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I am a true Idahoan at heart; born and bread in the land of potatoes and well accustomed to the “Oh the potato state huh…did you drive a tractor to school?” remark. Somehow, even without a tractor or a potato field within miles of my hometown, I couldn’t escape the inevitable potato pride and affinity for all things potato, which elicits snickers from those who have not yet come to terms with the true greatness of the land I call home and its famous tasty taters. I feel a tinge of disappointment when the potato is brushed off the nutritional map into the junk food denomination as a mere vehicle for ketchup, salt, deep fried grease, bacon bits and sour cream. The potato, let me tell you, in its many colors, sizes, varieties, shapes and flavors, is one of nature’s greatest packages of delicious, nourishment; easy, versatile and actually quite good for you. In the spirit of the season and upcoming St. Patrick’s day celebrations, what better time to pay respect to this underestimated tuber?

The potato is a tuber that grows underground on the roots of the plant after it has matured and flowered. This makes them a great locally grown food you can consume well into the winter months because they can be left insulated and preserved in the cold ground until just before use. There are over 4,000 known varieties that come in hues of blue, purple, red, golden, pink, white and dark brown.

If the fryer doesn’t get a hold of them before you do, potatoes are a rich source of nutrients while low in calories and fat. A bad rap has been placed on the potato for its starchy carbohydrate content (80% on average) but recent nutritional research has found that a significant portion of this is not directly digested in the stomach and small intestine and is instead a resistant starch that helps regulate digestion, makes you feel fuller longer and promotes sustained energy similar to the effects of fiber. Potatoes also contain about 10% protein, which plays a significant role in the energy supply process and maintenance of sustained, even energy after consumption.

Although it is hard to believe when you picture potatoes as the crispy contents in an air packed bag of chips, whole unprocessed potatoes with the skins on supply a good amount of vitamin C, B vitamins (folic acid, thiamin and niacin), potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron and zinc. In addition, the phytonutrients in potatoes, which vary according to color, are great antioxidants that help clear your body of harmful free radicals. Blue, purple, and pink potatoes are richest in antioxidants and make a beautiful display on the table.

In eastern medicine traditions the potato is revered for its healing properties, especially on the digestive system. Internally, potatoes are attributed with the power to calm the digestive tract, decrease bloating, lubricate the intestines, tone the spleen and pancreas and fortify the kidneys. Externally, raw potatoes are used to draw infection out of wounds and decrease swelling.

Idahoan, Irish or otherwise, people of all walks of life can enjoy potatoes for their nourishing qualities, easy availability, versatility and ubiquitous appeal. In addition to the Russets in Full Circle’s Farm-to-Table box this week, Austrian Crescent Fingerlings, brilliant purples and buttery Yukon Golds are available for substitution. Check out the amazing recipe for Baked Potato Soup in the recipe section of your member page or the Potato Parsnip cakes on our Good Food Life blog that are perfect for a St. Patty’s day brunch or appetizer.

This morning I took my dog for a run.  Flurries of lightly falling snow could be seen in traces along the path and on the limbs of trees and the cold gray air had kept the usual hoards to a minimum.  It was peacefully quiet, refreshingly crisp, but oh so very gray!  As we ran along at a slower pace than normal, both of us a bit tired, I couldn’t help but scan my eyes across the horizon, dark gray skies gave way to light gray rooftops, dirty white leafless trees, gray wet roads, snow white blanketed sidewalks and puffs of gray-white breath condensing quickly in front of me.

Looking for a bite to eat later that day I was disheartened to find an almost empty refrigerator with only a half-full bottle of milk, a few potatoes, two parsnips and some Jerusalem artichokes from the previous week’s farm box.  Everything colorful I had stocked on the shelves was quickly eaten leaving behind a white-gray filled, very unappetizing array of foods.

In the heart of January, eating the white starchy foods that are in season, when the season itself seems to be bringing you down all on its own, can feel like locking yourself in a gray padded room and waiting to go crazy.  But once again nature reigns in the creation of things that work symbiotically and, as it turns out, there are numerous reasons why we should not shy away from locally grown foods in all shades of white during this gray time of year.

Cold air, wet weather, less time outside, the flu season, stress, travel and the fewer hours of daylight that accompany the gray winter season require increased immunity, efficient energy production, attitude adjustments and motivation from all sources available.  Luckily, foods like potatoes, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac contain an array of nutrients and health building properties you need to help you endure the winter.

Don’t fight the season.  Compliment the weather, mood and environment around you with the best of the season’s bounty. Keep your body and mind healthy, optimistic and strong with these wintry whites:

Potatoes: A good source of vitamin C and B6 as well as potassium, manganese and fiber, potatoes are great for immune system and energy building this time of year.  Potatoes also contain a variety of phytonutrients that produce great antioxidant activity.  To get the most nutrients for your buck buy organic and eat the skins too.

Parsnips: Parsnips are rich in vitamins B1, B2 and C as well as minerals, potassium and fiber, making them a good antioxidant, immunity builder and energy source.  Parsnips have been shown to have pain-relieving properties and to help lubricate the intestines and promote healthy digestion.

Jerusalem Artichokes: This tuber contains a large amount of inulin, which has been linked to intestinal health because of its pre-biotic and good bacteria promoting qualities.  Jerusalem Artichokes help promote healthy and efficient digestion and have high amounts of vitamin C that provides antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.  In the winter months this tuber is especially helpful in nourishing the lungs and decreasing asthmatic symptoms.

Celeriac (or Celery Root): Low in calories and high in fiber and vitamin C, potassium, calcium and iron, this food defies its ugly appearance.  Celeriac’s high water content helps flush the body of toxins while its nutrients help re-build and nourish.  Health benefits include easing digestion, circulating antioxidants, building immunity and helping blood flow.

Beautiful Yukon gold and fingerling potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac/celery root are coming straight to you from Full Circle Farm this time of year.  Take advantage of the healthy and still local foods you can get your hands on and use these winter weather foods to your nutritional advantage.