, I’ve been adding in these incredible weeds to create fabulous “green” smoothies that I enjoy, now, twice a day.

The more I read about the nutritional content of greens, the more I want to incorporate them into my diet.   According to Mrs. Boutenko, “greens are the primary food group that matches human nutritional needs most completely, and are the most essential food for humans.”

Wild edibles (weeds) often contain more vitamins and minerals than cultivated plants because they reach for the most fertile layers of the soil.  Some of the best weeds to include in green smoothies are:  clover, dandelion, lambsquarters, purslane, stinging nettles, chickweed, miner’s lettuce, and plantain.  (While none of these are dangerous for human consumption, however, it is best to rotate them on a constant basis, so that toxic alkaloids don’t accumulate and for better nutritional results.  The rule of thumb is to never eat the same greens more than two days in a row).

The following table, compiled by Mrs. Boutenko, demonstrates that greens can, most comprehensively, provide the recommended daily allowance of the essential vitamins and minerals as determined by the U.S. Department of Agruculture (USDA).

ESSENTIAL MINERAL AND VITAMIN CONTENT IN KALE AND LAMBSQUARTERS

Nutrients Kale Lambsquarters
Adequate intake or RDA
Folic Acid – 400 mcg/day
Niacin – 16 mg/day
Pantothenic Acid – 5 mg/day
Riboflavin (B2) – 1.3 mg/day
Thiamin (B1) – 1.2 mg/day
Vitamin A – 900 mcg/day
Vitamin B6 – 1.3 mg/day
Vitamin B12 – 2.4 mcg/day
Vitamin C – 90 mg/day
Vitamin D – 5 mcg/day
Vitamin E – 15 mg/day
Vitamin K – 120 mcg/day
1 pound raw
132 mcg
4.8 mg
0.68 mg
0.68 mg
0.68 mg
21,012 mcg
68 mg
data unavailable
547 mg
data unavailable
data unavailable
3,720 mcg
1 pound raw
136 mcg
5.4 mg
0.45 mg
0.9 mg
1.8 mg
15,800 mcg
8 mg
data unavailable
363 mg
data unavailable
data unavailable
data unavailable
Minerals
Calcium – 1,000 mg/day
Iron – 10 mg/day
Magnesium – 400 mg/day
Phosphorus – 700 mg/day
Potassium – 4.7 g/day
Sodium – 1.5 g/day
Zinc – 15 mg/day
Copper – 1.5 mg/day
Manganese – 10 mg/day
Selenium – 70 mcg/day
615 mg
7.5 mg
155 mg
255 mg
2.1 g
0.2 g
2.0 mg
1.4 mg
3.4 mg
4.0 mcg
1,403 mg
5.4 mg
154 mg
327 mg
2.1 g
0.2 g
1.8 mg
1.4 mg
3.6 mg
4.1 mc

Greens also contain a good amount of protein, supplied as essential amino acids, as demonstrated in the chart below.  The difference between the complex proteins found in the meat, dairy, and fish that humans mainly look to to provide their daily intake of protein, though,  and the individual amino acids found in fruits, vegetables, and, especially, greens are vastly different.  Our bodies have to work much harder to assimilate the long molecules of protein from a cow or a chicken than it does to create protein from the assortment of individual amino acids found in greens.   There can be a lot of “garbage” left over after consuming animal protein, undigested material, that can lead to health problems like allergies and immunological disorders.  Additionally, says  Boutenko, it can create a deficiency in essential amino acids in your body, which can lead to a whole slew of mental and physiological problems, like depression, lack of energy, ADD, and cravings for unwanted substances, like sweets, caffeine, alcohol, even drugs.   While one green vegetable may be low in certain amino acids, another may be high; therefore, I include a variety of leafy greens in my daily smoothies to ensure that I get them in abundance.

ESSENTIAL AMINO ACID CONTENT IN KALE AND LAMBSQUARTERS

Amino Acids RDA for adult
(mg/day)
Lambsquarters
1 lb raw
Kale
1 lb raw
Histidine
Isoleucine
Leucine
Lysine
Methionine + Cystine
Phenylalanine + tyrosine
Threonine
Tryptophaqn
Valine
560
700
980
840
910
980
490
245
700
527
1149
1589
1607
626
1549
740
173
1026
313
895
1051
895
345
1298
668
182
820

Another benefit I derive from green smoothies is the addition of  more fiber into my diet.  The recommended daily allowance for fiber is about thirty grams.    According to the American Dietetic Association, “American’s mean fiber intake is about half that.”  A lack of fiber can lead to the accumulation of toxins in the body, things like dust, undigested food, heavy metals, pesticides, and dead cells (which can be one of the most toxic kinds of waste in our bodies).  When we don’t have enough fiber to help eliminate this waste the correct way (through our bowels), our bodies compensate by trying to get rid of it in other ways, like excreting mucus through our eyes, nose, and throat, and through our skin via excess sweat.  However, when we consume enough insoluble fiber (found in greens) the body is able to eliminate toxins the way it is designed to.  Furthermore, there is evidence that fiber has many other health benefits.  According to the Mayo Clinic website, benefits of a high-fiber diet include: lowering of blood cholesterol levels, and better control of blood sugar levels.  Mrs. Boutenko also adds, in Green for Life, that fiber has many healing properties, such as strengthening a diseased heart, binding up excess estrogen, and can help prevent many different kinds of cancer, gallstones, ulcers, and strengthen the immune system.  In order to ensure I receive the necessary amount of fiber from my diet,  I’m working towards consuming about two quarts of green smoothie daily.

Greens also help make the body more alkaline, helping to control bacterial overgrowth, yeast problems, parasites, autoimmune diseases, celiac disease, and a host of other health issues that are related to abnormal levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach.

Otto Warburg, Nobel Prize winner, has shown that cancer thrives in an acidic environment.  When enough greens are consumed on a daily basis, pH balance can be maintained in our bodies.  (It is easy to check your pH level with litmus paper, or pH tape, which is easily found online).

Most of us are aware that what makes plants “green” is chlorophyll.  But did you know that chlorophyll is also a wonderful healing agent?  It carries significant amounts of oxygen, supporting aerobic (good) bacteria in our intestines, helping prevent, destroy, and heal many internal pathogens, fungi, and even cancer cells.  According to Victoria Boutenko, “Abundant scientific research shows that there are hardly any illnesses that could not be helped by chlorophyll.”  According to her, some of the healing properties of chlorophyll are: “builds a high red blood cell count, provides iron to organs, counteracts toxins eaten, improves anemic conditions, helps purify the liver, helps sores heal faster, soothes ulcer tissues, and improves vision”  By including green smoothies in my diet, I am keeping my body oxygenated, alkaline, and healthy.

Finally, there has been a lot of talk, lately, about the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids.  These tiny molecules help our hearts beat properly, blood flow freely, and brains make decisions quicker and more clearly.  It is good to know a good amount of Omega-3s  can easily be obtained from a green smoothie that contains any green, leafy vegetable,  and especially from smoothies containing spinach,romaine lettuce, arugula, and, most notably, the wild edible, purslane.

Knowing the tremendous power that greens have to supply vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, fiber, and Omega-3s, balance the body’s pH level, prevent and heal diseases, I’m going to continue drinking one to two green smoothies per day as part of my health regimen.  It’s quick and easy to whip up a batch in my blender and, given the abundant availability and variety of wild edibles on our property, it makes good economic sense to allow them to continue to grow and be cultivated for the powerhouse of nutrition that they truly are.

Here’s a recipe for my favorite green smoothie:

1 1/2 cups orange juice

2 cups frozen mango chunks

2 cups mixed greens

extra water, as needed

For more green smoothie recipes, and for even more information on green smoothies, you can visit Victoria Boutenko’s blog.