If you think of a green salad when you hear the term leafy vegetables, you’re right. But what about all the other leafy greens you see at the grocery store, but seldom buy? Leafy greens, including kale, spinach, turnip greens and others, are power houses of nutrition. They contain ample vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, those plant compounds known to fight diseases, including cancer.
In fact, several studies have shown that a steady diet of leafy greens offers protection against gastric cancer and ovarian cancer. Leafy greens are high in vitamin A, which researchers believe is necessary for maintaining healthy body tissues and fighting off invaders and toxins.
Leafy greens can also reduce your risk of heart disease. One study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that participants who ate one daily serving of leafy vegetables reduced their risk of heart disease by 23 percent.
Eating leafy greens regularly may even help trim your waistline. They’re virtually fat-free and very low in calories, while offering a big helping of nutrition. One cup of raw spinach, for example, has only 7 calories, but 149 mcg of Vitamin A and over 50 grams of calcium!
Using Leafy Greens
Whether you grow your own leafy greens or buy them at the store, select greens with bright green leaves. The smaller leaves are usually more tender and sweet. Wash greens in the sink or in a salad spinner and blot them dry carefully with a paper towel. Store them in the refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag for three to five days.
Almost any leafy green can be used in a salad, but there are hundreds of other ways to use them as well. Add them to stews and soups, steam or stir-fry them or roast them in the oven for two to three minutes. Check out the cookbook Greens, Glorious Greens! for inspiration. Regardless of the cooking method, leafy greens need only a few minutes to tenderize them. Overcooking them makes them turn bitter. Add a splash of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a dash of kosher salt and you’ve got a delicious and nutritious dish.
Types of Leafy Greens
Peppery arugula adds a nice kick to any salad. Smaller leaves tend to have a milder flavor. It can also be sautéed and used like spinach in various recipes.
This salad green can only be described as pretty. It has greenish-yellow leaves and a sweet, delicate flavor. Bibb lettuce is more expensive to buy than other lettuces, probably because it’s a bit more difficult to grow. In the home garden, it readily turns bitter when temperatures rise.
Eat these raw or steam them lightly and top them with a dab of butter. Beet greens have a robust flavor. Beets are an excellent crop for the home gardener. They grow easily in most conditions and you get two crops from one plant!
The darling of the South, collard greens thrive in slightly cool weather, making them a good fall or spring crop. They are ready to harvest in 40 to 80 days.
Who knew the menace of your yard could be so tasty? Dandelion greens are delectable in early spring. Add them to salads or sauté them gently. One serving contains 275 mcg of Vitamin A. Don’t eat greens that have been treated with herbicides, though.
Similar to collard greens, kale prefers cool temperatures. Spray kale with cooking spray and roast it in a hot oven for a few minutes.
Along with kale and collard greens, mustard greens can help reduce your cholesterol levels. They pack the most benefits when lightly cooked, rather than raw.
Also known as broccoli rabe, rapini is commonly used in Italy and throughout the Mediterranean. It has a nutty, slightly bitter taste that resembles broccoli.
A favorite in salads, romaine lettuce is crisp and hardy, and stands up well to dressings and salad toppings.
One of the most reliable leafy greens for the home garden. Choose the smooth-leafed kind for easier washing. Wash spinach two or three times to remove the sand and grit that sticks to it.
Chards come in a rainbow of colors. The tender stalks are edible, as well as the leaves.
Similar to beets, turnip greens have a robust flavor, which improves with a touch of frost.
Want to learn more about green leafy vegetables?
Don’t miss these resources:
Leafy Green Vegetables from University of Virginia
Growing Leafy Greens in the Home Garden from University of Illinois Extension.
A Visual Guide to Cooking Greens from Epicurious
Did we miss any leafy greens? Leave a comment and let us know!