The ultimate top five plants for Canadian self-sustenance

With the planting season right around the corner, self-sustenance is not as out of reach as it may seem.

As pandemic-related restrictions slowly begin to lift, a glimmer of normalcy has finally come into view.

But what exactly is normal?

During the month of April, nearly 2 million Canadians lost their jobs, and while the wage subsidy for businesses has been extended until the end of June, the outlook for many businesses is not looking good either.

Among some of those businesses are farms.

Sylvain Charlebois, scientific director of the Agri-Food Analytics Labs at Dalhousie University, believes that the future of many Canadian farms is grim.

Due to the pandemic, many farmers are struggling to stay afloat. The problem, though, is not with supply, but rather the supply chain. While farmers may have the product available, due to COVID-19 health restrictions, the labour force to bring these products to the market is lacking. Experts reassure the public that this does not mean there will be food shortages, however increases in prices can be expected.

With nearly 2 million Canadians now unemployed and prices expected to rise, self-sustenance might be an answer to some growing anxieties.

Self-sustenance is the ability to sustain health without external aid.

Traditionally, plants have been used to satisfy most basic survival needs. Plants are a source of food, shelter, medicine, clothing, and even entertainment for humans all over the world. Today, modern innovations have replaced the need for many of these plants, but hidden in their roots, stems, leaves, and flowers, the benefits of these plants remain.

With the planting season right around the corner, self-sustenance is not as out of reach as it may seem. The following list outlines the ultimate top five plants for self-sustenance.

1. Potatoes

Registered dietician, Jennifer Sygo, claims that it is possible to "meet a lot of your nutritional needs if you eat enough potatoes in one day." Potatoes contain vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium. They are excellent sources of carbohydrates and even contain some protein—2-4 grams per potato.

Andrew Flinders Taylor, the founder of the "Spud Fit Challenge," even went an entire year eating only potatoes. While an all potato diet might not be the epitome of health, his experiment shows that potatoes can certainly sustain life for a period of time.

Additionally, potatoes store for a long time, are easy to plant, and, as the Russians have long figured out, potatoes make great vodka.

2. Pinto beans

According to Janice Rueda, a scientist at ADM Edible Bean Specialties, pinto beans are "the perfect nutritional partner" for potatoes. While potatoes provide calories, pinto beans bring nutritional quality. Pinto beans are an excellent source of protein, fiber, and essential nutrients like magnesium, potassium, and iron. Additionally, the leaves provide an important source of essential vitamins, fatty acids, and antioxidants.

Pinto beans require little space and water to grow, making them good candidates for indoor growing, and because they are legumes, they are nitrogen-fixers. This means that, unlike other plants, they produce more nitrogen than they use up, allowing for more nutrients to be cycled back into the soil for other plants to use.

3. Garlic

Forget the apple. Turns out, five cloves a day keeps the doctor away.

Garlic is a great way to add flavour to food, but it has also been used for thousands of years for its health benefits. Scientific research has since confirmed those benefits. Garlic has been shown to have antibiotic properties, kill cancer cells, prevent the common cold, and prevent chronic inflammatory diseases like diabetes, atherosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Ideally, garlic should be planted in the fall so it has more time to root and develop larger heads, but it is still possible to grow garlic if it is planted in the early spring.

4. Lemon

Lemons provide an excellent source of vitamin C, folate, potassium, fiber, and antioxidants. Among many other benefits, research shows that they also have a role in improving immunity, preventing strokes, lowering cholesterol, and killing cancer cells.

Lemons can also be used in homemade cleaning products. Lemon juice has antimicrobial properties and, when combined with vinegar, hot water, and baking soda, can make an effective cleaner. Because of those same antimicrobial properties, lemons can also be used to deodorize bacteria-causing odors. Boiling a few sliced lemons in water is an easy way to freshen up the home, and lemon juice mixed with water and baking soda can be used as a deodorant spritzer or tongue cleaner.

Keep in mind, lemon trees can be grown in Canada, but need to be brought into a frost-free area during the winter. Planting them in pots is the best way to do this.

5. Echinacea

Echinacea, or purple cone flower, is a native plant to Eastern and Central North America, and has been used for centuries for its health benefits.

More research still needs to be done to confirm its benefits, but studies do show that echinacea provides relief to symptoms of the common cold and may be an effective treatment. One study has even identified "antioxidant, antidiabetic, and antihypertensive properties" in the plant. While the science is still inconclusive, the research is promising and the risk of trying this remedy is low.

The most common way to use echinacea is to make a tea out of the flower, leaves, and roots.

Echinacea also attracts bees and pollinators, including hoverflies and parasitoid wasps. Attracting native wildlife is not only good for local biodiversity, but hoverflies and parasitoid wasps are beneficial predators that eat other harmful pests in the garden.

While there will hopefully never be a time when Canadians need to be fully self-sufficient, having the knowledge and skill for self-sustenance is extremely valuable to have, especially during times of crisis. Planting these five plants are a great way to start honing in on this skill. Not only do they cover the basics for food and health, they are also easy to plant and are easily accessible to most Canadians. For this reason, they are the ultimate top five plants for self-sustenance.