Strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa )

Sweet Strawberry
The cultivated strawberry plant (Fragaria x ananassa Duch.), is a member of the rose Family Rosaccaes. Prior to the relatively recent development of F x ananassa in the last couple of centuries, the more common strawberries were wood strawberries (F. vesca) and musky strawberries (F moschata), which were cultivated in Europe and Russia for centuries. These species were largely supplanted by cultivation of F x  ananassa over the past 250 years.
Strawberry plants are perennial, "stoloniferous" plants, meaning that they spread via stolons or “runners". The runners produce "daughter” plants at every other node. Flowers of the plant are white, with 25-30yellow stamens and the center flower opens first and is largest, producing the largest fruit. They are self-fruitful and therefore do not need cross-pollination for fruiting although bee activity is beneficial in transferring pollen to stigmas in an individual flower.
The strawberry is actually an accessory fruit, since the part that we eat does not originate from the ovary of the plant The true "fruits” are actually the numerous, tiny specks that cover what we call the strawberry.

Your healing strawberries
Strawberries, like all berries, are an excellent source of antioxidant polyphenols. Strawberries also contain a range of nutrients such as vitamin C, manganese, magnesium, B vitamins and potassium. It is the powerful polyphenols, however, that have been shown in recent times to be mighty healthy for us.

Berry young brains
One of the factors involved in ageing is a steady decline in your body’s defences against things like inflammation and free radical damage. As a result diseases of the joints, heart disease, cancer, and degeneration of your brain can occur. There is also another defensive mechanism in your brain that drops off as you age. Your brain has a range of natural self-deaning processes. The cells that do this housekeeping are called microglia and they remove the by- products of the chemical processes in your brain. "Autophagy" is the name given to this cleaning process that microglia perform. If autophagy did not happen the biochemical by-products would clog up your brain circuitry and interfere with the way your brain functions. As you age, this is exactly what happens; your microglia don't work as efficiently and debris builds up choking your mental processes. If that piece of news has ruined your morning coffee then perk up because the good news is that berries have been shown to help boost the actions of microglia in your brain.
Polyphenols are the antioxidant molecules in berries that give them their various lustrous colours and also provide their healing power. What these polyphenols have been shown to do is block the action of a protein that shuts down the process of autophagy. So by blocking this protein, berries allow the cleansing process in your brain to go on as close to normal as possible.
Berries also offer another way to keep your brain young. Since inflammation and stress are thought to play a major role in cognitive decline as you age, researchers wanted to see whether eating these anti-inflammatory berries might correlate to a slower rate of brain deterioration. To examine this they used data from the Nurses Health Study which draws on data from 121.700 nurses and published their findings in the Annals of Neurology. The study began in 1976 and the nurses were all aged between 30 and 55 when they were examined. Between 1995 and 2001,16.000of them, by then aged at least 70. had their cognitive function assessed at two-year intervals and their results were matched against their diet. It was found that those who ate more strawberries and blueberries had slower rates of cognitive decline. that meant their brains were effectively 2.5 years younger than their non-berry eating counterparts.

UV protection
You might not think of strawberries as sun protection but research suggests they very  well could be.
Researchers from Spain and Italy prepared human skin cell cultures and added strawberry extracts to the cultures at concentrations of 0.05mg/ml, 0.25mg/ml, and 0.5mg/ml. These skin cells were then exposed to UV light equivalent to 90 minutes of midday summer sun on the French Riviera. The strawberry protected cells were compared to cells that had no strawberry but an equal UV exposure. The results showed that cells immersed in strawberry extract survived better and had reduced DNA damage. The protection also increased as the concentration increased with 0.5mg/ml extracts giving the best protection.
This study is showing that the antioxidant anthocyanin compounds from strawberries have anti-inflammatory and enzyme modifying effects that reduce the chances of developing skin cancer and skin damage. Further research will have to be done to see how well strawberry anthocyanins are absorbed through the skin but the suggested ability of strawberries to protect against radiation is not new. Earlier research done at the University of Maryland lias shown that eating strawberries could protect astronauts against the negative effects of cosmic radiation.

Alcohol protection
Most of us know that alcohol beyond one or two glasses a day is not a good thing. It is treated as a poison by the body and even its breakdown produces some nasty by- products. It seems though that strawberries might offer protection against this.
In a new study, researchers gave strawberry extract to rats at the rate of 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight for 10 days. Other rats were not given the strawberries. After 10 days the rats were given alcohol in their drinking water. Those rats who had been given strawberry extract suffered significantly less damage to the stomach lining than did other rats. It is important to note though, that while strawberries will protect the stomach lining, they will not stop, or slow, you getting drunk.

An organic must
Strawberries are part of the "Dirty Dozen", the 12 fruits and vegetables most likely to be contaminated with pesticides and herbicides. The difference between organic and commercially grown strawberries is significant.
In a recent study (PLUS ONE) researchers found that organic strawberries have higher levels of vitamin C and also antioxidant polyphenols than non-organic strawberries. However, non  organic strawberries had higher levels of potassium and phosphorous probably because these two nutrients feature heavily in non-organic fertilizers. Additionally, organic strawberries had a longer shelf-life and were more dense with greater dry matter (as opposed to fluid). Taste was broadly comparable between the two strawberry types.
In all, the researchers concluded that organic strawberries were a higher quality fruit. That is even before you consider the contaminants that commercially grown non-organic strawberries are likely to carry.

Grow Your Strawberries
When to plant: Planting time varies, depending on location and variety.
Climate: Suits most Australian zones, but do some research on the variety best suited to your climate.
Aspect/placement: Likes fertile, sunny well-drained position and slightly acidic soil.
Specific needs: Prepare the soil with manure and compost before planting your seedlings or runners. Leave room between plants to improve ventilation. Water root zone regularly during fruiting and apply liquid seaweed fertilizer fortnightly. Mulch with pea straw to keep fruit off the ground and snails at bay. Strawberries send out runners. Remove so the plant focuses its energy on growth and fruit production.
Strawberries produce well for about three years, but are prone to viral diseases. It’s best to replace them after three seasons with new virus-free plants or runners and prepare a new garden area. Good for pots and hanging baskets.
Companion planting: Members of the onion family.
Harvesting: Eat sun-ripened strawberries straight from the bush. Fruit production can take about 3 weeks from flowering depending on the conditions. Consider netting your crop if birds are a problem.

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