Years before being tamed into their orange coats, the wild carrot flourished in colors of purple, red, yellow and white. They were found in countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and China, basically thriving throughout Europe and parts of Asia at least 5,000 years ago. It is believed the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans cultivated carrots in the first century BC, more for their medicinal properties than as a food source. The Dutch are responsible for the domesticated carrot we recognize today.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran grew purple carrots, which are considered the oldest cultivated varieties and the ancestor of our current orange varieties. Interesting carrot facts include:
- Wild carrots and domesticated carrots are different families within the same species.
- Most of the carrots grown prior to the 16th century were purple. White, yellow and red strains also existed.
- The orange color we associate with carrots today was a political statement by the Dutch to honor their leader on the road to independence, William of Orange.
- Carrots have served many purposes throughout history. Egyptians used the seeds for medicinal purposes, Romans used seeds and tops as protection against some types of poisons and aphrodisiacs, and some Afghan tribes use purple and white varieties while making alcohol.
In addition to these facts, all colors of carrots contain beneficial and healthy compounds:
- White - Phytochemicals and dietary fiber, although the pale color doesn’t have as many benefits as the rest it is still healthy.
- Yellow - Lutene and xanthophyllus, which help protect against cataracts, some cancers, hardening of the arteries and macular degeneration.
- Orange – Beta carotene and vitamin A are two well-known benefits of orange carrots which help protect and strengthen the eyes.
- Red – Lycopene which help protect the body from serum lipid oxidation, cancer and macular degeneration.
- Purple – High concentrations of beta carotene as well as Anthocyanins which work to protect the body and heart by restricting absorption of LDLs, slowing clotting, and reducing inflammation.
- Black – Also contains Anthocyanins, but in addition it features anti-bacterial and anti-fungal qualities and is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.
Shapes and Where to Plant Them
Some shapes of organic heirloom carrots will naturally acclimate better to different soil conditions, although they will all grow best when planted in loose soil that is not compacted or rocky. Short varieties such as Bambino Carrot Seed , Parisian or Little Fingers are naturally suited to hard, rocky soil. Raised garden beds, rich dirt and sandy area gardeners will have spectacular results from Cosmic Purple Carrot Seed and Tendersweet varieties.
Tips for Planting Success with Organic Heirloom Carrot Seeds
Prepare an area in early spring with well-drained loose soil featuring a ph level between 6 -6.8. While carrots are bitter and tough if they don’t receive enough water, they will not be as colorful or nutritious if they receive too much water. Use vermiculite to loosely cover seeds until they emerge, and then thin them with spacing 2-3 inches apart.
After reading and considering the numerous health benefits, and fun colors, check out Sustainable Seed Company’s 13 varieties of heirloom carrots.