Folk tradition has it that you should plant potatoes by St. Patrick’s Day. I’m always excited for this early spring task. It’s like opening day for the garden season! It’s easy and fun, too. There’s nothing like sticking a few pieces of potato in the ground and then weeks later, pulling up a big, luscious clump of whole fresh spuds.
Americans love potatoes! According to the USDA, they comprise about a third of all the vegetables we eat, and most of those are in the form of french fries and chips. As far as veggies go, though, these aren’t really the ones we need to be piling on our plates. The most popular varieties are high glycemic and cause a rapid spike in blood sugar when eaten, which has been a huge contributing factor to diabetes and obesity in our country.
Are potatoes bad for you?
Given a few tips about potatoes, however, there are ways we can enjoy them freely as a nutritious and delicious part of a healthy diet. These suggestions come from Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson. (see this blog post for more from this book)
- Select the smaller “new” potatoes for a lower rise in blood sugar or the more colorful varieties for more abundant nutrients. Purple potatoes are especially nutritious. A variety called “Purple Majesty” has been shown to lower blood pressure!
- To lower the glycemic factor, cook your potatoes and chill them in the refrigerator for 24 hours before eating. This converts the starch so that it’s broken down more slowly and moderates the effect on blood glucose.
- Add fat to your potatoes (butter!) or cook them in fat (preferably lard) to slow down the digestion.
- Sprinkle potatoes with vinegar to lower the glycemic effect.
- Always buy organic because potatoes tend to be one of the heavier chemically supported crops in our food supply. If you can’t buy organic then always peel them before eating.
Here’s another new take on the good old potato. Because they contain a unique component called “resistant starch,” which is rich in prebiotics (basically food for all the wonderful probiotics you’re eating) potatoes are excellent for restoring the damaged gut health in those who suffer from intestinal disorders. Here’s more about that from one of our favorite integrative health experts, Dr. Mark Hyman. Also, have you heard the buzz about The Potato Hack (by Tim Steele) for losing weight and improving digestion? You have to be willing to eat only potatoes for a few days, however. I can’t really recommend something I haven’t personally tried, but given the information, I can say it sounds interesting.
With so many uses for potatoes, wouldn’t it be great to grow your own? Whether you have a garden plot or a couple of pots on the porch, here’s what you do.
- Get a few seed potatoes (these are merely potatoes or pieces of potatoes with sprouts–or eyes–you know, like when they’ve been in the pantry too long). You can get them at the garden store, or if you want to use potatoes from the grocery, get organic ones. (Non -organic ones are sometimes treated so they won’t propagate). They should already have eyes or keep them in a cool, dark place until they sprout.
- Plant about 4-6’ inches deep in loosened fertile soil with the eyes up. In the garden, leave about 8-12 inches in between the seeds or if you’re planting in pots, use one seed in an 8 or 12-inch planter.
- Watch the plants come up over the next several weeks. As the new potatoes grow up towards the surface, gradually add soil to create a “mound” that keeps them covered. If you want the smaller “new” potatoes you can harvest soon after the flowers start blooming. They’ll continue to get bigger up until the plant dies completely back when you’ll get the fully mature ones. You can leave them in the ground for a little while but not too long after the plant is gone or they could rot.
- To harvest, if possible dig the dirt out from around the plant with your hands until you start to unearth the potatoes. You can use a trowel or garden fork to loosen the clump but proceed carefully because it’s easy to damage the ones you can’t see. You will likely be surprised and delighted with how many there are. Hopefully you’ll have several beautiful potatoes everywhere you put a seed. It’s soooo much fun!
- In case you get get a bumper crop, here’s some information on curing and storing for later use.