A Seasonal Guide to the Greens of Spring

kaleYou might notice a trend at this time of year across produce aisles, cooking magazines and restaurant menus: things are greening up with plenty of little leafy plants all around.

That’s because the seasonal growth of lettuces, greens and other early plants, has begun. The greens of spring are the “baby” versions of nature’s healthiest veggies.

Your spring salad will be bursting with color, texture and nutrition if you choose from the many amazing varieties of greens and baby lettuces available. Here is an overview of some of the most popular types of spring greens.

For a delicious dose of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, mix and match any of these in a big bowl. Or, pile on a sandwich. Or throw into pastas and omelets. Possibilities are springing up everywhere!

Collard and Mustard Greens

With traditional greens like collard and mustard, the larger and older the leaves get to be, the tougher their texture becomes, and the stronger the flavor. The advantage of snipping from the leaves of these plants in the spring, is the harvesting of smaller greens on the younger plants, offering a more tender leaf texture, and milder flavor. Cooking times can be greatly reduced, preserving nutrients. And fatty, smoky additions like the customary bacon or ham hock, become less necessary.

Collards are part of the cruciferous family, noted for their concentration of glucosinolates and phytonutrients, identified as a premier cancer-fighting and cholesterol lowering trait among related veggies like broccoli, kale and cabbage. Mustard greens (or Chinese mustard leaves) deliver similar benefits, but feature a spicier flavor resembling horseradish. Using acid, such as fresh lemon, to marinade the greens helps break down their fibrous consistency, while steaming helps release the health benefits of glucosinolates.

Turnip and Beet Greens

It might sound a little old-fashioned to suggest adding turnip greens to your menu, but modern research confirms the health value of the leaves and stems growing on top of the turnip tuber under the ground. In fact, the greens deliver more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than the actual turnips themselves do. Plus, they belong to the brassicacia family alongside cabbage and kale, known for cancer-fighting properties.

Beet greens are another example of a plant food taken from the leaves and stems on top of the vegetable growing underground. Beets share the same larger plant family as Chard, known for its stunning array of colors and nutrient-dense leaves. Like chard, beets are also a super-food. A recent study in Chile found tender, tasty beet greens to be one of the top sources of iron in the diet of the entire country.


Baby Spinach and Arugula

You’re probably most familiar with these garden standards, spinach and arugula. They have a similar growing season, and both deliver the nutritional benefits of deep green leaves in general. But they bring two different flavors to the table—which makes them a good mix, very commonly packaged together as a 50/50 blend. Arugula is loved for its peppery spice, and spinach is warm and mild.

Both can be enjoyed raw, and simply dressed with a bit of olive oil and squeeze of fresh lemon. Both work slightly wilted, too—toss a handful of spinach or arugula into your soup or pasta bowl at the last moment for color and earthy flavor. Not to mention a boost to your blood and bone health.

Baby Lettuce

There are three main types of lettuce plants, with numerous varieties under each category providing a huge range of shapes and textures, plus color and crunch variations. Nearly every type of lettuce has red or green leaves available, and white stems and leaves shows up as well, making a spring mix a truly beautiful choice.

The tiny versions of romaine lettuces feature vertical leaves that are both crispy and leafy, with bright grassy flavor. Bibb and butterhead lettuces come in round heads and are tender and very mild. Leaf lettuces such as red leaf and oak leaf are also more mild in flavor. The leaf lettuces are typically moist – because they are made up of nearly all water! But you’ll still get 70% of the recommended amount of Vitamin A from one cup.

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