More to a Potato than Meets the Mouth

November 6, 2011

Credit: Margaret Boyles
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Our modern potato came from southern Peru, domesticated there 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. Humble, homely, and earthy, the potato has traveled around the world, exerting an extraordinary influence on global civilizations for centuries. 

No wonder. Potatoes are productive and easy to grow. They keep for a long time without processing and fit into any meal plan. Serve them for breakfast (hash browns), scalloped, mashed with roasted garlic, in a shepherd’s pie or even a pie crust. Cook up a potato dessert to rival anything the zucchini can serve up.

Despite their bad rap for fueling the obesity epidemic (French fries comprise one-quarter of the “vegetables” Americans eat each day), potatoes are nutritious, too, especially served skin and all without gravy or other fatty toppings.

They offer a good source of potassium, vitamin C, some B vitamins, and antioxidants. And though they don’t contain much of it, potatoes boast very high-quality (complete) protein.

More then good nutrition and taste.

But you can put potatoes to many good, if unusual, uses around the home. To list a few:

  • Remove a broken light bulb from its socket safely. Just cut a thick slice from one end of a large, raw potato and press the cut surface of the remaining potato into the jagged glass. Twist to unscrew and toss into the trash, potato and all. (Probably a good idea to make sure the socket is switched off).
  • Remove excess salt from a soup or stew. Just cut up a raw potato or two and add to the broth.
  • Reduce puffy under-eyes. Lay a slice of raw potato over each eye and lie back for a few minutes.
  • Remove stains on clothing, carpets, upholstery. Grate a couple of raw potatoes into a cup or two of water and allow to soak. Squeeze out the potato shreds and daub the water on the stain. Alternatively, try rubbing the stain with the cut edge of a raw potato.
  • Remove stains on hands that come from working with berries, beets and other plant materials. Just rub hands with the cut surfaces of a raw potato.
  • Hold decorative arrangements (flowers, branches) in place. Poke holes in a large potato set at the bottom of a bowl and arrange your flowers, herbs or branches in the holes to keep them in place. Add water if needed.
  • Remove tarnish from silverware and other items by soaking them in potato water (left after boiling potatoes). Of course, if you don’t have any tarnish to remove, add the potato water to a soup stock. (Or soak your feet in it. Many swear by this folk remedy for tired, aching feet.)
  • Power a clock (or other small electronic device) on potatoes. 
  • Maybe even power the batteries of the future.
  • Make potato prints. Potato printing is an old art, fun for children and adults alike. Kids and grownups alike can use simple stamps cut from raw potatoes for homemade note cards, wrapping paper, T-shirts and other fabrics, even door frames, mantels, and floors, depending on which paint you choose. Clicking on many of these potato images will take you to a page of instructions for one or another potato-carving or printing technique.The practice can rise to high art, as in this flickr photo by Bob Ash (rockfarmer) of the potato print fabrics created by women of Molikadi Crafts in Botswana.
  • Folk medicine. Most parts of the world that grow and eat potatoes also use potatoes for a wide variety of traditional medical applications. Raw, juiced, cooked, applied externally or taken internally, potatoes have been used to treat conditions as diverse as burns, infections, various cancers, constipation, and acne, as well as to soothe pain, treat migraines, and ease mild to moderate depression.

20 potatoes a day. Here’s an interesting interview with Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, in which he describes his personal quest to raise awareness of the health benefits of potatoes by subsisting entirely on potatoes for two months.

Here’s a follow-up interpretation of the clinical results of Voigt’s all-potato diet.

 

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Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.

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