Originating in the Americas, pumpkins have been cultivated for around 9000 years. Firstly prized for their seeds they were later desired for their sweet flesh too. It is believed that the early Irish immigrants started the craze of pumpkin carving.
The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack”. The Irish used to carve turnips to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits, but when they arrived in America they realized that pumpkins would work better, and hence the jack-o’-lantern was born.1
Favored for the carving of freaky faces in Fall, nearly all pumpkins sold in the United States are used for Halloween jack-o’-lanterns. These type of pumpkins tend to be too stringy for consumption. However, pumpkins are not just for Halloween as below their beautiful amber exterior they possess a wealth of nutrition. Sugar pumpkins are the best type for cooking due to their sweet close-grained flesh.
Rich in Nutrients
The bright orange hints at the presence of a particularly beneficial phytonutrient; carotene. This converts to vitamin A in the body for a tremendous punch of antioxidants with the capacity to help prevent heart disease, cancer, and many of the degenerating signs of aging. Vitamin A is also a must for good vision and helping to prevent lung and mouth cancers. Flavonoids such as cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin destroy harmful free radicals, and the latter, especially, helps protect the retina of the eye from macular degeneration.2
High in fiber and a very good source vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper, and manganese, it is well worth incorporating pumpkins into your diet. And that’s not even counting the health benefits of their seeds! These dark green seeds are a great source of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and omega-3 fatty acids. For a healthy snack they can be dried in an oven and salted.
Pumpkin flowers are edible and are often stuffed with a cheesy mixture, battered and then deep fried. A healthier option is to stuff them with a raw nut-based cheese mixture, lightly drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and serve raw. Alternatively you could bake them in the oven on 400° for 10 minutes.
If you want to try your hand at growing your own, pumpkins are easy to grow, but require a lot of space for their creeping vines. However, if you only have a small yard then you could always try growing a mini pumpkin variety vertically.
Here are a few additional interesting facts about pumpkins!
- A member of the Cucurbita family which includes squash and cucumbers, pumpkins come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
- Six of the seven continents can grow pumpkins, including Alaska! Antarctica is the only continent that they won’t grow in.
- Only half a cup of pumpkin provides well over 100% of adult daily vitamin A.
- If stored properly, pumpkins can be kept fresh for several months.
- Pumpkin seed oil can be used as a salad dressing and its concentrated nutrients may help with prostate function, cholesterol lowering, cystitis treatment, kidney function, diabetes, arthritis, male baldness, increasing mothers milk production, and is an anti-parasitic. Raw pumpkin seeds have the same health benefits.