10 New Fruit Trees and Edible Vines for Your Garden This Spring
By Brian Barth
The world of fruit is far more expansive and exciting — not to mention flavorful — than the dozen or so varieties on offer at your local supermarket would suggest. Ever try a translucent white mulberry? How about a jujube — the fruit, not the candy?
You're unlikely to find any of these fruits at your local grocer or farmers' market. It's not because they're hard to grow — most of them are actually easier to raise at home than disease-prone fruits like peaches and cherries. The reason you won't find them for sale has more to do with the constraints of commercialization — they score low on metrics like yield per acre and shippability.
But those issues won't matter in your backyard, where a single tree is likely to yield more than your family can eat and the only travel the fruit must endure is the short journey from garden to kitchen. Your local garden center may be able to special order the varieties below, but if not, you can easily find them online from mail-order nurseries.
1. White Mulberry
Dried white mulberries are occasionally found in health stores, where they are sold as a "superfood" at astronomical prices. The fresh fruit, which is produced in copious quantities on small, attractive trees that are used to cultivate silkworms in Asia, has a less acidic flavor profile than its dark-colored counterpart. There are several white-fruited mulberry varieties available, including Tehama, Beautiful Day and Sweet Lavender, which is graced with a hint of this beloved herb's flavor. USDA zones 4–9.
This Chinese fruit, which resembles a small red apple, gave its name to the popular candy. Jujubes can be eaten raw, but they are consumed dried in Asia, which gives them a chewy, candy-like texture that goes with their satisfying sweet-sour flavor. They grow on spindly, thorny trees with a narrow, upright growth habit. Highly drought tolerant, jujube trees thrive in hot, dry areas. USDA zones 5–9.
3. Cider Apple
These days, you can find all sorts of interesting heirloom apple varieties at your local farmers' market. In theory, you can make cider out of any of them. But real cider makers use special varieties that have been bred for centuries with the unique flavor profile suited to the beverage (which is very different from the flavor profile of an apple meant for eating fresh). If home brews are your thing, you might need to grow your own. Varieties to look for include Ashmead's Kernel, Northern Spy and Muscadet de Dieppe. USDA zones 4–9.
This little-known native fruit is found in isolated patches throughout eastern forests. It is distant cousins with tropical fruits like cherimoya and custard apple, with which it shares an exotic flavor (often described as a cross between banana, pineapple and mango) and a creamy texture. The size of a mango, this fruit grows sparsely on small, slow-growing trees with attractive foliage and a uniform pyramidal shape. Pawpaws are far too finicky for commercial growers, but they've garnered a cult-like following among foodies and backyard botanists. USDA zones 5–9.
5. Pineapple Guava
The fruit of this small, attractive evergreen tree tastes like, well, a pineapple-flavored guava. Its large red-and-white tropical blossoms are also edible, adding a sweet, cinnamon-like flavor to desserts and summer drinks. The only catch is that pineapple guavas (also known as feijoas) are not cold-hardy. You can grow them outdoors year-round in much of California, southern Texas, Florida and the Deep South, but elsewhere you'll need to keep them in a pot that can be brought indoors for winter (potted pineapple guavas are easily maintained as small shrubs). USDA zones 8–11.
You might say that quince is so old-school, it's new again. In past centuries, northern European households were just as likely to grow quince as they were to grow apples and pears, to which the fruit is related. Perhaps its appearance — like a bloated and tumor-laden pear — has something to do with its loss of popularity, plus the fact that you have to cook it to enjoy it. But the flavor is nonpareil: It's like a baked apple with cinnamon and allspice flavors and a touch of lemon zest. USDA zones 4–9.
Not to be confused with a kumquat (a type of citrus), a loquat is a distant relative of apples and pears from subtropical parts of Asia. The fruit looks like an apricot, with a similar texture and flavor but tangier. These evergreen trees have decadent tropical foliage and require a warm climate. While they're not huge trees, they are a bit large to grow in pots and bring indoors for winter. USDA zones 8–10.
8. Arctic Kiwifruit
The fuzzy kiwifruit you find at the store requires a mild-winter climate, but this is, by no means, the only kind of kiwifruit available. Arctic kiwifruit (also known as 'Arctic Beauty' or 'Kolomikta Kiwi') hails from the frigid mountains of Russia and possesses a similar flavor to fuzzy kiwifruit, except that it lacks fuzz and is typically consumed whole, skin and all. This shade-tolerant vine possesses spectacular white-, pink- and green-variegated foliage. USDA zones 3–8.
9. Chocolate Vine
Also called akebia, this shade-tolerant vine has delicate lobed foliage and bears vanilla-scented flowers in spring. In summer, sausage-shaped pods appear, which split open when ripe to reveal a soft, white pulp flavored with notes of banana, lychee and passion fruit. Scoop it out like custard, seeds and all, and mix it into fruit salads or simply eat it by the spoonful. The pod is inedible raw but may be cooked like a vegetable. USDA zones 4–9.
The passion fruit you find in the store requires a subtropical climate, but it has an American cousin that grows wild throughout the eastern part of the country. The vines are nearly identical to their tropical counterparts, with frilly purple and white blossoms up to three inches in diameter. Mix the yellow flesh of the fruit in smoothies, daiquiris and desserts. As a bonus, the leaves of maypop are considered an herbal aphrodisiac. USDA zones 6–10.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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