PUMPKIN ~ (Cucurbita)
"I would rather sit on a pumpkin..and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion" ~ Thoreau
I have never missed a year of carving pumpkins. From the time I was three, until I left home for college, my Grandpa and I would carve 1 pumpkin in the basement. Before I had kids, I carved pumpkins, when my youngest was in college and later in an apartment, I took her pumpkins to carve. Now, with a grandson, I still carve pumpkins..and I hope I never stop. I have come a long way since the simple carvings of my childhood and now usually carve 8-12 per year--BOTH sides--because I wanted to enjoy them lit from my window as well as sharing them with passersby. My Grandmother made the best pumpkin pies-perfectly set and browned, with a fantastic, flaky crust......BUT.....we never ate pumpkins as vegetables or roasted the seeds--or even grew them inspite of the huge garden we had. SQUASH--the close pumpkin relative, was another story. In fact, my Grandma said squash made a better pie than pumpkin did. I learned much later--that depends on the pumpkin.
"Produce great pumpkins-the pies will follow later" ~ Anonymous
When I was growing up, hybridized vegetables were becoming the rage--the modern way of gardening. Since then, we have learned that crops bred for perfection and shipping don't always taste that great--and they do not have the nutrients of the older varieties--so now, old is new again--and heirloom varieties are the rage. After a disasterous crop of pumpkins years ago (looked gorgeous, but the skins were the texture of credit cards-impossible to cut for carving or processing), I now only grow the older varieties and learned that huge carving pumpkins are fine for harvesting seeds to roast, but don't make very good pies--which I assume is what my grandmother recognized.
Much later, I learned all the medicinal aspects of pumpkins. We end up with, depending on the season, about 60-80 pumpkins of all shapes/colors/sizes and uses each year in our garden. Some are given away, some used for seeds and Halloween, some used for decoration, some for pies/breads and some for roasting. Being good keepers, they last all winter in a root cellar or cool garage. Who says you can't enjoy pumpkin pie in March?
HISTORY ~ Pumpkins, as we know them, originated in the Americas--seeds having been found that were over 7,000 years old in Mexico. They are, however in the family of melons and cucumbers and are technically- FRUITS. "PEPON"-Greek for "large melon" is the origin of the name, which continued to change until the American colonists called it "Pumpkin". The Native Americans called it "isquotom squash"(squash -being a Native American word) and it was a food staple for them as well as a utilitarian plant. Pieces were dried and woven into mats and used as medicines.
The Colonists quickly followed these uses and are given credit for developing the pie by gutting pumpkins and adding milk, honey and spices inside and then roasting the whole fruit in a fire pit.
The popularity of pumpkins increased as Europeans made their way here and the Irish, in particular, found them to be superior for making Jack-o-lanterns as previously, the much smaller turnips and rutabagas were used. Halloween became more popular as the years went on, and with it, the widespread growing and uses of pumpkins.
MEDICINE ~ If you cut open a pumpkin to bake it or carve it for Halloween, you can feel the spongy, moist, flesh. The Doctrine of Signatures would imply that therefore, pumpkin is good for all hollow, damp or mucos membrane lined organs...and indeed it is. It is very rich in Vit. A/beta carotene--which is known to maintain and heal lungs and eyes in particular, but also, bladders/kidneys/reproductive organs as well. The fact that it stores very well (6-7 months if kept properly) shows its ability to store sugars and so to balance blood sugar and regulate insulin in animals. The multitude of seeds points to its affinity for fecundity--fertility in both sexes. Along with the fact that everyone loves looking at pumpkins--it always makes us happy--and IF you take the time to cook with it (beyond the pie), it is delicious....it is truly a perfect, health giving herbal food.
Pumpkin FLESH contains: fiber, protein calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Iron, Zinc, Selenium, Vit.C, Folic Acid, B vitamins, Vit. E and Vit. A. The SEEDS contain contain higher amounts of the same nutrients-in particular, protein, zinc, iron, potassium, selenium, copper and also Essential Fatty Acids.
While eating pumpkin is a good idea for general winter health, there are several, specific conditions where it can be the primary or major contributor to cure or maintainence.
Lung Problems ~ Whether you have a chronic lung condition or re-current accute bouts of colds that settle in the chest, pumpkins can be helpful-especially where there has been long term dry coughs causing irritation to the lungs and throat. The Vit. A is a healer for dry mucos tissues. If you compare a pumpkin's flesh to the inside of hollow moist organs and the tough pumpkin covering to your own skin, you can see how it is able to maintain a perfect HEALTHY, damp environment- free of bacteria. Eating them can help you do the same. This is not an herb you can take in tincture form-or make a tea out of---but for optimum healing, pumpkin SOUP is fantastic.There can always be some in the freezer waiting. Second best is eating roasted pumpkin regularly (2-3 x per week) during the winter if you ar suffering from or prone to lung problems.
EYES ~ To maintain EYE health, the Vit. A contained in pumpkins is exceptional. The round shape of the fruit likens it to the eyeball--and again, it's wet interior is similar. For aging eyes, regular use of herbs/foods with a lot of Vit. A should be standard care.
REPRODUCTIVE PROBLEMS ~ For both men and women, this is a primary fertility herb. The shape with all the seeds reminds us of the womb and ovaries--or the prostate gland and sperm. Zinc is found in all parts of the plant-especially in the seeds--which are the reproductive part of the plant!. A small handfull of seeds daily can keep the prostate healthy and increase sperm count/motility. In women, zinc supports the processes that need to occur for regular cycles and to maintain a pregnancy. Eating the flowers is also useful (there are male and female flowers on EACH plant-eat according to your sex). Some believe that other squash are as good or better than pumpkins for men's reproductive concerns since many varieties reflect a more "manly" shape. I don't know of any studies supporting that, but since other Doctrine of Signature aspects have been proven valid, this seems logical as well.
CARDIOVASCULAR ISSUES ~ Hollow, with a sturdy form--the heart/veins---and pumpkins!
The phytosterols in pumpkin lower bad cholesterol; the Vit.C strengthens veins/capillaries and the Vit A maintains membrane structure. Again--this is not a "take two every day" situation. Gaining benefits from pumpkins/squash entails eating them regularly.
WORMS ~ We ALL have intestinal parasites--which only become a problem if they become too numerous for tissues to expell. This happens with weak, boggy, engorged tissue brought on by poor eating habits and repeated digestive illnesses. In some parts of the country/world, where going barefoot is common, parasites will happen even with a good diet. Our ancestors dealth with it by "worming" themselves twice a year-spring and fall. Garlic and pumpkin seeds together are a powerful "VERMIFUGE" (kills/expells worms). Tansy and wormwood are two other useful plants. The trick to keeping parasites at bay is either regular eating of pumpkin seeds and/or garlic as part of your meals--or-- to take them in large amounts (1/2 cup seeds and 4-6 cloves of garlic) twice a month--twice a year- in both October and April. Worms hatch in accordance with moon cycles, so optimum worming will occur if you take one dose on the Full Moon--which will kill living worms and then again, 2 weeks later on the New Moon, which will kill newly hatched eggs. Do this with animals (grind and add to food in small amounts)-- and livestock(most will eat these whole) as well. A bunch of fresh seeds LOOKS like a little pile of worms! Animal will eat fresh seeds, but humans should roast them or buy the hulled pepitas.
BLOOD SUGAR/ DIABETES ~ New studies are showing that pumpkin can stimulate growth of pancreatic cells, thus helping to control diabetes for both Type 1 and ll. Pumpkin's yellow/orange color indicates it as an aid to liver functioning (ie. yellow bile). The liver has a hand in all bodily processes. Poor digestion in general, leads to improper digestion of sugars--and everything goes downhill from there. Because Pumpkins/squash are 90% water, they are easily digested and metabolized.
ANIMAL HEALTH ~ Farmers have long used pumpkins (cooked or canned) to help animals with digestive problems. It helps with constipation/loose bowels and expelling mucos from the intestines. It will do the same for humans.
Since most of us only eat pumpkin pie- once a year, we think of it as extremely sweet. In fact, between the sugar in the filling and the crust, it can set diabetics off. I have seen recipes that try to avoid that blood sugar instability by adding chopped nuts to the filling and/or forgoing the crust. But- pumpkins in their savory/semi-savory forms, are just as delicious and then actually help level out blood sugar. Once in a while, however-DO indulge in a Pumpkin Brulee---nothing like it!!
There are THREE things you need to know about cooking with pumpkins;
1) You can substitute Squash for pumpkins in all recipes
2) Pumpkin needs a bit more salt than squash--but both taste better for its addition to the recipe--kosher or artisnal salts are best
3) Some pumpkin is watery--which is why people prefer to buy it canned--but--just hang your cooked pumpkin in a strainer or cheesecloth over a bowl for an hour and the water will drain out---USE that discarded water as stock in other soups or breads!!
Roasted ~ People waste a lot of time PEELING pumpkins/squash and then cubing them. It is so easy to just cut them open, scoop out the seeds, drizzle the halves with oil, salt/pepper/whatever herbs you want---or drizzle with maple syrup for sweeter ones and bake them on a sheet-cut sides down (roast the seeds at the same time in a separate pan)-350 for 35-40 mins. Then, use a knife to cut lengthwise and across-making cubes, and scoop them out of the skin. Aside from saving time--which is important enough--this gets you more nutrition as th eskin protects a lot of it from escaping --but you may find lots of species have skins that soften nicely and are good to eat as well. We grow "Long" pumpkins-an heirloom variety that look like zuchinni, but taste like a mild pumpkin. This year, I have 40 of them--they keep into March. They are big enough for 2 people to get 2 meals from each. Each night, I change the herbs used or use no herbs and sprinkle Bragg's Liquid Amino Acids--which is just enriched soy sauce, or just lots of salt/pepper---we eat it--SKIN and all. They--and Delicatas are so rich, you never even think of needing butter.
*If you want a crisper cube of roasted squash, scoop them out as noted, recoat them with herbs/oil and bake for 10 more minutes--once cooled, these also taste great in pasta dishes or in salads.
SEEDS ~ The seeds can be roasted with the hulls on- or eaten raw as pepitas. Pepitas need to be storebought as I do not have the patience to hull those seeds. My feeling is--if you grow squash/pumpkins, roast all the seeds--but you will run out in a few months--then buy pepitas. They are better for you than buying something roasted/salted and set around long enough to go rancid. Seeds are roasted by giving them a quick rinse in a collander after scooping them. Do not be too meticulous about getting them clean of all the fleshy strings--that icky looking stuff has lots of nutrients too--and lots of flavor! Drain them and spread them on a cookie lipped sheet, tossed with olive oil, salt or soy sauce---or--oil, cayenne powder/crushed pepper flakes and garam masala---or--- maple syrup/brown sugar and vanilla---or---oil, rosemary and thyme and salt. Whatever flavor combination you like--is great. Preheat the oven to 350 and bake for 35 mins, stirring every 6 mins. or so and adding more oil if needed. They are done when the seeds are dry/browned and all the oil has been absorbed--and they are crunchy--not chewy. Cool completely and store in airtight containers.
SOUP ~ Soup is the best way to take in medicines/nutrients--and it tastes good--and we FEEL good when we eat soup. Here, you would roast the pumpkin, then add it to a stock of: onion, garlic -sauteed in 2 Tbsp.olive oil, 1 potato cut-with skin intact, herbs of choice-thyme and rosemary pair the best with pumpkin, 5 cups of water/stock (I am vegetarian, so use a powdered veggie stock that is 1 Tbsp. per cup of water and I need to add NO more salt to the recipe). Simmer until potato is soft, then puree with a blender and seve with parsely sprinkled on top and a dollop of sour cream. You can leave some of the pumpkin chunky.
Make a stew--starting out as described above, but adding black beans and cannelinni beans (canned), 2 stalks of chopped celery, sliced or cubed parsnip, pureed tomato, dash of chili powder, cumin, curry powder and pepper to taste. Leave chunky. This recipe also will help chase away colds.
Ravioli ~ Pumpkin ravioli is unlike anything else! You are on your own with the pasta part of the recipe--but for the filling--1 cup puree, 2 tbsp. minced shallots/onions, 3 tbsp. cream. 3 tbsp. fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano (plus more for garnish), salt/pepper to taste. sautee shallots in 1 Tbsp. butter, then add puree and seasonings (herbs too if desired). Stir in cream and cook 2-3 minutes. Take off heat and stir in cheese. COOL. Use to fill homemade ravioli and top with more cheese--and a bit of vinnegrette.
The Blossoms ~ Pumpkin and squash blossoms are structurally sound and BEAUTIFUL. Most recipes call for you to stuff and then fry them--what a waste! They taste wonderful raw--and have all their nutrients intact. Fried blossoms DO taste great--but they look awful. Eating a fresh flower gives you inspiration. I stuff mine with a combination of cream cheese/goat cheese and whatever herbs I have that day-and some pepper. There are male and female blossoms on each plant--the males are atop an thin stem, whereas the female ones have a round bump behind them (the ovary). Do not eat too many female flowers because those are where the pumpkins grow from! This is a very nice appetizer.
Whatever your favorite dish--think of using pumpkin as the main ingredient--Risotto, stir fry, cake, cheesecake, pudding, mousse. It is filling, rich and satisfying.
Aside from the assistance to making healthy skin/hair and bright eyes that any good diet would encourage, Pumpkin's Vit. A provides a bit of extra uhmph! If you carve pumpkins, you know the feeling of your hands afterwards--soft and tight skin. Pumpkin can be used as a facial/body scrub as well.
Using either fresh or cooked, puree the flesh along with some seeds and a Tbsp. of yogurt per cup of puree. Wash and dry face/body, spread on skin and leave for 10 mins. Wash off and pat dry. This is nice for ALL skin types and ages.
We all know pumpkins are used for jack o lanterns, we know of the "Great Pumpkin", Cinderella's coach, and Peter Pumpkin Eater's poor Wife, It seems that mostly, the connotations are negative--but all also charged with an underlying life cycle (death, change, sexuality, fear) meaning. This is similar to myths with imagery of caves, wombs--other HOLLOW cavities--it is the SOURCE of life and also symbolizes the unknown to which we return. That imagery makes for a really powerful medicine!
Pumpkins and some squash take up a LOT of garden space. Because of the heaviness of the fruits, it is not really a good trellis plant--so many just don't bother growing it. a shame--especially if you have kids--or are a kid at heart--because watching something that big grow from a small seed so quickly, is exciting! They need rich soil as they are heavy feeders and they need plenty of water. There are a couple of ways to plant them--some use raised "hills" an dothers do not take the "hill" idea literally and plant several seeds in a circle together, but on flat ground. This is what I do as it keeps me from having to water CONSTANTLY while the plants establish themselves.
You can make these hills in the middle of your corn patch as they grow well together--and the prickly vines keep raccoons from eating your corn--or you can have a patch off by itself. We have a large garden withspace specifically set aside for pumpkins, but they can be planted along the edge of the garden and the vines trained out onto the grass to save room. Saves you time mowing and it keept the pumpkns clean. Once established, they need no care at all-but getting to that stage is sometimes a challenge. They are prone to cucumber beetles-which can devestate a plant in a day or so. Floating row covers (REMAY) is great for this--and long lasting, lets rain through, allows for some extra heat and is easy to remove/replace as needed. Plant, position the row covers over a row of plants and leave until they bloom--at which time, pull back or remove the cover so pollination can occur. By then, the plants can take care of themselves. Lots of people like to grow extra big fruits, so they will take all but one female flower off the plant, slit the stem to that flower and insert it in a bowl of water.sugar water or MILK!! Way too much trouble for me, but kids think it is fun and those wishing to win biggest pumpkin prizes swear by it. I prefer to leave mine alone, but do plant Connecticut Field Pumpkins to grow large for jack o lanterns and pie pumpkins for the best eating. Kids also may like carving their name into a smalll pumpkin and then watch it grow huge as the pumpkin grows. If you want taste, nutrients and medicine over looks--make sure you plant an heirloom variety. Pumpkins need to be kept 30 fet or so from squash as them may cross pollinate. They are still fine to eat, but it is not what you expect from the seed packet. Planting varieties that have different growing times alleviates this problem. Plants or seeds? Which is the best way to grow a pumpkin? If you live in a dry area, I say always plant seed and water well. They are a bit finnicky about being transplanted--no matter how careful you are (as are CUCUMBERS). I live in a wet climate and still find seeds are a better option. The ones I start ahead in the greenhouse look great until transplant shock hits--so they end up not being ahead of the direct seeded plants by more than several days--IF they survive. Keep it simple!!
At the end of the growing season--which is when a frost kills the vines, store them in a cool cellar or garage and use as needed--or spend a day making puree to freeze. I do a little of both. Make sure the stem is attached--if it come off--use those pumpkins first as they will not keep long since bacteria can enter at the stem scar.
To me, seeing pumpkins and squash growing--with all their colors and shapes is essential in keeping gardening interesting. The big ones are a source of daily amazement and all the work involved in moving them to the house and processing them--is worth it. They have a personality unmatched in the plant kingdom. LEARN MORE ABOUT PUMPKINS! For more info, click here.
"I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become part of something entire, whether it is the sun and air or goodness and knowledge" ~ Will Cather