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Green leafy vegetables are some of nature’s most nutrient-dense foods. In a mere 33 calories, for example, a cup of chopped raw kale delivers more than 100% of your daily vitamin C, 200% of your daily vitamin A, and more than 600% of your daily vitamin K. Green leafy vegetables are also rich in B vitamins and essential minerals—like magnesium, potassium, and iron.
Some varieties of green leafy vegetables are available year-round, but spring and summer are peak seasons for these nutrient powerhouses. If you are stuck in a rut with green-leaf lettuce salads, summer is a great time to explore other types of greens.
Check out the many varieties of summer greens below. With each having a unique flavor, there are endless ways to prepare and enjoy them. Some will be in the grocery, whereas others you may need to discover at farmer’s markets or grow in your backyard. Try these greens in smoothies, salads, sandwiches, soups, stir-fries, and the unique recipes linked below.
Arugula stands out in a salad because of its long, slender, pointed leaves. Its peppery flavor makes it an excellent complement to milder salad greens. It also adds a spicy kick to sandwiches.
Most people don’t realize that arugula is a member of the Brassica family—along with broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. Like other Brassica vegetables, arugula contains glucosinolates and other phytonutrients that benefit immune health.
Arugula is common in Mediterranean cuisine, where it complements chickpeas, tomatoes, olives, and cheese. Try it in an arugula salad with olives, feta, and dill or on a grilled Mediterranean sandwich.
Beets are delicious in the summer, but don’t throw away the greens! Beet greens have a slightly bitter taste when eaten raw, but you can blanch them for a minute in boiling water to get a milder flavor.
Beet greens don’t last long in the refrigerator and should be eaten within 2-3 days. You can sauté them with olive oil and garlic, throw them into a smoothie, or juice them with other fruits and vegetables.
Most people don’t think about eating carrot greens, but why waste them? Just like beet greens, you can use these leaves for juicing or smoothies. You can also finely chop carrot greens and mix them with cilantro, parsley, or basil as a garnish for your meal. Check out these carrot tacos for a recipe that uses all the parts of the carrot.
Swiss chard has a white stalk, whereas Rainbow chard comes in red, yellow, orange, and purple. Chard is sturdier than other leafy greens, but cooking softens the leaves. Chard can be sautéed plain or mixed into stir-fries, soups, and stews. Try combining it with eggs in this easy rainbow chard frittata.
Dandelions may be weeds, but their leaves offer numerous health benefits. Dandelion greens support the healthy function of the liver and kidneys, making them an excellent addition to any cleanse or detox.
Endive has crunchy, cylinder-shaped leaves that are perfect for wrapping around chopped salads for a hand-held snack. Endive contains a compound called kaempferol, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and cancer-fighting properties.
A popular way to eat endive is braised with butter and lemon. When the peaches ripen in late summer, try this endive salad with peaches, blue cheese, and pistachios.
Kale is one of the most popular of the green leafy vegetables. Its sturdy leaves make it easy to transport, and it is readily found in most grocery stores. Kale encompasses all that is good about green leafy vegetables, including high amounts of vitamins A, C, and K.
If you want to make a kale salad, massage the leaves with your hands to break down some of the cellulose and make the greens more tender. Kale can also be cooked into frittatas, soups, and stir-fries. Kids can enjoy crispy kale chips for a nutrient-dense treat.
Although you might not find anything more than iceberg, romaine, and green leaf lettuce in the produce department, the number of lettuce varieties is infinite. Lettuce is the foundation of most salads and can be added to sandwiches or used as a substitute for bread to make lettuce wraps. Check out this link to learn about the many varieties of summer lettuce.
Purslane is a weed throughout the world but also an edible plant. Its leaves are fleshy and succulent, containing a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. If you have purslane in your garden, check out these 45 things to do with fresh purslane.
Sorrel looks much like spinach and can be used in similar ways. It has a slightly sour or acidic flavor that is delicious when paired with creamy dressings or cheese. If you are looking for creative ways to use sorrel, check out these sorrel pesto and sorrel yogurt recipes.
Spinach is a widely used leafy green and rich in nutrients. The sharp flavor of spinach comes from its oxalate content, which also interferes with the absorption of minerals. That means the calcium and other minerals in spinach are not absorbed as well as those in other green leafy vegetables.
Spinach is exceptionally versatile and can be used in smoothies, pesto, salads, soups, and more. For a fresh summer salad, try baby spinach with berries, pecans, goat cheese, and raspberry vinaigrette.
Stinging nettles have tiny hairs on the leaves that cause stinging and itching when touched. Once the leaves are dried or cooked, however, they can be safely eaten and offer an array of health benefits.
Like other leafy greens, stinging nettles are rich in vitamins and minerals. They have also been found to reduce inflammation, support immune function, and help with symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Don’t eat stinging nettles raw. Use the leaves to make tea, soups, sautéed greens, or in place of kale in most recipes.
Watercress has small, delicate, oval-shaped leaves. Its bitter flavor is best paired with mild or creamy foods.
Like arugula, watercress is one of the lesser-known members of the Brassica family of vegetables. As such, it is packed with antioxidant phytonutrients, including isothiocyanates. Add watercress to your favorite deli sandwich, or try out this watercress salad with beets and feta.
What did we miss? Let us know your favorite summer greens in the comments below.
About the Author
Sarah Cook, ND, is an instructor at the Nutrition Therapy Institute. She is also the owner of ND Pen, providing branding, copywriting, and website design services for integrative healthcare practitioners. Connect with Sarah at www.ndpen.com.
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