Mar 18, 2013

Why You Should Grow Leafy Greens - and how to eat them

Growing up, we literally never ate dark, leafy greens. But when I discovered the benefits of growing greens, the benefits of eating them became apparent, too. I felt so much better when I got a good dose of greens every day. (What are dark, leafy greens? They include any lettuce that's a deep shade of green, kale, collards, beet greens (leaves), mustard greens (leaves), turnip greens (leaves), dandelion greens (leaves), bok choy, and spinach.)

Here's why you should include leafy greens in your garden this spring:

1. They are among the easiest edibles to grow. So much so, they are perfect for beginners. Start your seeds by the winter sowing method, or indoors. (For details on how to do this, download my FREE ebook Starting Seeds.) Most greens germinate very quickly. (An exception to the easy-to-grow label is spinach, which are is a bit more persnickety than most other leafy greens.)

2. You can grow them when many other veggies still can't be planted. Greens do extremely well in the cool spring, giving your edible garden a quick boost. They also do well in the fall (plant them in late summer, to get them off to a good start). And in many areas of the U.S., you can overwinter greens without a greenhouse. They will grow very, very slowly, but quickly start up again in the late winter or early spring. For colder areas, or for more growth, a simple hoop tunnel or cold frame is ideal for the winter growing of greens.

3. They don't mind a little shade. If sunny spots are at a premium in your garden, it's nice to know you can give your greens a bit of shade. For the most productive greens, aim for 4 to 6 hours of sun a day, at least.

4. They keep on giving. Some vegetables can only be harvested once (like carrots or corn). But greens keep producing edible leaves over and over again. Just leave three central leaves every time you harvest.

5. They are super healthy. According to the USDA, we should all eat at at least three or four servings of dark, leafy greens every day. That's because leafy greens are packed with fiber, antioxidants, folate, vitamins, and minerals. Studies show that a diet rich in leafy greens reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

6. They don't take up much space. Leafy greens grow in pots, in hanging baskets, tucked in among ornamental plants - and you can fit a lot of them together in a simple raised bed or traditional vegetable garden. Square inch per square inch, I doubt you could find a more productive vegetable.

7. Store bought greens are likely pesticide-laden. This amazes me, because I find greens so easy to grow by organic means, but nonetheless, it's true.

How do you eat leafy greens? Most of us know how to eat lettuce, but most other greens are best cooked. (In fact, a light cooking often releases more of the nutrients in leafy greens, making them healthier cooked than raw.) Try:

* Sauteing greens in a little garlic and olive oil. (Find detailed information on this technique here.)
* Adding then to soups.
* Use them to stuff chicken or pork.
* Adding them to a scramble, hash, or omelet.
* Turning them into chips. This works for most leafy greens (not lettuce); just spray with olive oil, season, and dry slowly in the oven or in a dehydrator.
* Turning them into pesto.
* Adding them to lasagna.
* Adding them to stir frys,

For dark, leafy green recipes, be sure to check out my eating seasonally cookbook, A Vegetable for Every Season. All the photos in this post are from the cookbook.


  1. I was most fascinated by the comment that they are so easy to grow yet could be pesticide-laden in stores--oh my!!

  2. WE love our greens and where we live I can grow them year round. So this past winter we had collard greens, broccoli and kale. Now that spring has sprung I got flowers on my broccoli and collards. Do I just snip them off?? I saw a video that showed that they will keep producing even if they go to flower.. you can snip the flowers off and trim the plant a bit and they will produce again. Do you have experience with that??

    As for how we eat them... all the suggestions above. I did learn though that the absorption of the nutrients are better if you use butter to cook them. My broccoli and collards do taste so much more yummier with butter instead of olive oil.

  3. Yes, you can break off the flower bulbs and eat them and the plant will keep producing. If you do it fast enough, the green leaves will taste pretty much the same. But if you wait, the leaves get more bitter. My collards and kale are quite tall now, so I've pulled most of them up to plant fresh plants.