Seeds of Wisdom - Summer Squash

Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! Summer squash is full on this time of year! In Mendocino and Lake Counties, the harvest season tends to be July through November. Summer squash originated in the Americas and was quickly cultivated to be grown worldwide. Zucchini and other summer squash can be quite prolific in warm climates. You can usually harvest them after 60 days of planting. For best taste, harvest your zucchini and summer squash when they’re 4-8 inches long. They can grow up to three feet long, but when left to over-mature like that they lose flavor, become stringy and woody, and have hard seeds.

Summer squash has thin skin, as opposed to the winter squash which develops thick skin and thus stores well over the winter. Summer squash tends to store well in the refrigerator for only a few days. Overly cold temperatures can damage the produce, resulting in hollow pits on the squash’s skin.

Although technically a fruit as it grows from a flower, summer squashes are treated as vegetables and extremely versatile. Eat it raw or cooked, in salads, stews, egg dishes, stir-frys, grilled, spiralized as a noodle substitute, shredded in baked cookies, and tossed into smoothies. The flowers of the zucchini plant are edible too! They are quite common in French and Italian dishes and usually stuffed or fried. Something to keep in mind, however, is that the great sources of vitamin A and C in squash are reduced in the cooking process.

They are valuable sources of copper, fiber, folate, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, vitamin A and vitamin B6. Vitamin A levels can be up to 40% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) and some squash offer 21% of RDI of copper.

As we’re often touting about fruits and vegetables, the antioxidants and phytonutrients in summer squash are key for fighting free radicals in the body and reducing inflammation. Thus regular consumption of antioxidants can help slow down the aging process. The specific carotenoids they contain – beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin – are helpful in protecting against cancer and providing support for eye, heart and skin health. It is especially important to eat the skin of your zucchini and summer squash. Studies have shown that the skin of summer squash contain 2-10 times as many carotenoids than the flesh of the squash. Additionally, yellow squash has higher levels of these carotenoids than green squash.

Surprisingly, a good amount of ALA omega-3 fatty acids are contained in the seeds of summer squash. One calorie of squash offers 4mg of omega-3s, whereas one calorie of salmon contains 8mg. An appropriate balance of omega-3s to omega-6s is important for controlling inflammation in the body and the Standard American Diet (SAD) tends to have an unbalanced ratio, favoring omega-6s, so once again these are great vegetables to include in your diet.

Zucchini offers antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are especially beneficial for eye health. These antioxidants accumulate in the retina, helping to improve vision and reduce the development of cataracts and eye disease that naturally comes with aging. Eye health is also supported by the vitamin C and beta-carotene content in zucchini.

The fiber, water and other nutrients in zucchini play a key role in supporting your digestive system. Zucchinis, for example, are 95% water, and this high water content helps soften stools and promote easy bowel movements. The insoluble fiber also helps with this, adding bulk to your stools which then allows for food to move more easily through the gut. The soluble fiber in zucchinis is beneficial for the gut as it feeds the good bacteria that you want thriving in your gut.

The high fiber content in zucchini also helps you feel full longer which then stabilizes blood sugar and insulin levels. Studies have shown a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes is often correlated with diets high in fiber.

Zucchini contains a rich source of the vitamin folate, which is helpful for supporting heart health due to its role in removing homocysteine from the body. When zucchini is eaten regularly it can reduce levels of homocysteine, a by-product that could otherwise encourage heart attacks and strokes. The high potassium levels in this summer squash promote healthy blood pressure by dilating blood vessels. Studies have also shown that diets that include a lot of fiber and carotenoids are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, so including zucchini and other summer squash in your diet is a must for heart health.

Energy production can be supported by zucchini consumption due to their high amount of B-vitamins. Folate, riboflavin and B6 are some of the B-vitamins zucchini offers to help fight fatigue, support brain function, and metabolize protein and carbs.

Some testing on rats suggests that extracts from zucchini peels can help maintain stable thyroid hormones. This is exciting information, but more research and testing needs to be done with humans to know if zucchini peel extract will benefit human thyroid levels as well.

If you’re in need of recipe inspiration for the bounty of summer squash you’re harvesting from your gardens, grab one of our cookbooks for the following recipes:

  • Simple Zucchini Soup – Sopa de Calabacin Simple
  • Summer Squash Soup – Sopa de Calabaza de Verano
  • Zoodles with Fresh Vegetables – “Zoodles” con Verduras Frescas
  • Baked Zucchini Gratin – Gratinado de Calabacitas al Horno
  • Zucchini Nut Bread – Pan de Calabacitas con Nueces
  • Zucchini Pickles – Calabacitas en Vinagre

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  1. Food Revolution Network - 9 Impressive Health Reasons to Eat More Zucchini - A Nutrient-Dense Food by Dr. Patrick Quillin
  2. Healthline - 12 Health and Nutrition Benefits of Zucchini by Alina Petre
  3. Organic Facts - 5 Amazing Zucchini Benefits by Meenakshi Nagdeve
  4. The World's Healthiest Foods - What's New and Beneficial about Summer Squash

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