A Gardener’s Notebook

A locally grown ‘fruit’ with big health benefits

Special to The CambrianMarch 20, 2014 

Carol Broadhurst, co-owner of Dragon Spring Farm, sells different varieties of avocados year-round.

DON SATHER

The two inches of rain in early March turned the hills green, lifted our spirits and gave our gardens a much needed soaking. Most local gardeners are occupied now with looking for ways to keep their gardens alive while bracing ourselves for the long, dry, road ahead.

I remember a few winters when I lost plants from too much rain. We planted an avocado tree the first year we moved to Cambria. We unknowingly planted our tree in a low spot on our sloped property. We enriched the soil, the soil became saturated, roots rotted, and that was end or our tree. It took me a couple of years to learn the “lay of the land” and how to work the heavy clay soil. Avocado trees need well-drained soil. A lesson learned.

Originally from Mexico and Central America, avocados grow on the Persea Americana tree. It thrives along the central California coast. There are dozens of varieties of avocados. The rich and creamy Hass variety is the most popular type of avocado in the United States. California produces 95% of all avocados grown in the U.S. and is the original home of the Hass variety. During the fall and winter months you can find Fuerto, Zutano, Etinger, and Bacon varieties growing here. While the avocado is technically a fruit, we think of them as vegetables since this is how they are usually considered from a culinary perspective.

There are several growers in our area that have avocados available at the Cambria Farmers’ Market. Michael and Carol Broadhurst, owners of Dragon Spring Farm, sell avocados year-round. Jack and Jane Gibson of Red-Wing Ranch grow and sell at the market as do Jack and Terry McCall of McCall Farm. Another grower of avocados, specializing in the Hass variety are George and Beth Kendall of Dos Paso Ranch.

The avocado is admittedly high in fat for a low-fat diet. But, eaten in moderation, the fat in avocados is extremely beneficial to our health. The phytosteros in the fat are key supporters of our inflammatory system, and the oleic acids, like that in olive oil, are beneficial to overall health. A whole (I cup) avocado will provide you with lots of nutrients, 3 grams of protein and about 240 calories.

When avocados are combined with foods high in carotenoids and antioxidants, like bright-colored fruits and vegetables, they enhance the body’s absorption of these fat-soluble nutrients.

I wanted my own tree and avocados, but I’m content to leave it to someone else to grow them for me.

Tip of the month

How healthy are these fruits nicknamed “alligator pears”? Research shows that absorption of two key carotenoid antioxidants, lycopene and beta-carotene, increases significantly when fresh avocados (or avocado oil) is added to a salad. The method you use to peel an avocado can make a difference in its nutritional value. The greatest concentration of carotenoids occurs in the dark green flesh just beneath the skin. The California Avocado Commission suggests you cut into the avocado lengthwise dividing the avocado into halves. Remove the seed. Then quarter and “peel” the avocado leaving the dark-green flesh that contain antioxidants in place.

Lee Oliphant’s column is special to The Cambrian. Email her at cambriagardener@charter.net; read her blog at centralcoastgardening.com.

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