The Health Benefits of Pumpkins and Other Pumpkin Facts
The History and Cultivation of Pumpkins
Pumpkins are considered a fruit and come from the squash family. Pumpkins are grown on vines, and they range in color from bright orange to shades of green. They can range in size from that of a small ball to several feet in diameter. The rind is usually smooth and has lines running from the stem to the bottom.
Pumpkins are thought to have originated in North America with the discovery of seeds in Mexico dating back to 5500 BC. In the United States, pumpkin crops are planted in the summer months and are ready to harvest in the fall. The top producing states are Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and California. Pumpkins grow best in well-draining soil and require large amounts of water. They are very hardy and can re-grow vines and leaves that are lost.
The Nutritional Value of Pumpkins
Pumpkins are rich in vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin E, and calcium. Pumpkins are also high in fiber. They are very low in calories and contain no fat.
Beta-cartene has been used in diets to prevent problems in the eye like cataracts and macular degeneration.
Vitamin A is used by the body for these functions:
- Vision and eye health
- Skin and cell health
- Immune system strength
- Development of an embryo or fetus
- Genetic transcription
Vitamin B studies have shown that ingesting this vitamin may help alleviate nausea in pregnancy or from a hang over due to its mild diuretic effect. Vitamin B is used in many functions of the brain, including neurotransmitter sysnthesis--vitamin B can help with mental depression and improve your mood.
Fiber helps with digestion and preventing constipation. In a fiber rich diet, your body is able to absorb the nutrients it needs and pass the waste that is left over.
Cooking with Pumpkins
Most people associate pumpkins with the fall, and pumpkin recipes are in high demand. Pumpkins can be roasted, baked, boiled, or steamed. They can be used in desserts, soups, pasta dishes, or breads. Desserts with pumpkin tend to include spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or allspice. Pumpkin makes baked goods moist without adding extra sugar or fat.
When making pies or baking with pumpkin, you will need to use a pumpkin puree. To make your own, here is a guide to using fresh pumpkins: read more here
Here are a few popular pumpkin recipes:
- Pumpkin Muffins
- 3D Pumpkin Pound Cake
- Spiced Pumpkin Gingerbread
- Pumpkin Cheesecake
- Hearty Pumpkin Stew
- Pumpkin Pie
How to Grow Your Own Pumpkins
Commerically grown pumpkins are treated with pesticides or chemicals to prevent fungus, so growing your own pumpkins would be great to avoid exposure to these chemicals. You can grow them as a food source for your family as well as your pets. Many vetenarians recommend pumpkin to relieve consitpation in pets because of the high fiber content.
Pumpkin seeds can be planted in pots indoors during the winter months and then transplanted to well draining soil in the early spring. Plants should contain 4-5 leaves per plant when they're ready to go outside. Pumpkins require abundant water and sunshine, but protection from high winds, high temperature, and wind. Cow manure makes a great fertilizer as pumpkins do better in soil that is slightly acidic. Pumpkins need to be watered at night, usually several gallons per plant twice a week. As your vine starts to grow, watch for the male and female flowers to appear. The male flowers appear first, usually in mid-summer. Female flowers come later and are distinguished by the tiny pumpkin at the end of the flower. Pumpkins are typically ready to harvest in the fall. Save the pumpkin seeds from harvested pumpkins, mix with compost, and you'll have more vines next season.