The Dream of Wild Health Network began as Sally Auger and Paul Red Elk were bequeathed with gifts of squash, corn, bean and medicine plant seeds by American Indian elders from the Upper Midwest, and later from across North America. Their work includes preserving, growing and propagating indigenous heirloom plant varieties, including squash, beans, corn, tobacco and medicinal herbs. The Network planted some 34 different seed varieties, on less than one acre of land. The project is committed to sustainable agriculture practice as understood by the indigenous peoples of the Upper Midwest, including organic growing conditions. The project has been in existence for three growing seasons.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The Network was to grow varieties of indigenous corn, beans and squash for:
1) Educational outreach purposes
2) Nutritional analysis research
The DWHN grew samples of indigenous Oneida hominy corn, Potowanami beans, and Arikara squash during the summer of 2000. These crop varieties were selected for nutrition analysis for the research component of the SARE project. For comparison purposes, we randomly selected samples of analogous corn, beans and squash from a food retailer. We requested that Medallion Labs (Golden Valley, MN) conduct nutrient analysis that would include the following end point measures (per 100 g samples):
– Proximate: water, energy, protein, total lipid, carbohydrate, total dietary fiber, ash
– Vitamins: Ascorbate, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, B-6, Pantothenate, Biotin, Folate, B-12, A, D, E and K
– Minerals: Na, Ca, Mg, K, P, Fe, Zn, Cu, Mn, Cr, Se
The educational component was designed around an open garden tour of each of the Dream of Wild Health gardens.
This work involves visiting with Elders to preserve indigenous knowledge of how to grow, cultivate and appropriately use these plants to restore one’s health and the quality of the land. Elders are oftentimes the last speakers of traditional languages and serve as the remaining repositories of ancient seeds and the knowledge of their uses. Their knowledge represents what is left of a sophisticated, ancient, indigenous system of understanding relationships between the land, plant varieties and human and animal health. After more than a century of federal “forced assimilation” policy, much of this knowledge has been lost or fragmented. Thus, the Dream of Wild Health Network is both about saving the seeds themselves as well as the cultural knowledge about growing, cultivating, preserving and using these plants to improve health.
Medallion Laboratories is a food analysis subsidiary of General Mills and is located a their James Ford Bell research facility in Golden Valley, Minnesota. DWHN worked with Dr. Mike Baim, Director and Ann Diesen, R.D. of Medallion Laboratories and with Dr. Craig Hassel, University of Minnesota Nutritionist.
Educational Outreach. Some 50 visitors attended the August 2001 Dream of Wild Health Open Garden Tour. All visitors were given detailed tours of each garden where project personnel shared information about the project, the seed varieties, gardening methods and nutrition research findings. Informal evaluation data indicates a high level of appreciation and interest from visitors.
Squash: Arikara squash is an excellent source of the antioxidant beta-carotene. Since beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body, a 100 gram serving of squash provides 64% of the recommended daily value for vitamin A. Arikara squash is a good source of dietary fiber. One serving supplies a 13% of the recommended daily value for total fiber, which includes approximately 0.6 grams of soluble fiber. It also provides slightly more inulin than the market variety. Arikara squash can be considered a low calorie food with only 38 calories per serving. This is about half the calories of the market squash, which has 82 calories per serving. Arikara is a fair source of calcium and magnesium. However, its levels of these nutrients are over two times greater than those levels of the market squash. The native squash is also a better source of chromium, providing 5% of the recommended daily value in one serving.
Corn: Hominy corn provides high levels of many nutrients. It is an excellent source of carbohydrate and protein, yet it is low in fat. Hominy corn is an excellent source of dietary fiber. One serving has 47% of the recommended value for total daily fiber intake. Its soluble fiber content is high at 0.6 grams per serving. The data shows the inulin content for the native corn to be 1 gram of inulin per serving versus 0 grams for the market corn. It is also an excellent source of the B vitamin thiamin with 29% of the daily value in one serving, as well as a good source of niacin and vitamin B6.
For minerals, hominy corn is an excellent source of magnesium providing 33% of the recommended daily value. It is a good source of iron, zinc, copper, potassium, and selenium. The amount of selenium in one serving of Hominy corn is 13% of the recommended daily value, whereas a serving of the market variety provides almost no selenium.
Beans: Potowanami lima beans are an excellent source of nine different nutrients. One serving of beans provides 24 grams or 96% of the recommended daily value for dietary fiber. The soluble fiber content is considered high with 1.3 grams per serving. Potowanami beans are also an excellent source of carbohydrate and protein, but are very low in fat. A 100 gram serving of the native beans provides 35% of the recommended daily value for thiamin. They are also a good source of other essential B vitamins pantothenic acid, niacin, and vitamin B6. Potowanami beans provide high levels of a variety of minerals. They are considered an excellent source of potassium, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, and selenium. The native beans provide 33% of the recommended daily value for selenium per serving. This is three times more selenium than what a serving of the market beans provides.
The results of the antioxidant analysis indicate that both the Chadron beans and Potowanami beans have more antioxidant activity than the market beans. Antioxidants protect cells against oxidative damage that is caused by free radical molecules. These molecules come from our bodies’ metabolic processes and the environment (smoke, pollution, chemicals, etc.). Overtime free radical insult can negatively affect normal body processes and may cause various disease states.
Consuming fruits and vegetables, which have high levels of antioxidants, has been associated with lower incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease (1). Essential nutrients like vitamin C, E, and selenium have antioxidant properties and are found in many plant foods. However, plants have additional chemicals that are not considered nutrients (phytochemicals), which can also provide high levels of antioxidant activity. For the Potowanami lima beans, most of the antioxidant activity is attributed to anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins are phytochemicals that provide dark blue and/or reddish pigments to certain plants. In blueberry analyses, the anthocyanins contributed much greater amounts of antioxidant activity than vitamin C (1). This helps illustrate that phytochemicals play an important role in a healthy diet, and are perhaps equally important to health as the essential nutrients.
Antioxidant activity is often measured in units called Trolox equivalents (TE). The antioxidant analysis showed that the Potowanami beans provided 22,476 TE and the Chadron beans 23,127 TE per 100 grams. In the U.S. the estimated usual daily antioxidant intake is considered low at only 1200-1700 TE (1). Therefore, incorporating high antioxidant foods like these native beans into the diet could greatly contribute to a person’s total daily antioxidant consumption and have very positive health implications.
1) Prior, RL. Antioxidant Capacity and Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables. USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts. Available at: www.blueberry.org/tuft’s.html
This work is especially important since the prevalence of diet related chronic disease has increased dramatically in today’s society, especially for American Indian people. Age-adjusted mortality rates for diabetes and cardiovascular disease among American Indian people of the Upper Midwest are four fold and two fold higher respectively, according to Indian Health Services data from 1995. Many within the Indian community believe that part of the answer to these diet related diseases involves a healthier lifestyle and healthier food selections. The traditional food crops of Indian culture may well be a part of this answer. Accordingly, the work presented here offers a better understanding of the nutritional value of a small select sample of heirloom varieties of beans, corn and squash.
Some 50 visitors attended the August 2001 Dream of Wild Health Open Garden Tour. All visitors were given detailed tours of each garden where project personnel shared information about the project, the seed varieties, gardening methods and nutrition research findings. Informal evaluation data indicate a high level of appreciation and interest from visitors.