'ER' star slims down thanks to home-grown produce
By Barbara De Witt, Staff Writer
Photos by Tina Burch, Staff Photographer
best-known as nurse Haleh Adams on the long-running TV drama "ER," is now promoting
gardening as good medicine.
The actress, who
shed more than 100 pounds after enrolling in a special UCLA weight-loss program,
is keeping herself in shape with the help of a steady harvest of vegetables
and herbs from her own back yard.
"When I was told
by my doctor that I was on my way to Type II diabetes, I started planting fewer
flowers and more vegetables," said Freeman as she gave a tour of some of her
favorite plants, which grow at the foot of a gently sloping hill overlooking
the swimming pool of her Glendale home.
Among them are
budding eggplants, lilac peppers, collard greens, red onions, kale, tomatoes,
zucchini and watermelons, which are still producing after a long, hot summer.
Herbs, including rosemary, basil, oregano, mint and thyme, are grown in containers
in a shady nook near her kitchen.
The backyard garden
is at the heart of Freeman's weight-loss regimen, which includes regular walking,
kick-boxing, light weight training, swimming and golfing. She also keeps track
of the food and calories she consumes.
"Since I count calories
and log in daily to a food diary, I knew that eating more vegetables was going
to maintain my weight loss. And, knowing they are available right outside my door
is a great incentive."
are some tips from Yvette Freeman for beginning vegetable gardeners:
Get a good basic vegetable gardening book, and good soil.
Get some plants that have already sprouted from seeds. This way you will
have some instant gratification to see how the plant is growing -- radishes
grow fast -- carrots take longer. This is the season for tomatoes and
peppers, so you might get a harvest of fresh vegetables in the next month
Plant in containers so that you can learn where the plants are happiest.
You can control the environment by moving the plants into the sun or shade,
or protect them from the wind and/or cold. Once you know all this, you
can try planting in the ground.
If you are not as adventurous, you might start out with herbs. Herbs grow
fast and you can use them immediately. Just give them lots of space, find
the best location, and they can keep going for years.
Freeman has dropped
120 pounds since enrolling in UCLA's Obesity Risk Factor Program, an intensive
weight-loss program that uses a combination of diet, exercise, behavior modification
and appetite suppressant drugs to achieve results. The 46-year-old actress now
weighs a trim 140 pounds.
poor health spurred her interest in gardening, she is far from alone in her
passion for growing her own food. She is among a growing number of Americans
who are not only getting back in touch with nature but rediscovering the joys
of fresh-from-the-earth carrots and collard greens, said Ellen Kirby, president
of the New York-based American Community Gardening Association.
"Even in upscale
neighborhoods like the Hamptons in New York, people are renting plots to raise
vegetables," said Kirby, who estimates there are now more than 10,000 community
gardens across the country.
Telles of Armstrong Garden Center in Sherman Oaks is also tracking the trend,
citing a steady increase in vegetable seed and plant sales during the past 14
"The most popular
are tomatoes sold in 4-inch pots, but bell peppers and carrots also are popular
with beginners," he said.
Freeman's own green
thumb grew gradually, starting with childhood forays into her
grandmother's vegetable garden to pick collard greens. She was also influenced
by her husband, jazz pianist and arranger Lanny Hartley, who has always grown
his own vegetables.
When Freeman decided
to start growing vegetables, she began with collard greens and tomatoes. She
soon added peppers, green beans, squash and watermelon.
"Most of them
were easy to plant," she said. "It's the waiting for the product that is hard,
and finding ways to keep bugs off."
And while mature
herbs were easy to find in abundance at local nurseries, Freeman found they
are sensitive to their environment.
"The hard part
is finding a location where they are the happiest as far as sun, wind, shade
and so on," she said.
her healthy lifestyle, Freeman has discovered new ways to incorporate favorite
vegetables into home-cooked meals. She uses collard greens, for example, in
her own version of Greek roll-ups.
"I use collard
greens instead of grape leaves and stuff them with mushrooms and rice instead
of meat," she said, adding she's also learned to propagate them by planting
a leaf in the ground and watering it.
Now she dreams
of having "collard trees," she said, chuckling.
The actress also
has learned to substitute fruit in place of sugary foods.
"In addition to
eating vegetables, I now eat fruits, especially watermelon, since it has hardly
any calories; it was never a favorite before, but now I love it."
In fact, she's
become a connoisseur of the native African fruit. Her favorite is Star, a seedless
watermelon heirloom variety dating back to 1910.
involves planting seeds with a history, allowing gardeners to see, taste and
smell food as previous generations did. In fact, Freeman said she finds heirloom
melons and tomatoes have a richer taste.
When she's not
tending her garden or working on the set of "ER" (which starts its new season
Sept. 25), she works on other projects. Freeman recently wrote and directed
"Remember," a short film on Alzheimer's disease that stars "ER" co-star Ellen
But she remains
focused on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
"While I'm not
eating everything I'd like, I'm now able to do physical things I like but couldn't
because of my weight."