Medicinal plants

Tomatoes - ingredients, uses and cultivation

Tomatoes - ingredients, uses and cultivation

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tomatoes are not only a diverse fruit vegetable, but extremely healthy. They strengthen the skin, prevent cardiovascular diseases and contain a lot of vitamin C. The fruits are not only available in red, but also in yellow, brown and green, small and spherical or in the form of an ox heart - find over a thousand varieties regular in trade.

Tomatoes have a number of positive effects on our health.

  • They stimulate the appetite
  • drain,
  • promote digestion,
  • lower blood cholesterol,
  • strengthen the body's immune system,
  • prevent cancer through their cell protection,
  • help against hardening of the arteries and clean the blood,
  • reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals

They contain a lot of water and few calories, plus a lot of vitamins C, B1, B 2, B 6, E, niacin, pantothenic acid and potassium. The concentration of vitamin C in the skin is three times as high as in the pulp. To a lesser extent, tomatoes offer iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, phosphorus and sodium. However, lycopene is particularly important. This carotenoid has an antioxidant effect. It protects the cell membrane of the plants, also keeps human skin cells healthy and even lowers the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood, which prevents cardiovascular diseases.

The human body can absorb lycopene better through juice, pulp and puree than through fresh tomatoes, because lycopene unfolds when heated. In addition to lycopene, other phytochemicals in the plant have a preventive effect against calcification of the arteries and cancer: flavinoids, phenolic acids and terpenes.

Lycopene for cancer screening

Lycopene gives the fruit a red color. It has a firming effect and thus neutralizes free radicals in the body cells. It is twice as effective as the beta carotene contained in carrots. According to a study, lycopene prevents prostate cancer. For example, study participants who ate tomatoes ten times a week reduced the risk of developing prostate cancer by 45 percent. This also tends to apply to colon, breast, lung and cervical cancer.

Lycopene for sunburn

Lycopene also protects against the UV rays of the sun by intercepting the free radicals that are formed and destroying skin cells. Protection by lycopene is increased, but you shouldn't do without sunscreen even if you eat tomatoes.

Strengthening the immune system

Vitamin C and potassium strengthen the immune system. With a large berry, we already cover half of our daily vitamin C requirements. Potassium is important for the body's water balance. Iron is also necessary for a functioning immune system. The fruit does not contain much of it, but vitamin C makes it well absorbed by the body.

Blood purification

The raw fruits neutralize metabolic residues, drive the urine and strengthen the kidney function. In addition, despite their acidity, they have an overall alkaline effect and balance the levels of acids and bases, which helps against gout and counteracts acidification.

Hardening of the arteries

LDL cholesterol is attacked by free radicals, oxidized and thus adheres to the vessel walls. The changed cholesterol sends out messenger substances through which more and more blood cells migrate to the deposits in the vessels. The vessel is now narrowing even more. The opening for blood flow is getting smaller and smaller. The antioxidants contained in tomatoes prevent this development by fighting free radicals. Regular consumption prevents blood vessel constriction and reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Origin in the New World

The nightshade family is now completely everyday. It's hard to imagine that it was completely unknown in Europe in the Middle Ages. The "Spanish strawberry", as it was called in the early modern period, only came from America with the Spaniards. It probably originated in the very rainy regions of the Andes. This indicates your enormous water needs.

The indigenous people of Mexico and Peru have long cultivated the plants when the Spaniards invaded the "New World". Archaeologists found seeds that show that the Maya in Mesoamerica grew the fruit for centuries before Columbus arrived on the continent. The name probably comes from the Aztec language: Xitomatl means "swell" here. The Spaniards shortened the word to "tomato".

A poisonous love apple?

In Europe it was initially not a useful plant, because our ancestors planted it - you hardly believe it - as jewelry in the garden. At first, the fruits were considered poisonous. It was also considered a "love berry". Whoever ate the fruits should fall into overwhelming lust. Probably the round shape and the red color had fueled this fantasy, because both reminded of a heart. That is why in France they were called “pomme d’amour”, or love apples, in Austria “paradise” by paradise. The contemporaries thus associated the fruit with the “forbidden apple”, which “sinful Eve” nibbled on in the Garden of Eden.

This fear was not quite so absurd: The fruits of the newcomer from America suspiciously resembled the black belladonna, which was also called belladonna, because women rubbed the poisonous berries in the eyes to enlarge the pupils. A dangerous cosmetic because the alcaloid in the deadly cherry can kill, it has a hallucinogenic effect, can trigger psychosis, leads to confusion and paralysis. In the United States, therefore, the fear of tomatoes persisted until the 18th century.

False suspects

The fear of the "Spanish berry" was rife after nobles who had previously eaten tomatoes died. Today we know that it was not the food, but the dishes that were the murderers. The aristocrats had eaten the fruit from pewter pots. If this tin comes into contact with acid, the lead is drawn into the fruit. The gentlemen died of lead poisoning.

Carl von Linné correctly assigned the wrongly disputed plant to the nightshade family. Many of them contain toxins, alkaloids, some of which are fatal to humans. In fact, two alkaloids, tomatidine and solanine, are also found in unripe tomatoes. Larger amounts of unripe tomatoes therefore lead to slight poisoning that causes diarrhea.

Tomato as a food in Europe

The lead poisoning of the nobles did not prevent ordinary people from eating the red fruits. There were no fatal consequences here, because the poor used bowls made of wood or clay. In Italy, people were already cooking with the “paradise apples” in the 16th century.

These dishes also became popular north of the Alps, first as a delicacy among long-distance merchants, then among the bourgeoisie.

In 1880 the little red fruit balls started their triumphal march. In Naples, a chef designed a pizza in the national colors of the country for the ruler Margerita - with white mozzarella, green basil and red tomatoes. Today, Pizza Margherita is one of the most common dishes in the world, combining two of the best harmonizing tastes: the sugary acidity of the fruit with the tart spice of the herb.

From America to Europe and back

In the USA, the fear of the "poisonous plant" persisted until the 18th century. In Mexico, indigenous peoples and immigrants continued to eat the ancient fruit berries, but the settlers north of the Rio Grande continued to shy away from them. Immigrants from southern Europe now brought the tomatoes to North America.

Four years before the Margherita pizza, another recipe brought the tomato into the champion's league of the most consumed plants: John Henry Heinz invented the Heinz ketchup in 1876.

Late arrival in Germany

So the plant migrated from Spain to Italy, and from there to Central Europe. In Germany we only know them from the end of the 19th century. This is due to the heat requirement of the originally tropical herb. Even today it is not a pure outdoor plant. Pre-cultivation in the apartment or in the greenhouse is necessary to bring our most popular vegetables to the harvest. Most tomatoes that we eat every day come from heated greenhouses. Commercial cultivation in Central Europe takes place almost exclusively under glass.

What should you look out for?

The type, cultivation and ripeness of the fruit affect their nutrient content. Outdoor plants generally offer more lycopene than plants from the greenhouse. It is believed that it forms to protect the fruits from the UV rays of the sun. You can see the content of beta-carotene from the color. Green tomatoes before ripening contain only a quarter of the amount that red tomatoes have when fully ripe from this substance.

Enjoy raw and heated

The best way for the body to absorb the lycopene is to fry the tomatoes in a little oil. Then the cell walls split and the substance comes out. Lycopene survives heating without any problems.

Unfortunately, the situation is different with the vitamins. These are sensitive to heat. Therefore, you should both eat the fruit heated to better absorb the lycopene, and enjoy it raw to get the vitamins.

A fruit vegetable

Fruit refers to the fruits of plants that arise from their flowers. Vegetables, on the other hand, are parts of plants such as leaves and stems (e.g. spinach), roots (e.g. carrots and turnips). Tomatoes are therefore fruit vegetables.

Plant tomatoes

The countless varieties range from 20 cm high bushes to two meter high tendrils. Typical are the dark green leaves with fine hair that exude a spicy fragrance.

From April we can grow the seeds individually in small pots with nutrient-rich soil. They should be watered abundantly. The plants germinate quickly, the warmer it is, the better. We support them from a height of approx. 15 cm, first with small wooden sticks, later with bamboo poles and from the end of May with wooden frames. The yellow flowers now appear. They form in the leaf axils and pollinate themselves. A sunny window sill or a heated small greenhouse is suitable as the germ site. The temperature should be around 20 degrees. The plants are only allowed outside after the ice saints. You should take this really seriously, because even low degrees of frost can destroy the plants.

Green and red fruits

From the end of June to the beginning of July, the flowers then turn into green fruits. Depending on the variety, they turn red, orange, yellow, brown or violet. Never eat them unripe! As long as the fruits are still green, they contain solanine, a poisonous alkaloid. You can pick the ripe, full-color balls regularly. The fruits do not all ripen at the same time, so you can count on several edible specimens per plant and it will take a few weeks until all the fruits of a shrub have ripened and are ready for harvest.

Nutritional hunger

Tomatoes are nutrients and water consumers. They love sun and warmth. So you have to water the plants vigorously in the morning and evening. The plants indicate a short dryness with hanging leaves. Satisfy your hunger for nutrients with nettle yeast once a week. The fruits are also happy to accept a regularly renewed layer of full compost and / or grass clippings.

We differentiate stick tomatoes with a long main shoot that has to be connected and bush tomatoes that grow more in the area than in the height. You need no or only a small support and are more suitable for the balcony. We roughly differentiate the fruits into the large ribbed beef tomatoes and the small cherry or cocktail tomatoes.

Which location is suitable?

Tomatoes need a place in the sun and a humus rich soil. The crumb should be loose so that the water drains away well. This is an important point: tomatoes absorb a lot of water, but are also very sensitive to waterlogging. This is particularly important for balcony plants: tomato pots should hold at least ten liters and have a good drain.
The best is a location that already contains many nutrients - ideal is a compost heap. In any case, you should enrich the soil, manure or rotting plants are suitable. Keep the soil loose if you plant the plants half a meter or more apart.

Once you put the plants in the ground, water them properly. Then do not add water for a few days, then the roots can grow better. The plants should be up to the lowest leaf base in the earth, then they form more fine roots and better nutrients.

Tomato varieties

Tomatoes are grown primarily for taste. This depends on the sugar content and the fruit acids. The small cherry tomatoes taste particularly sweet, the large beef tomatoes contain less fruit acid and are suitable for salads and as vegetables.

The most common, because most productive, varieties are stick tomatoes. These include, for example, the yellow "Golden Queen", "Harzfeuer" or "Matina". Beef tomatoes bear large fruits with five or even more compartments. The ox heart tomatoes are heavily ribbed, some also smooth, but all roughly heart-shaped. They are probably called ox hearts because the large specimens can weigh half a kilogram.

Cherry tomatoes are usually red, but some varieties are also orange-yellow, others blackish-red, elongated like cornell cherries or round like table tennis balls. Bush tomatoes are usually small enough for the terrace or balcony. They fit in boxes, pots or buckets. Bottle tomatoes are usually egg-shaped, often taste intense, are easy to cut, firm and low in water. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


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  • Kretschmer, Christine; Herzog, Alexander: Healthy nutrition for cancer: Eating what your body needs: How to strengthen your immune system, TRIAS, 2007
  • Hermann, Karl: "Overview of the Ingredients of Tomatoes", in: Journal for Food Analysis and Research, Volume 169 Issue 3, 1979, Springer
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Video: Best Fertilizer For Tomatoes (August 2022).