They’re affordable to purchase, easy to grow, versatile in recipes and are rich in vitamins C and B6, and potassium. They contain no fat, no sodium and no cholesterol, and they produce more food per unit area of land than any other major-planted crop.
They are potatoes, and whether you like them baked, mashed, fried or diced into your soups or stews, you probably have some on your family’s menu this week.
Grown throughout the world today, potato has its roots (pun intended) in Peru, where it was cultivated around 5,000 B.C. The Spanish brought the potato from South America back to Europe, and by the end of the 16th century, families of Basque sailors were growing potatoes along the coast of northern Spain.
Europeans found potatoes easier to grow and cultivate, and the vegetable’s popularity spread. Potatoes arrived in the colonies as early as 1620, and potato patches, largely planted by Irish and Scotch immigrants, were common by the early 18th century. In the 1840s a serious blight wiped out the potato crop in many countries, including Ireland, where the working class had begun to rely on the potato as a meal staple. Almost one million people died during The Potato Famine and another one million people left Ireland, mostly headed for North America.
Today, the potato is the world’s fourth largest food crop, after corn, wheat and rice. The states of Idaho and Washington produce nearly half of the U.S. potato crop.
Traditional folklore reveals many traditional uses of the potato other than food. The Incas placed raw potato slices on broken bones to help them heal and to ease rheumatism. Other folk remedies included treating frost bite with raw grated potato pieces and tying pieces of baked potato around a person’s neck to ease sore throat discomfort.
While some of those ideas have not withstood the test of time, there are plenty of ways you can use potatoes other than as food. Here are some that may be new to you:
1. Tarnish remover. There is a reason to keep the water you use to cook potatoes. It can remove unsightly tarnish from your silverware. After you have boiled and removed potatoes, soak your silverware in the water for about an hour. Then remove and rinse.
2. Rust cleanser. Cut a raw potato in half and use it to clean rust off your pots, pans or gardening tools. The potato’s acid content works to dissolve the rust. If you sprinkle on some salt, you will have even more cleaning power.
3. Eye soother. Similar to the way many people use cucumber slices, you can use raw potato slices to ease eye puffiness and discomfort. Simply lie down for about 10 minutes with raw potato slices on your closed eyelids for quick relief. If the potato is chilled, it works even better.
4. Shoe shiner. The juice in a raw potato can help make your shoes look shiny. Simply rub your shoe’s surface with the edge of a freshly cut raw potato and wipe clean.
5. Window/eyeglass and goggle de-fogger. Rub the cut part of a potato half on the inside of your windshield or car window. The juice from the potato will prevent condensation from forming. You can also try some potato on the inside of your ski or swim goggles in the same way.
6. Ease aches and pains. One of those potato folk remedies that is still in use today is to use potato juice to soothe the pain from sprains, bumps and bruises. Just apply a potato slice or the juice you have squeezed from potatoes to the affected area.
7. Hot or cold pack. You may have read books in which characters keep hot potatoes in their pockets to keep their hands warm. Potatoes will retain heat or cold for a surprisingly long time. You can use a frozen potato to keep food cool instead of an icepack, and you can use hot potatoes to keep things warm. Similarly, you can use a potato as a hot or cold compress to help ease the pain of aching muscles.
8. Cut down on salty flavor. If you have added too much salt to your soup or stew, add a few raw potatoes and let the pot simmer for about 10 minutes. The potatoes will absorb the salt.
9. Hold cut flowers. You can poke holes in a potato half and use it in the same way florists use that green foam. Place the potato in the bottom of your vase to hold the stems securely.
10. Make stamps. This is a fun, easy activity to do with kids on a rainy day. Carve designs into potato halves and use as stamps with a colorful ink pad. You can use the stamps you make to decorate plain bags for gift giving.
11. Remove food stains from your hands. Those unsightly stains you can get on your hands from peeling carrots or carving a pumpkin come right off when you rub your hands with the open side of a cut potato.
12. Light bulb remover. And finally, here’s an old tried-and-true favorite, which I had the occasion to use just the other night. When I was replacing a light bulb, (yes, it was an old incandescent one that had been hanging on in a kitchen fixture) the blub broke, leaving me with only a small part of the bulb still left in the socket. After cleaning up the glass and turning the switch off, I cut a small potato in half and dried off the one side. Then I gently pushed the cut side into the broken bulb and turned it slowly to remove it. It worked!
I’ve also heard that potatoes can be used to propagate rose and geraniums, providing the right mix of nutrients and moisture for the cuttings. I’m going to give that one a try. In the meantime, I think it’s time for me to harvest some more of those good-tasting and very useful potatoes.
What other uses for potatoes have you found? Tell us in the section below: