Corn (Zea Mays)

“Corn" is a term that has been used to describe whatever is the leading cereal grain in a given area. In England for many centuries “com" referred to wheat In Ireland and Scotland “corn” was oats. It is all very confusing and makes it virtually impossible for marketers to come up with snappy names for their breakfast cereals. In Australia today the term "corn”, or "sweetcorn” refers to Zea mays, the plant that produces delicious golden com cobs and this is the plant that we are talking about here. Around the world this plant has often been referred to as "maize" and it has a long history of use.
The first domestication of corn in Mexico and Central America actually dates to somewhere between 9000 and 8000 BCE. By the time of the Mayan and the Olmec civilisations, around 2000 to 1500 BCE, com had been adopted as a staple food but also played a role in everyday rituals and religious ceremonies. Today com is still a popular food although no longer quite so sacred since a lot of it in the world today has been genetically modified.
While com is regarded as a grain the sweet com kernels are actually tine fruit of Zea mays.
Typically we think of corn as the golden yellow variety with which we are familiar but there are more than 100 varieties of Zea mays and some can come in red. pink, blue or purple. While com occupies loads of your garden space out of all proportion to its yield, the sheer delight of its taste may make you want to grow it and as we shall see, there are some surprising benefits you can find from parts of the plant that you might normally throw away.

Your healing corn
As a food corn provides fiber, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Corn contains around 10-11 per cent protein which is low compared to other grains but still useful, although of course the protein is not "complete". Yellow corn varieties provide good amounts of the antioxidant nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are compounds called xanthophylls, which are yellow pigments that occur naturally in many plants and vegetables. In nature, lutein and zeaxanthin appear to absorb excess light energy to prevent damage to plants from too much sunlight, especially from high energy light rays called blue light. In addition to being found in plants lutein and zeaxanthin are found in high concentrations in the macula of the human eye, giving the macula its yellowish color. In fact, the macula also is called the “macula lutea” (from the Latin macula, meaning "spot," and lutea, meaning "yellow"). It is believed that lutein and zeaxanthin in the macula block blue light from reaching the underlying structures in the retina, thereby reducing the risk of light- induced oxidative damage that could lead to macular degeneration (AMD). They are also believed to help reduce the risk of developing cataracts.
In 1994. no Farm acreage in the United States had been planted with genetically modified (GM) corn plants, but today more than 70 per cent of all 91 million acres of corn in the United States are planted with genetically modified varieties. For instance, some corn has been modified to become more insect- resistant by transferring a gene from the soil bacterium. Bacillus thuringiensis, into the corn (this is known as Bt corn). A protein toxin produced by this bacterium helps to kill certain insects that might otherwise eat the corn. There is no substantial research in the health impact of GM corn but inserting novel proteins into food does raise the risk of adverse reactions. Organic foods of course, are non-genetically modified. In Australia genetically modified corn is currently not allowed (although GM corn ingredients can be imported in some foods). Any seed you seek in this country should be non-GM but in case seed somehow comes from another source it helps to be aware of what is happening overseas.

While you will get a lot of Food value From your corn crop, you can also get some medicinal qualities From a Frequently disregarded part of the corn plant. Corn silk can be used to make a healing tea that has a range of benefits. Corn silk tea is diuretic but it also has a soothing effect on the urinary tract. Herbalists use corn silk in combination with other herbs to treat problems like cystitis, urethritis, and prostatitis. To make a cup of the tea you need two teaspoons full of Fresh or dried corn silk. Pour a cup of boiling water onto it and leave it to in fuse for 10-15 minutes. The fresh form is best but if your crop is not producing when you need the tea then dried corn silk will do. Ideally you should have the tea three times a day if you want a medicinal effect.

Zea mays averta is the variety of com specifically bred for popping. Research from the American Chemical Society has found that if the dried kernels are "air popped" rather than popped in oil or butter, the antioxidant polyphenol content of the corn remains largely intact yielding around 300mg of polyphenols per 10g of corn kernels.

Grow Your Corn
When to plant: Sow fresh seed directly into the patch in blocks rather than long rows. This helps with wind pollination later. Wait until the soil warms, frosts have passed, and temperatures are above 16°. In humid and tropical areas it’s best to avoid the wet season with its heavy rainfall and humidity.
Climate: Grows in all climatic zones in Australia. 
 Aspect/placement: Full sun, but provide some protection from wind.

Specific needs: Needs a nutrient-rich soil, so try planting after peas or beans and add plenty of manure because corn are heavy feeders. fertilize with seaweed solution. Hill up soil around the stems when plants are about 30cm high to encourage stability and root growth. Mulch with pea straw or lucerne.

Companion planting: Pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, beans.

Harvesting: Corn is usually ready to harvest at between 12-14 weeks. Test your cobs by piercing a kernel, if it gives out a milky substance and is soft then it’s ready for picking. When the silk withers it is another telltale sign of readiness. Twist the cob with your hand and pull down to pick.

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