The human body can’t make or store vitamin C, so it needs a fresh dose every day. Among its many uses, one key function is that of the “glue” holding cells in our bodies together. This really comes into play with the act of eating.

Tiny tears appear in your gum tissue when you eat something crunchy. Luckily, you’ve evolved to deal with this with your gums healing faster than any other tissue in your body ... assuming there’s vitamin C available. If not, these tiny tears don’t heal but rather grow bigger, ultimately leading to rotting gums and lost teeth. This is the scurvy you read about in high school. Eventually it was discovered that adding citrus and certain other fruits to the diet prevented scurvy and the world became a much more smiley place

Barbados Cherries (Malpighia species) are one such fruit found to supply vitamin C, with a single, small berry supplying the minimum amount of vitamin C required by the average adult. As the name implies, these shrubs came from the tropics but ended up becoming popular landscaping shrubs in warm locations, including Texas. They never lose their leaves, remaining lush and green. More importantly, they produce up to three crops of the berries per year. They are self-fertile but having two or three of them close to one another results in a significant increase in the number of fruit.

Look for them in most nurseries and plant them where they can get morning sun, but also get a bit of afternoon shade. They prefer good drainage of somewhat sandy soil. Light frosts won’t hurt them, but a hard, long frost can knock Barbados cherry back to their roots. Trim away the dead branches, mulch it well and be patient. These hardy bushes will come back from their roots, though it will take a while. If you know in advance a freeze is coming, covering the Barbados cherry is a good idea.

Harvest the berries when they’re bright red. They have a surprisingly mild taste, nothing like the sour bite of a vitamin C tablet. The berries can be dried or pulped and then made into fruit leather for long-term storage. This way they’re ready to heal the small damages your body suffers every day.

Thinking about it, there’s a lesson to be had from these beautiful, red healers ... vitamin C is a lot like forgiveness, both asking for and receiving. No two people are an absolute perfect match and every day accidents hurts occur. If these hurts are left untreated, neither apologized for nor forgiven, they’ll begin festering and growing bigger. Forgiveness is the vitamin C of relationships ... a fresh, true dose is needed every day.

Trust me, the smiles will follow. Happy Valentine’s Day!