Are pumpkin facts actually a Tip of the Month? Yes! At least we think so, because our sixth fact gives you tips for safely using your Halloween jack-o’-lantern for something so much better than a porch decoration that you discard after the trick-or-treaters have gone.
6 Amazing Facts You Didn’t Know About Pumpkins
1. Pumpkins Are A… What?
Many people are shocked to learn that in addition to 50 grams of sugar, one of the secret ingredients in your $5-6 pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks is berries.
Yes, botanically speaking, pumpkins are berries.
2. The Original Jack-o’-Lanterns Were Made From A Vegetable.
Our modern American versions of Halloween and the Jack-o’-Lantern are marvelous cultural mashups of “New World” & “Old World” European folklore whose origins date back thousands of years, and include Samhain (the Gaelic harvest festival) as well as All Saints Day (a Catholic celebration).
The original European tradition of carving jack-o’-lanterns to ward off evil spirits actually used large turnips, not pumpkins. (Pumpkins are native to America, not Europe.) Nope, turnips aren’t a berry. They’re a vegetable. And they probably don’t make a great spiced latte flavoring for coffee either.
3. Pumpkins Are Really, Really Old.
Agriculture developed in multiple places around the globe during the Neolithic Revolution at the end of the last Ice Age. One hot spot of early agricultural activity was in modern day Mexico, where beans, squash (which include pumpkins), corn, and other plants were domesticated in close succession. These plants were not grown in single-species monocultures, they were planted in dense, biodiverse polycultures that we now call “milpas.”
The most common plants in these native cropping systems were corn/maize, beans, and squash, known collectively as the “Three Sisters” to the societies that grew them (or “Four Sisters” where sunflowers were prominent).
Pumpkins are a winter squash, and were among the earliest domesticated plants on earth. How old are they? Archaeologists excavating a tomb in central Mexico unearthed pumpkin seeds that date back 9,000 years!
4. Where In the World Did Your Pumpkin Come From?
Was the pumpkin you bought for your front porch decoration grown in the US or elsewhere? It’s hard to say.
The US now grows over 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins per year, 95% of which are grown in Illinois. 85% of all pumpkins grown in the US are produced by Libby, a subsidiary of Nestlé, the massive Switzerland-based company that is also the world’s largest food company by revenue.
But despite all the pumpkins we grow here, the US is NOT the world’s largest producer of pumpkins, although we are the world’s largest importer of pumpkins.
So where are all of our pumpkins coming from? US pumpkin production is dwarfed by other countries, especially China and India, which produce about 5x and 3x more pumpkins than the US respectively. But most of the pumpkins we import are actually grown in Mexico. So your jack-o’-lantern pumpkin was probably grown in either Illinois or Mexico.
5. The World’s Largest Pumpkin Weighs As Much As A Cow.
What’s the largest pumpkin ever grown? Well, it didn’t come from Illinois, Mexico, or China. It came from Switzerland.
Beni Meier’s 2,323.7 pound pumpkin grown in 2014 is still the world record holder. To put that into perspective, the average male cow weighs 2,400 pounds. (*Please do not try to make a jack-o’-lantern out of a cow.)
6. All Parts of the Pumpkin Plant Are Edible… But You Might Not Want To Eat Yours.
We’ve grown a lot of pumpkins over the years. We love turning our pumpkin “berries” into pie, pudding, bread, and other goodies.
We also love roasting pumpkin seeds, which are loaded with protein, good fats, and fiber. The best seed pumpkins we’ve ever grown are Austrian Styrian pumpkins.
A lot of people don’t realize that all parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the flowers and leaves. We use our male pumpkin flowers as a chopped salad garnish, as a stuffed savory dinner dish, or pan-fried into a breakfast pancake. (The female flowers should be left to set fruit.) Pumpkin leaves are a vitamin-rich edible vegetable that are best harvested and cooked when young and tender.
We grow our pumpkins organically without any herbicides or insecticides (we use brown and green mulches for weed control + no till and companion plants to control pest insects). We also don’t use fertilizers (we promote biological soil fertility rather using synthetic or mineral fertilizers). If we happen to have a wet period that causes powdery mildew on our pumpkin leaves, we’ll use our own homemade milk-water solution that’s been scientifically proven to be more effective than conventional fungicides. Bottom line: we’re not too worried about what’s in or on our pumpkins.
But crops that are NOT grown for human food consumption–such as pumpkins grown for decoration or even conventional garden seed crops–are virtually unregulated.
So when Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts pumpkins/winter squash at #25 on their Pesticide Residue List, they’re only referring to pumpkins/squash grown for human consumption and put on a grocery store shelf, not jack-o-lantern pumpkins. Unfortunately, this means there’s no way to know what pesticide residues are on or in your jack-o’-lantern unless you grew it yourself or managed to find a pumpkin grown on an organic farm.
So what’s our October Tip of the Month?
Simply this: if you’re planning to have a jack-o-lantern or decorative fall pumpkin(s) on the porch, and you’d like to eventually eat your pumpkin rather than throw it away, we’d recommend you try to grow your own organic pumpkin or source it from a USDA certified organic farm. Also, as The American Academy of Pediatrics says, pregnant women, infants, and young children are much more likely to be harmed by pesticide exposure than adults, so this tip is especially applicable if you plan to serve your pumpkin to someone in these categories.