The strawberry is unique in that its seeds are on the outside. It is technically not a true fruit. It is actually an enlarged receptacle of the plant’s flower, otherwise known as a ‘false fruit’. The plant hails from the Rosaceae family belonging to the genus Fragaria and is related to the rose just like apples, pears, raspberries and cherries. Fragaria ananassa or the Garden Strawberry is the most universally grown species with most commercial cultivators using one of its cultivars. There are many other plant species grown around the globe in home gardens.
The strawberry plant has been around for a very long time and has had an impact on many different cultures. It has been used throughout history to represent passion, wholesomeness and even therapeutic values. To the Romans it stood as a symbol for the goddess of love, beauty and fertility perhaps due to its bright red colouring and heart like shape. Legend has it that breaking a ‘double’ strawberry in half and then eating with someone from the opposite sex will make the pair fall in love. Medieval stone masons carved depictions of the berry on church alters and cathedrals to represent righteous perfection. In the early nineteenth century Madame Tallien, a social figure of the French Revolution is said to have taken strawberry juice baths for the fruit’s healing properties. She claimed the strawberry baths protected her from skin problems. More than twenty pounds of strawberries were used in a single bath. The fruit also ended up in literature as a symbolic decoration on a handkerchief in Shakespeare’s Othello.
It not known where the name “strawberry” originated from, but it is common belief that it arouse out of its method of cultivation. Strawberries were grown on a bed of straw and once harvested they were typically strung on a piece of straw and sold in that way, hence a “straw of berries.” They were known as “wuttahimneash” by the American Indians which translates to heart-seed berry.
History of Strawberries
The strawberry plant is a native of North America, but its history can be traced to 234 B.C.E. when they grew wild in Italy. Some archaeological evidence shows Neolithic and Iron Age man ate strawberries, but the original wild berries were smaller and blander tasting compared to the hybrids cultivated now. Roman writers Pliny and Ovid wrote about strawberries, while the writer Virgil sent out a warning to children to be on look out for serpents hiding in grass when picking the fruit from the low-lying plant. In the twelfth century Saint Hildegard of Germany stated that the fruit was not fit for human consumption as snakes, toads and other slithering creatures could crawl over the low-lying fruit.
Strawberries regained popularity around the fourteenth century when initial records of its cultivation came to light. The first significant attempt at cultivation was in 1368 in France when King Charles V planted them in the gardens of the Louvre. The Duke and Duchess of Burgundy followed suit at their Dijon estate a few years later.
When Europeans landed in America they discovered that the native Indians were already cultivating the fruit which was of superior quality in terms of size and flavor to the European variety. The hybrid varieties consumed today were not developed until the eighteenth century by crossing the American and Chilean varieties. Cultivation of strawberries started in California in the 1900s and today the state supplies 80% of the strawberries grown in America.
Health Benefits of Strawberries
Strawberries have always been associated with good health. The wild strawberry, roots, as well as leaves have all been used for medicinal purposes. The ancient Romans used the berries to prevent fainting, feelings of melancholy and all inflammations, throat infections, fevers, kidney stones, diseases of liver, blood and spleen. Recent advancements in medicine also associate strawberry with a number of health benefits.
The rich antioxidant content in the berry helps the body repair damaged tissues and neutralize the destructive free radicals. They also provide anti-inflammatory properties which provide relief to people suffering from ailments related to inflammation like rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis. Additionally these antioxidants reduce the risks of cancer and are responsible for placing the berry in the top eight foods recognized for reducing cancer risks.
The potassium in strawberries helps with regulating electrolytes. It is also associated with lowering blood pressure by countering the effects of sodium. According to the Food and Drug Administration, foods rich in potassium and low in sodium may cut down on the risks of high blood pressure and stroke. Potassium is vital for muscle contractions, maintaining bone mass and in minimizing the risks of kidney stones.
The folate in the berry enhances red blood cell production and prolongs the onset of Alzheimer’s. Just three servings of strawberries can avert macular degeneration related to age. The micronutrients found in strawberries nourish brain cells enhancing its function. This minimizes the age related loss of motor skills and cognitive loss. Folates also help to break down homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood that is thought to be a risk factor for coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease. The American Heart Association approves of the consumption of folates for individuals at high risk for cardiovascular diseases. According to the Centres of Disease Control, appropriate amounts of folate consumption can prevent as much as 70% of neural tube defects in unborn babies.
The malic acid present in strawberries can remove discolouration from your teeth, therefore making them a good alternative to expensive teeth whitening treatments. Just rubbing the teeth with a strawberry for a few minutes a day can provide surprising results. The vitamin C and flavonoids in the fruit are a natural treatment for uric acid. Uric acid is a painful disease caused by the formation of uric acid crystals in joints.
Nutritional Information of Strawberries
Just eight large strawberries (150 grams) provide two grams of dietary fibre which constitutes 8% of the daily needs, one gram of protein and only 45 calories. Additionally they have no cholesterol or saturated fats and are very low in sodium.
The fruit is a rich source of a large number of vitamins. A one hundred gram serving provides nearly 100% of the daily vitamin C requirements. Additionally it supplies very generous amounts of vitamin B6, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and folic acid. This B vitamins act as cofactors and aid the body in metabolizing proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The berries also contain vitamin A, and E and flavonoids like lutein, zea-xanthin and beta-carotene in small quantities.
Strawberries house a good quantity of minerals such as potassium, manganese, fluorine, copper, iron and iodine. Potassium is a vital cell and body fluid component necessary to maintain heart rate and blood pressure, while copper and iron are needed for red blood cells.
Strawberries also contain anthocyanins, antioxidants which give the fruit its bright red colour. Other antioxidants include quercetin, kaempferol, chlorogenic acid, p-coumaric acid, ellagic acid and vitamin C.
Uses of Strawberries
Since the berries become soft quite quickly after being in contact with water, it is best to wash them very briefly just before use and never before refrigeration. Then remove the green stalk by gently pulling it or using a sharp knife. The berries are now ready to be consumed whole or cut according to needs. To attain the full nutritional benefits of strawberries, it is best to consume them fresh. The nutrients in the berry are not able to stand the high temperatures employed in cooked recipes. Strawberries have a short shelf life and should be used within a couple of days of purchase or picking.
The best, and one of the easiest ways to use them next to just eating out of hand, is to juice them. They work well when combined with other juices or on their own. Making strawberry smoothies is another great option, other ideas include making:
- Strawberry Shortcake
- Strawberry Muffins
- Orange Strawberry Salad
- Strawberry Jam
- Strawberry Pies & tarts
- Eight large strawberries
- 6 ounces of yogurt
- 1/3 cup orange juice
- Honey (optional to taste)
Freeze the berries for about an hour if fresh one are being used, or just use frozen berries. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. If desired sweeten to taste with honey.
It is a well known fact that strawberries carry a high amount of antioxidant power, just how much was determined by a report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. More than one thousand foods were analyzed for antioxidant capacity and strawberries stood in third place in the capacity to deliver antioxidants to the body.
For a healthy diet, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Institute of Medicine suggest an intake of 14 grams of fibre for every 1,000 calories ingested. Epidemiological studies show that adequate consumption of fibre is beneficial for several disease like colon cancer, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. A ten gram increase in fibre consumption can reduce cardiovascular disease risk by 10 – 30 percent. Victor Fulgoni, Ph.D of Nutrition Impact LLC researched and determined that strawberry consumers generally have greater dietary fibre intakes as opposed to non eaters. His analysis of the NHANES IV showed that individuals who eat strawberries had 30% more fibre than those who reported not eating the berry.
Just eight medium sized strawberries deliver 35mcgs of folate, or approximately ninety percent of the daily needs. According to analysis of the CSFII and NHANES IV databases, researchers found that strawberry consumers have greater average intakes of folate as compared to those reporting not eating the berry. Strawberry eaters had more serum and red blood cell folate levels and low serum homocysteine (amino acid linked with heart disease) levels.
Vitamin C is an established immunity enhancer and quick working antioxidant. While the vitamin can be produced by most mammals, that is not the case with humans. We have to get our supplies from our diet.