Vitamin C is a vital nutrient we can’t do without. The body cannot make it or store it, so it’s important to include vitamin C regularly in your diet. While scurvy is thought of as a thing of the past, it can still be found in today’s refugee camps where people don’t have access to fresh fruit and vegetables. While the body needs vitamin C for healthy function of the tendons, ligaments, skin and small blood vessels, it’s probably best known as a boost to the immune system.
You’re probably already growing plants that contain vitamin C, such as capsicum, chillies, cauliflower and cabbage, but you can also grow plants that have higher concentrations, and you can turn these foods into powders, tinctures or tonics to keep at the ready.
With its high vitamin C content, elderberries have been used for centuries as medicine. This small deciduous tree or shrub grows up to six metres high in a variety of conditions, preferring fertile soil and full sun. Commonly grown in a hedgerow or as an ornamental shrub, the elderberry’s pretty white flowers appear in spring and are commonly made into a cordial or syrup. The glossy, dark-purple fruit will ripen in late autumn and can be used in elderberry wine, as well as jam, jelly and chutney. Medicinally, ripe elderberries make a potent tincture that can be taken by the teaspoon to reduce the symptoms of colds and flu.
Rosehips, which form on some roses after the blossom matures and falls off, are known to be very high in vitamin C and antioxidants. When foraging, ensure the plants haven’t been sprayed with pesticides and gather your rosehips in autumn before giving them a good rinse under the tap. Break up the rosehips by crushing the fruit lightly, then dry in a dehydrator at a very low temperature (as low as possible to preserve the vitamin C). Once completely dry, process into a powder and store in an airtight container. Rosehip powder is great sprinkled over yoghurt or added to smoothies.
While not the vitamin C powerhouse like other plants in this list, humble citrus are probably the most well-known sources of vitamin C and you may already have a tree or two in your backyard. While we think of the flesh as containing vitamin C, you might not realise the most concentrated source is in the peel. So save the peel of your oranges, lemons and grapefruit and gently dry them over your woodstove, on a low setting in a dehydrator or in a low oven. Then powderise the peel and keep in an airtight container. Lip-smackingly tart to take on its own, add the powder to a spoon of raw honey, mix it in a smoothie or mix with other powderised forms of vitamin C you have made at home.
4. ACEROLA CHERRIES
Acerola cherries have very high levels of vitamin C, as well as B vitamins and antioxidants. Acerola is a tropical shrub that can grow up to five metres in height and prefers lots of sun and well-drained, moderately rich soil. It can be pruned and kept small if grown in a greenhouse or a pot. It is fairly shallowrooted, so the pot need only be 60 cm deep and 60 cm wide. It makes a great bonsai tree with its pretty green leaves and bright-red berries. Keep in mind the birds love the berries too, so you may need to net the tree if it’s not protected in a greenhouse. Eat the berries fresh or dehydrate and powderise.
5. KAKADU PLUM
Clocked as having as much as 100 times that of an orange, this Australian bushfood is a star in terms of vitamin C potency. It’s a tropical fruit tree that grows from the Kimberley across to Darwin in the Northern Territory and also into Queensland. Slightly larger than an olive or cherry, it has a hard, woody seed inside, surrounded by a fleshy outer skin which is the bit you eat. This semi-deciduous tree can grow up to ten metres high and grows best in a hot, coastal environment. If you don’t have a suitable climate or greenhouse for the Kakadu plum, there are some fabulous bush tucker companies that sell it powderised or freeze-dried.