Vegetarianism dates back to a time before recorded history and, as many anthropologists believe, most early humans ate primarily plant foods, being more gatherers than hunters. Human diets may be adopted for a variety of reasons, including political, esthetic, moral, environmental and economic concerns, religious beliefs, and a desire to consume a more healthy diet. A major factor influencing the vegetarianism movement in the present time is primarily associated with better health. Epidemiologic data support the association between high intake of vegetables and fruit and low risk of chronic diseases and provide evidence to the profound and long-term health benefits of a primarily vegetarian diet. Vegetables and fruit are rich sources of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber as well as biologically active nonnutrient compounds that have a complementary and often multiple mechanisms of actions, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hypoglycemic, hypocholesterolemic, and hypolipidemic properties, and mechanisms that stimulate the human immune system. Because of the critical link established between diet and health, consumers have begun to view food as a means of self-care for health promotion and disease prevention. Functional foods are targeted to address specific health concerns, such as high cholesterol or high blood sugar levels, to obtain a desired health benefit. Functional properties identified in a number of plant species have led to a modern day renaissance for the vegetarian movement.
Consumption of Asian herbs, spices, and vegetables in the U.S. has increased considerably within the past decade. This paper reviews some Asian culinary herbs and vegetables that are now increasingly used by American mainstream consumers, as well as ethnic Asians. It briefly summarizes traditional medicinal properties and the accumulating scientific evidence for functional properties of these plant species.
There is an amazing variety of Asian vegetables that, even today, are largely unknown in the United States. However, as Asian populations increase in numbers and diversity, local demand has increased and opened up opportunities to identify suitable crops for successful cultivation and possible export of these vegetables back to Asian countries. Production strategies for successful cultivation of Asian vegetable crops include the identification of suitable species; access to genetic material and germplasm collections; evaluation of imported genotypes; development of technologies, skills, and resources to collect production data; monitoring of the risks from pests and diseases; identification of new pests and pest management techniques; and organization of research on postharvest handling, packaging, and transport for a wide range of products to meet the consumer demands.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea L.) is an excellent source of the essential fatty acid α-linolenic acid (LNA) but little is known of the effects of cultural conditions on LNA concentration. Purslane seedlings were grown under an instantaneous photosynthetic photon flux [PPF (400 to 700 nm)] of 299 or 455 μmol·m-2·s-1 for a daily duration of either 8, 12, 16, or 20 hours. Thus, plants were exposed to a daily PPF of 8.6, 12.9, 17.2, or 21.5 mol·m-2·d-1 in the low PPF treatment (299 μmol.m-2.s-1) and 13.1, 19.7, 26.2, or 32.8 mol·m-2·d-1 in the high PPF treatment (455 μmol·m-2·s-1). Plants in all treatments received a 20-hour photoperiod by providing ≈5 μmol·m-2·s-1 from incandescent lamps starting at the end of the photosynthetic light period. At low PPF, purslane grown under a 16 hour PPF duration produced the highest concentrations of total fatty acids (TFA) and LNA per unit leaf dry weight (DW), but at high PPF, concentrations of these compounds were highest under 8 and 12 hour PPF duration. Trend analysis indicated that maximum TFA and LNA concentrations occurred with a daily PPF of 14.1 and 17.2 mol·m-2·d-1, respectively; and in the thylakoids, protein, chlorophyll, and LNA concentrations peaked at a PPF of 21.8, 19.9, and 16.1 mol·m-2·d-1, respectively. LNA as a percentage of TFA was unaffected by treatment. Shoot DW increased with PPF up to the highest PPF exposure of 32.8 mol·m-2·d-1.