Broccoli, the facts and the history
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable with a large flowering head, very similar genetically to cabbages, kale, and cauliflower. You might find it interesting to know that it was hybridized in the 6th century B.C., in the northern Mediterranean. The name comes from the Italian broccolo, which is the singular form of the word broccoli. That’s right, Julius Caesar probably ate broccoli, too. This crisp, green vegetable is usually boiled or steamed, and the stems are as edible as the heads (flowering tops).
Broccoli has been a reliable food substance for millennia, and was brought to England from Antwerp in the 18th century. Italian immigrants later brought broccoli to the Americas but it didn’t become popular here until the 1920s.
Growing Broccoli in your garden
If you are a farmer, you know that broccoli is a cold weather crop and doesn’t grow well when the temperatures get above 75°, mostly due to insect infestation. Like other vegetables in the cruciferous family, it should be planted in well-drained soil, preferably on raised beds. Spacing and air flow are also important to the health and hardiness of your plants.
In the Fall 2017 edition of Extension Gardener, Ben Grandon of the Randolph County Extension office reminds us that broccoli is easy to grow in the home garden, and that it can be planted in early spring or early fall. “Of the two planting times, I’d definitely choose fall over spring.” Grandon notes that broccoli will have higher sugar levels and tighter heads when it matures during colder evenings.
It is recommended that growers in North Carolina should observe the “plant by” timeline of early August to mid-September for a Fall crop as it will take around 90 days for the Broccoli to mature. At harvest time, just use some garden shears to cut the stems about 1 inch from the tip before the flowers bloom. Almost a million tonnes of broccoli are grown each year in the USA, with about 90% of that being grown in California. The average American eats about 4 pounds of broccoli per year.
Why is broccoli good for your health?
Broccoli, like the other vegetables in the cruciferous family, is packed full of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, B6, C and K, the nutrients potassium, calcium, manganese, magnesium, copper, zinc, phosphorus, selenium, as well as a list of phytonutrients, flavinoids, glucosinolates, and antioxidant compounds. A 1 cup serving of raw broccoli contains just 31 calories but it packs a lot of nutritional and medicinal benefits into those calories.
It is noted for its ability to prevent cancers, lower LDL cholesterol, improve digestion, boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, improve eyesight, detoxify the body, prevent allergies, prevent birth defects, eliminate inflammation, and maximize the uptake of nutrients.
Of course it is best to eat it raw to get all of the available health benefits, because boiling it reduces the levels of sulforaphane and washes out some of the vitamins and other nutrients. Other methods of cooking broccoli, like steaming, stir frying, or microwaving don’t rob it of its beneficial compounds. For vegetarians, its a good source of protein, delivering 4 grams of protein in a one cup serving.
Broccoli, like the other cruciferous vegetables, can make people gassy due to the high fiber content. There have been rare reports of people who are allergic to it experiencing skin rashes, although a 2010 study published in the journal Inflammation Researcher suggested that the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol lessens the impact of allergens in the intestines.
It is also recommended that people who take prescription blood-thinning medications should limit their intake of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, due to the vitamin K content, as it will interfere with the effectiveness of the medications. Those suffering from hypothyroidism should also limit their broccoli intake. All others should enjoy all of the cruciferous vegetables for the beneficial nutrients and great taste.