Finding nutrient dense vegetables: Greens are good for you

The Centers for Disease Control has been doing some studies to identify the most nutrient dense fruits and vegetables and has come up with a list of around 40 of them.

Almost all of them provide at least 10 percent of specific essential nutrients and eight that are important in fighting cancer and heart disease.  One set of these are vegetables you can grow at home and most of them are cool weather crops.

Chard gives you Vitamins C, K and A. If you don’t have a vegetable garden, plant one of the rainbow varieties in the flower bed. The bright stems are a real standout. Harvest the small tender leaves. Add beet greens for magnesium, B6, A and C.  They are a cousin of spinach but milder flavored. Spinach also has A and C and adds niacin and zinc to the mix. Chinese cabbage is another A and C vegetable. Grow it in the fall. If you don’t have room for full sized plants, try ‘minuet,’ a mini version. Parsley is not just for decoration. It is full of K, C and iron, and also freshens your breath after a meal.

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Then there are the chicories. The family includes endive, escarole, radicchio and Italian dandelion. Why not American dandelion? At any rate, all of these and the lettuces, leaf and Romaine, require the same culture. The chicories add calcium to the A and C. Leaf lettuce adds A, C, and various B vitamins as does romaine. There are three greens in this list, collard, turnip and mustard. Grow collard greens in fall and spring as cold temps make for the best flavor. Along with the A and C, they add K, folate and manganese to the vitamin list. Turnip greens should be picked when small. There are salad varieties like ‘hakurei.’ This green adds E to the A and K. Mustard greens add the same vitamins and can be mild or spicy, and green, red or purple.  Thanks to Erika Jensen of the Minnesota Gardener magazine for this information. Now if you’re sick of greens let’s move to fruits.

You have probably never heard of David Fairchild but you can thank him for the avocado you had for your lunch.  In 1894, this intrepid 25-year-old botanist left home looking to find and bring back for cultivation the most intriguing fruits, grains and vegetables he could find. In the next 10 years he returned with nectarines, peaches, dates, kale, grapes, avocado, pomegranates and, the bane of all non-gardeners, zucchini.  Not only that, he triggered a beer boom, probably in Wisconsin, by importing a superior German hops. Apparently all that grew here was apples, oranges and grapefruit. If you are interested in finding more about this interesting fellow, check out a book called “The Food Explorer” sub titled “The Adventures of The Globe-trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats,” by Daniel Stone, published by Dutton.

Your mother told you to eat your greens. They are good for you. Now you know why.

Bev Johnson is a Master Gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension. Her column appears in the Weekend Edition.

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