Strawberries come from France and they have very old origins, indeed the first variety to be cultivated dates back to the 7th Century. This fruit is characterised by a strong fragrance, a sweet flavour and an intense red colour. Strawberries also have green stems covered by a small amount of leaves and the surface of the berries is covered in lots of little, yellow dots. This fruit comes from the rosaceae family and the genus has about 12 different varieties. Strawberry plants prefer the temperatures of the Northern Hemisphere, the Andes and some islands in the Southern Hemisphere and blossoming occurs at different times according to the species and variety. Its scientific name is Fragraria, which derives from the Latin word fragrans (fragrant), clearly relating to the intense smell that the fruits give off, especially those that grow wildly in forests.
The ideal soil for cultivating strawberries is soft, reasonably acidic and mixed with sand. This plant is not hard to grow but some important steps must be taken: firstly, the ground where the plant will grow must be exposed to sunlight and be hoed regularly (by doing this water is spread over the soil, keeping it soft), as well as weeded. Furthermore, the first time you use fertiliser, use it abundantly (manure should be placed in previously marked out, deep holes) and, finally, set up a perforated, plastic film to cover the plants (plasticulture). By doing this the plants can take advantage of the heat, resulting in a stronger taste. The plastic cover also prevents the fruits, once matured, from touching the ground. These plants are normally arranged in to lots of 40cm blocks in long, parallel lines that are about 30cm apart. They need to ‘rest’ in the Winter (if they are not cultivated in greenhouses) and they are usually picked from early morning to dusk, when the strawberries are not wet. A strawberry field can produce fruit for about 3 years and then cultivation must be moved, renewing the plants.
When buying strawberries it is important to check that they are quite hard, that the stalk is well attached and that the colour is even and not too dark; the dark colour means the fruit is overripe and thus must be consumed within 48 hours. On the contrary, strawberries that have white and green colouring will not be good because these colours mean they are not yet ripe enough. If the strawberries come in a little box, check for bruising or mould. Strawberries perish easily and therefore it is recommended that they are stored in the fridge, in the coldest compartment, for 2-3 days maximum, preferably on some paper or left in the box they came, so that air can circulate.
Properties of strawberries
Strawberries have many health benefits: firstly, they have strong antioxidant properties, that are 20 times stronger than those of any other fruit, and they contain a lot of vitamin C; this is why strawberries are at the top of the USDA’s (United States Department of Agriculture) list of foods that keep you young. These berries are also very rich in calcium, iron and magnesium, thus they are recommended for those who suffer from rheumatism and cold related illnesses, as well as those who have high cholesterol. Salicylic acid is also present in strawberries and, in addition to helping with gout, it can help to keep blood pressure and fluidity under control. Phosphorus is contained in this fruit too, which has laxative, diuretic and purifying properties, along with ellagic acid, that works against cancer. Finally, strawberries also contain xylitol, a sweet substance that prevents the formation of dental plaque and kills the germs responsible for tooth decay.
Strawberries and cosmetics
Strawberries can be used in many ways in cosmetics. As they are 90% water, they are low in fat which helps to drain excess liquids from the skin, thanks to certain enzymes activating the metabolism of fats and encouraging skin renewal. When used in a face mask (all you need to do is remove the stalk and crush them) they can be very effective at keeping wrinkles at bay and they leave the skin feeling very soft and velvety. To make a nutritious face mask, follow these steps: mix some crushed, strawberry pulp with a spoonful of cream, or honey, so as to create a lotion. Apply to the face and leave it on for 20 minutes before rinsing it off with water. Strawberries are also great to combat blotches on the face: use the leaves to make refreshing face masks. The juice, on the other hand, helps to prevent sunburn and can be used as an ingredient in bleaching, emollient and revitalising mixtures.
The make up of 100g of strawberries
Energy 27Kcal 113KJ
Chemical composition of 100g of strawberry
Ediable part 94%
Carbohydrates - soluble sugar 5.3g - starch 0g
Fats 0.4g - saturated 0.02g - monosaturated 0.05g - polyunsaturated 0.18g
Fibre 1.6g - soluble fibre 0.45g - insoluble fibre 1.13g
Parasites and diseases
Sometimes strawberry plants are struck by disease or parasites. If this happens, make sure to look out for the following things which are signs of infection:
1) red marks on the leaves, which are caused by sphaerella fragariae and which can be treated with copper sulphate based sprays (4g copper sulphate/1L of water) or with captan (following the instructions on the packaging). Treatment should be repeated every 10 days until the marks disappear;
2) yellow/gold bumps on the leaves, which are caused by synchytrium aureum and can be removed by pulling off the most infected leaves and spraying the plant with zineb or aspor every 10 days until the disease has gone;
3) a white colour on the roots, which is caused by dematophora necatrix. This disease is not curable thus the plant must be destroyed, as explained below;
4) deformation, shrinking and curling of the leaves and/or sprouts. These symptoms are caused by viruses which cannot be cured. The only possibility, in this case, is to uproot the plant, burn it and leave the soil to ‘heal’ for some time, hoeing it with water and iron sulphate.