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

16 comments… add one
  • Odd Questioner July 14, 2011, 9:29 am

    I like the fact that you turn to plants and natural, more readily-available sources for vitamins and minerals.

    Having a few bottles of vitamins is a good thing, but many vitamin pills tend to ‘fade’ in potency after a couple of years… the expiration date tells the tale on most bottles.

    Some vitamins and minerals can last a lot longer, and electrolytes like salt can last literally forever when stored properly (at least as far as a typical human lifetime or three are concerned).

    Gives me an idea… what if someone were to post a basic list of bits and how long they really last? It would be pretty good to know how long stuff can actually hang around, and more importantly, what to throw out when the expiration date arrives.

    For instance, I remember stumbling a cross a pair of disposable contact lenses this year that I’ve had since 2005… the expiration date on them was in 2007, yet they were still perfectly sealed. Out of curiosity, I washed the cases, my hands, and gave ’em a go. After rinsing them in new saline solution and soaking them overnight (to rinse out the preservative fluid they were kept in), they were still perfectly comfortable, usable, and with no ill effects. Mind you, this was in June of this year, roughly 4 years after they were supposed to have expired (I only wore them for one day since I normally wear glasses these days, so take it as you will).

  • Prepared N.D. July 14, 2011, 10:29 am

    Great post, and from what I can double check in my textbooks, it’s an accurate one.

    The herb garden is a fantastic idea. I let the “weeds” grow up and propagate in my yard to ensure I have an adequate supply. I also supplement our diet with sprouts. Alfalfa is the most popular but many other seeds can be sprouted. They’re densely packed with vitamins and can be grown indoors year round. Strawberries can also be grown indoors if you can find a window with enough light.

    @Odd Questioner, most herbal products that you can buy (dried capsules, powders, tinctures) that are stored at room temp in an amber bottle will last about 5 years and still maintain their medicinal effect. The vitamin content begins to degrade as soon as the plant is harvested, minerals stay intact much longer. That’s why I rely more on sprouts, you consume the plant when it’s at its maximum nutritional value. I don’t know about the expiration dates on other stuff.

    • Calamity Jane July 14, 2011, 10:56 am

      Oh yea, sprouts are AWESOME. I almost included them in this post, and then decided not to overwhelm. Plus, I eat sprouts, but nobody else does in my family, (the toddler I can excuse, the husband is just too picky sometimes.) So, I don’t make them as often as I’d like. Sprouts have the bonus of being designed for long term storage, as they start out as dry seeds. It takes close to decade for sprouting seeds to lose their potency.

      Glad to hear you found it to be accurate. I do try. This stuff is too important to me to risk inaccurate information, so do call me out if you ever find a discrepancy.

  • Carolyn McBride July 14, 2011, 11:04 am

    Great post!
    I have been saying all of this and more when folks ask me why I gather dandelion green, why I want to start gathering stinging nettle (though I confess I’m a little hesitant trusting the ‘stinging’ part gets boiled away). None of us in the family are real great about remembering to take our vitamins, so to drop some dandelion greens or dried root in whatever we’re eating always made great sense to me. And this way, the kids don’t know what they’re eating! *wicked grin*

  • gat31 July 14, 2011, 11:21 am

    Man this is an awesome post! Made me look out to my yard and wonder what all l can find out there to try this at home! Though l have been keeping vitamins in my storage to combat these issues, l would much rather eat it in the food than try and swallow some of those huge pills.
    Thank you for the great info!

  • GoneWithTheWind July 14, 2011, 11:49 am

    You are absolutely correct as you describe the problem. I, however, look at it from a 180 degree perspective. When TSHTF it will be calories, protein and stomach filling foods that will be hard to come by. Store the rice, wheat, beans, etc and supplement with things you can hunt and gather. It is very difficult to hunt and gather enough calories to live but it is fairly easy to gather edible foods that will provide vitamins and minerals. Even pine needles will provide vitamin C. Sprouts of course are a good source. Dandelions and cattails are great sources of vitamins and are found almost everywhere. But finding 2000-3000 calories of carbs protein and fats is very difficult unless you shoot something big and tasty everyday.

  • Jason July 14, 2011, 1:21 pm

    Thank you for this excellent post, very well done.

    I never knew that Stinging Nettles were edible, can you expand on that a bit more? They grow wild & are common in my area & did not know they had such high nutritional value. How do they taste?

    • Calamity Jane July 14, 2011, 3:49 pm

      How do they taste, well, hmm.. I think I’d say a little like spinach, but more, green, if that makes any sense. :-D The best bits to eat/dry are the top 4-6 inches. USE GLOVES TO HARVEST! Early spring before flower bloom is the peak nutritional time.

      The high mineral content is probably the reason for nettle tea’s ability to reduce the severity of menstrual cramps, and that’s how I use most of the nettles I have on hand. I do an overnight tea – 2 heaping tablespoons per cup of water infused overnight or simmered for 25 minutes if I forgot to do the overnight thing. It’s good for anyone needing a boost of minerals, not just menstruating women. :-)

      After the boiling water, the greens can be safely handled, FYI.

      And don’t discard the stalks, I stumbled across this board posting with some really excellent pictures for cordage making from nettle stalks.

  • T.R. July 14, 2011, 2:58 pm

    Thats where a dehydrator and vacuum sealer comes in handy . Drying your citrus juice into a powder , etc . , Hot peppers usually have more vitamin C than citrus . Just depends on how much heat from them you can deal with if its worth it . Great Article .

    • Calamity Jane July 14, 2011, 3:52 pm

      I thought about touching on vit C sources, you’re right though, for those of us not blessed with citrus weather, peppers need to be our go-to for C. Fresh green beans have C as well, just don’t overcook them. :-)

      • T.R July 14, 2011, 9:08 pm

        Green beans are great ! Had no idea they had C , good to know !
        In the southwest , all the ” pepper heads ” have a saying ” If your nose isn’t running , your head isn’t sweating , and your eyes aren’t watering ….. it wasn’t made right ! ” ;) I used to live in Maine , you should have seen the looks I got when I put Tabasco in my beer lol .

  • Michael July 14, 2011, 10:38 pm

    Spinach dries fairly well as well. Add it to some soup made with dried onions, potatoes, and lentils and use a can of V8 juice for the base.

  • Brair Rabbit July 15, 2011, 1:18 am

    Thanks Jane! Yard Salad is a highly “over looked” food.

    Don’t forget the enzymes! Good health needs many enzymes, and fresh yard greens has them.

    Good wild food is everywhere, and it’s better for you than anything you could buy.

    I didn’t know about the drying of greens being good though. Just one more reason to get more jars and lids! You’re allright!

  • Diana July 16, 2011, 12:45 am

    Great post, now I have some good serving ideas.

    It is just as important for “perfectly healthy” people to get their full complement of vitamins, as it takes a lot more vitamins to regain good health, than it takes to maintain good health.

  • JeanneS July 16, 2011, 2:07 pm

    I had no idea sage was so cold-hardy! I was quite surprised when the sage I planted last year survived the winter (temps below freezing but not below zero), because I’d been under the impression it would die if temperatures got below freezing. Good to know!

    (And how ornery am I that I want to eat nettles just because my teenager is prejudiced against them, having walked into a stinging nettle bush a time or three!)

  • millenniumfly July 22, 2011, 4:02 pm

    You might also consider the super spectrim vitamins by nitro-pak. According to their site these vitamins have a shelf life of up to 10 years.


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