These Two Easy-to-Grow Garden Plants also Help Control Diabetes


I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes 10 years ago right after a back operation.  I learned that a propensity for diabetes can be triggered by an assault to the body, like an operation with anesthesia. Fortunately, I have been able to manage diabetes with regular exercise and a better diet.  

My diet was always pretty good, with mostly vegetables and grains.  But I often binged on too much food at one sitting.  Plus, I loved overindulging with carbohydrates, especially from processed foods (cookies and candy, breads and snack foods (Smart Food is almost a vegetable!), pasta and breakfast cereals). Carbohydrates are important for your body as your digestive system converts them into glucose (blood sugar). Your body uses this sugar for energy for your cells, muscles, and organs.  But diabetes reduces the ability of the body to manage this conversion, dumping excess glucose that can’t be processed into your blood rather managing the glucose to power your body.

Now, I eat much less processed foods and more whole and unrefined foods, especially vegetables, nuts, beans, certain grains (quinoa) and tubers (sunchokes), and unrefined fruit. In fact, my vegetable and nut consumption has probably tripled.  We buy the nuts in bulk, but we still grow most of our vegetables in our garden or get them from a CSA I helped to start 25 years ago.  

There are two plants I count on from my garden that are easy to grow and that I have found to be especially beneficial in managing my blood sugar: kale and sunchokes.  We plant kale in every sunny opening in our yard and sunchokes are can grow almost anywhere with soil and some sun.

Popeye showed us that “eat your spinach” was a smart health rule.  But kale is far more ‘nutrient dense’ than spinach. This super green is at the top of the list of the world's healthiest foods.

The health benefits of eating kale are immense, including maintaining healthy skin, hair, and strong bones, helping with digestion,

lowering the risk of cancer, lowering blood pressure, lowering the risk of developing asthma AND improving blood glucose control in diabetics.

Kale contains alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant which can lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity (so your body uses glucose more efficiently) and decrease peripheral neuropathy (tingling, pain, numbness, or weakness in the feet and hands). 

We eat kale in salads, stir-fry, and almost every day in breakfast green smoothies.  Kale is the main ingredient in our “green drink” raised-bed garden that we have perfected for our zone 5 growing conditions.  (Let me know if you’d like our raised bed plan.)  We also dehydrate kale and make chips that we eat in the winter.

The Jerusalem artichoke, or sunchoke, is a species of sunflower native to eastern Canada and the US.  It was a staple of Native Americans in the northeast and is the only North American native root vegetable.  Sunchokes grow easily and prolifically; in fact they can take over and crowd out other plants.  They grow 5-6 ft tall and display bright yellow flowers, like their sunflower cousins.

But their real claim to fame is their tubers that look like a mix between potatoes and ginger root.  Sunchoke flavor is unique, slightly nutty, crisp like jicama or water chestnut, with a hint of artichoke flavor that becomes more intense when cooked.

Unlike potatoes and other starchy foods (that are high in glucose-triggering carbohydrates), sunchokes are great for glucose control.  In fact, recent scientific studies in Japan demonstrate that sunchokes may even help prevent type 2 diabetes.


The sunchoke tubers are harvested in the fall, ideally after the first frost. Unlike most starchy vegetables, the main carbohydrate in sunchokes immediately after harvest is inulin rather than starch. Inulin is a soluble fiber and when eaten it is converted in the digestive tract to fructose rather than glucose, which is easier for diabetics to tolerate as an energy source.

Or favorite ways to eat sunchokes include roasted like potatoes (cut sunchokes into one-inch chunks, and roast them at 400°F for about 40 minutes until they are tender and golden brown); mashed (steam or boil sunchokes as you would potatoes); and fresh sliced or shaved in salads.   We also store them like potatoes to eat over the winter.

Kale and sunchokes are two of the best gifts from nature’s “farmacy”.  And they are very easy to grow. Every temperate-climate garden should include them.



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