by Julie Christensen
If your acquaintance with cruciferous vegetables is limited to broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, it’s time to expand your repertoire and broaden your palate. Over 10 members of the Brassica family are commonly available in markets and all of them have health benefits worth pursuing.
Cruciferous vegetables are so-named because their flowers resemble a crucifix, or cross. They thrive in moist, cool conditions, making them an ideal crop for the spring or fall garden. Best of all cruciferous vegetables are packed with antioxidants and other compounds known to reduce inflammation, prevent cell damage and even protect against certain types of cancer. Cruciferous vegetables also have antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Cruciferous vegetables are widely available at the grocery store and are reasonably priced, but if you have even a bit of garden space, consider growing your own. Vegetables fresh from the garden contain the most nutrients. Broccoli is an especially rewarding cruciferous vegetable because it takes up little space, matures quickly and can be harvested multiple times. Brussels sprouts and most of the cabbages need a long, cool growing season. Although radishes are root vegetables, they are also members of the Brassica family and are among the simplest garden vegetables to grow.
All cruciferous vegetables have similar growing needs. They thrive in deep, sandy soil and need consistent moisture. They prefer cool temperatures and bolt (go to seed) when temperatures rise above 75 degrees. They grow best in full sun, but if you live in a hot climate partial shade will slow bolting. Depending on where you live, brassicas can be plagued by flea beetles. These small jumping insects leave lacy holes in the plants and can destroy your crop in a matter of days. Install floating row covers when you plant Brassicas to thwart these pests.
Using Cruciferous Vegetables
Served raw, most cruciferous vegetables have a slight spicy flavor. When cooked, the flavor mellows to a pleasant nuttiness. Serve cruciferous vegetables in soups, stir-fries or sautéed with a bit of garlic and a splash of vinegar. Don’t overcook them though or they’ll become a pile of flavorless mush. Try roasting greens, such as kale, just until crisp and slightly browned for a smoky, mild taste.
Types of Cruciferous Vegetables
Arugula. This spicy, slightly bitter salad green was all the rage in the 1990s. On its own, arugula packs quite a punch. Combine it with other mild salad greens to tone it down.
Bok Choy. This vegetable is lovely to look at and delicious to eat. It has white slender ribs and dark green leaves. Sauté bok choy briefly in oil or broth or add it to stir-fries or salads. It’s traditionally used in Asian cuisine.
Broccoli. This common Brassica vegetable has a mild flavor even picky eaters usually like. Broccoli can be tossed raw in salads, but steam it lightly and it’s even more nutritious. Research has found that steamed broccoli can combat high cholesterol.
Brussels sprouts. At only 70 calories for a 1 cup serving, Brussels sprouts pack a nutritional whollop while trimming your waistline. These tiny vegetables grow on a long stalk and look like miniature cabbages. One serving contains almost 200 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K and 124 percent of your daily allowance of vitamin C. Read more about the health benefits of brussels sprouts.
Cabbage. If you avoid cabbage because you don’t like its cooked smell, here’s some good news: raw or lightly cooked cabbage contains more cancer-fighting compounds than cooked cabbage. Use it raw in coleslaw or Asian-inspired salads. Learn more about the health benefits of cabbage.
Cauliflower. One cup of cauliflower has only 27 calories, while providing ample amounts of vitamin C, folate, fiber and vitamin K. Like all cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower is known to reduce inflammation, improve digestion and lower your risk of cancer. Learn more about the health benefits of cauliflower.
Collard Greens. Of all the cruciferous vegetables, collard greens have the most powerful ability to lower cholesterol levels. With over 1045 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K, they’re also packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, folate and vitamin A. Sauté collard greens lightly with a bit of bacon to make their nutrients easier to absorb.
Horseradish. This root vegetable is typically processed into a paste or powder for use as a condiment. Historically, though, horseradish was used medicinally to treat colds and other illnesses.
Kale. Similar to collard greens, kale is high in antioxidants and fiber. Use it within 3 days of purchase because older plants become bitter. Sauté or roast it for best flavor, but don’t overcook it.
Radishes. Spicy, crisp radishes are often planted as a child’s first vegetable crop, because they are easy to grow and quick to harvest. Plant spring or fall radish varieties and use them fresh in salads. Learn more of the health benefits of radishes.
Rutabaga. Humble, farm food, rutabagas have fallen out of favor in recent years. They deserve a renaissance though. Steamed, boiled or mashed with a pat of butter and salt and pepper, rutabagas are an inexpensive, satisfying alternative to potatoes.
Turnips. Not quite as sweet as rutabagas, turnips have a bit more bite. Rutabagas need a long growing season, while turnips are harvested in the spring. Mash the roots and steam or roast the greens. Learn more of the health benefits of turnips.
Wasabi. This Japanese root vegetable has a hot, spicy flavor commonly used in Asian cooking. It’s difficult to cultivate, which makes it expensive.
Did we miss any of your favorite cruciferous vegetables? Leave a comment and let us know!
For Further Reading:
Cruciferous Vegetables from the National Cancer Institute
Cruciferous Vegetables Help Fight Cancer from the University of California Davis
Recipes Using Cruciferous Vegetables from Dr. Vittoria Repetto
Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.