As part of the second year apprentice program I run at our farm we have a book club of sorts. For each month I have named a different book that I think is valuable for advanced work in clinical herbalism. Last month we read Back to Eden, Jethro Kloss’ original work detailing a lost history of early botanical medicine and home healthcare. As we talked I found myself fascinated by his insistence that people need to eat whole fruits. In today’s language most people hear that as advice to eat the apple rather than the juice or a concentrate of some sort. What Jethro meant was actually the WHOLE fruit, blossom end, core, peel, seeds and all!
The message that I remember while growing up in our food culture was that we should never, ever eat the seeds of a fruit. The message I received in my own house was that if I ever wasted the peel it would be a long time before I saw another delicious (fill in the blank with your skinned fruit of choice). So when I got married and found my husband peeling an apple in the kitchen I descended like a vengeful goddess of frugality. My children have also been forced to eat the peel with the flesh. I believe it tastes better that way.
The idea of eating the whole fruit was intriguing to me. When one of my students merely shrugged and said she always ate her apples that way I knew some research was required. The logic is there for us all to see. When you eat a strawberry or raspberry do you cut out the seeds and eat just the flesh? We know there are antioxidant benefits from eating grape seeds and there are bioflavonoids in the white pith of citrus fruits. We have quite a list of evidence that eating the whole fruit is beneficial.
The day after class I was traveling and I had taken an apple with me. Before I would have worried about what to do with the core. Would I find someplace to compost it rather than just throw it away? Should I keep it and compost it at home? Would someone think I was littering if I threw it out the window as I drove? This time instead of puzzling over the core, I bravely dove in and ate it! I enjoyed the textural variety found in the crunch of the seeds and core. I especially enjoyed the feeling of satisfaction of starting with a whole apple and having absolutely nothing left in my hand when I was done. No waste! My frugal heart rejoiced and the next day I ate an entire pear.
Since my culinary adventures had been satisfactory I wanted to look into what the research has to say. Actually, small amounts of cyanide appear to be potentially beneficial. As Paracelsus said, “poison is in everything and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.” This is true here as well. In large doses, cyanide is undeniably deadly. In our day to day diet, there is evidence that it can be beneficial for maintaining healthy blood pressure. They can be part of the chemical reaction which forms vitamin B12. Most shocking is that there is some research that suggests that some seeds contain a vitamin that only unlocks its cyanide component when it encounters a cancer cell. Fascinating!
In addition to apple and pear seeds there are small bits of cyanide in some bacteria, fungi and algae as well as spinach, bamboo shoots, almonds, lima beans and tapioca. I suppose it isn’t a bad idea to overdo any of these foods in combination, but there is little chance that anyone is gong to overreach the beneficial level simply by eating. Now I’m off to the kitchen for an apple snack...
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