Staving Off Vitamin Deficiency

Storage food, I have a love/hate relationship with it.  Grains, like rice, where the processed, low nutrition forms store better. If the harvest is uneven, the family spends long weeks eating the same vegetable over and over.  I worry sometimes about vitamin deficiencies.  Multivitamins can help. I highly recommend a stash of them, in different varieties.  (Childrens, mens, prenatal…) If, however you can’t get those, or you run out, there are cheap ways you can supplement your cooking to boost nutrition levels.  There are a few easy plants that can be grown and in some cases can be extensively foraged.  I usually dry them, and crush them a little and store them in a glass jar in a cabinet.  Potherbs is what they’re called in my neck of the woods, I recommend you find the ones that grow wild, or that can naturalize to your zone.  For me in zone 4 Iowa, that usually means turnip greens, beet greens, chard, kale, sage and dandelions.  It’s no coincidence that all of these are on my list of frost hardy garden extenders.  Most of these I can have greens from even in early spring, when fresh from the garden is scarce.  They can be used fresh, a small handful tossed into scrambled eggs is tasty, I toss them into salads with lettuce in the spring and with cucumbers in the summer. Even eating some fresh, there’s always plenty more, and that excess is what I dry.  I dry them in big batches, whatever was abundant that day in the yard. I keep a glass jar every summer to collect it all in, mixed together in whatever ratio that summer produced.  When the frost comes and I’m through drying for the year, I take the jar from last year down and replace it with the fresh batch.  I toss a tablespoon or two in soups, stir fry, tomato sauce, casserole, taco meat, you name it, if it doesn’t run fast enough, I put a scoop in.  It tastes pretty good that way, and it adds important nutrients.


Stinging nettles, rich in vitamin A, vitamin B, and vitamin C,  folate, Vitamin K, iron, they also contain an excellent source of incomplete protein.   I store them separate from my other potherbs because I like them in tea form too.

Turnip greens.  My father asked me last weekend what was in the dehydrator. He was shocked when I told him it was turnip greens.  “Why would you want to dry those?!”  Well, they are ridiculously healthy, plus they grow so well in my garden that I always have a lot to thin out. I dry only the best of what I weed out of my turnip row, and that’s plenty as a base ingredient for my potherb mix.

Dandelions, fairly obvious about the self seeding, I prefer the leaves before the flowers open.  The root is also edible.  The greens contain Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, and are a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese.

Sage, it handles -40 with grace, it has a similar vitamin content as dandelions and it tastes great. I have it planted in multiple “flower beds.”  I put some in my potherbs, I also dry some by itself for sausages and such.

I’ve been asked if it’s really worth it the trouble.  My answer is always yes. Even if the person asking is perfectly healthy. It’s likely they know a menstruating/pregnant woman, a growing child or someone fighting an illness. All these people are at risk of suffering from vitamin deficiency and malnutrition. Medical experts say there is a symbiotic relationship between malnutrition and diarreah. Malnutrition increases the severity of diarrhea while diarrhea can cause malnutrition. Diarrhea is one of the leading causes of child mortality. Keeping vitamin levels high can help stave off the cycle.  That’s important, whether food is scarce because of  a 100 year flood or a job loss.  Healthy people can handle stress better, and are more productive.  That seems worth the trouble to me.

Calamity Jane