Latin name: Daucus carota
What is a Carrot?
Crunchy and sweet, the carrot is a member of the Umbelliferae (or Apiaceae) family, named for the umbrella-like flower clusters that grace the whole family of plants, which also includes celery, parsley, dill, cilantro, caraway, and cumin. While we usually think of carrots as being orange-colored, they grow in many other colors including white, yellow, red, or purple.
The wild ancestors of the carrot are thought to have come from Afghanistan thousands of years ago. Carrots spread throughout the Mediterranean region and were adopted by the ancient Greeks and Romans for their medicinal use. Selective breeding over the centuries to reduce bitterness, increase sweetness and minimize the woody core has produced the familiar orange carrots we eat today.
What are the health benefits of Carrots?
Cooling in nature, traditional Chinese medicine uses carrots to strengthen all the organs, detoxify, benefit the eyes, relieves measles, and clear heat. The Ancient Greeks called the carrot a philtron, which translates to “love charm.” They believed the carrot could make both men and women more amorous. Some traditional uses of carrots include treating digestive problems, intestinal parasites, tonsillitis, and constipation.
What carrots are truly famous for is their ability to brighten eyesight. The characteristic orange coloring of carrots comes from its high content of beta-carotene, which is metabolized into Vitamin A, the substance in carrots that helps improve vision, especially night vision. Keep in mind that less than 5% of the beta-carotene in raw carrots is released during digestion; you can improve the release to almost half by pulping, cooking, and adding cooking oil.
In addition, carrots are a very good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, dietary fiber and potassium. In addition to promoting vision, carrots’ carotenoid antioxidant compounds also benefit blood sugar levels, as well as help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. High carotenoid intake has been linked with a 20% decrease in postmenopausal breast cancer and up to 50% decrease in rates of cancers of the bladder, cervix, prostate, colon, larynx, and esophagus.
Where can I find Carrots?
Carrots can be found in most grocery stores and outdoor markets in season. Carrots are freshest in the summer and fall.
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