leafy greens health nutritionIt’s getting about the time of year to start planting early vegetables seeds here in Seattle. I thought I had this years’ plan set a few months back. The plan was for fewer beans (because no matter how pretty purple string beans are, and no matter how cute haricots verts are, there is a limit to how many we can eat) and more zucchini, so we can make zucchini noodles, aka zoodles, with our spiralizer (I was deeply embarrassed to have to buy zucchini last summer, because all I planted was yellow crookneck and delicata squash).

While I planned for my normal roster of greens (assorted lettuces, kale, swiss chard, mustard greens), I have become positively entranced by the notion of upping my greens game. I blame this on two things. One, the article I recently wrote for an upcoming issue of Today’s Dietitian on foods that are part of the traditional Mediterranean diet. Greens are huge! Raw green salads, greens cooked into tortes and pies (literally, “green pies”), greens, greens and more greens.

According to the book The Blue Zones, more than 150 varieties of wild greens grow on the Greek island of Ikaria (Ikaria is one of the Blue Zones, aka one of the places in the world where people live to be quite old while remaining quite healthy). The other is the book Eating on the Wild Side, which I’m currently about halfway through. So many modern greens are pale shadows (nutritionally speaking) of their wild ancestors, and I’m inspired to embrace those that still have their nutritional integrity.

Bringing the Mediterranean to Seattle

We don’t live in Ikaria, but there are plenty of super-nutritious greens to be had right her at home. A few of the best are arugula, purslane and dandelion greens. As you can see from the photo above, I will be planting all three (seeds are from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds). You might wonder about the dandelion greens. As it turns out, the type of dandelion greens you can get from Whole Foods, your local farmers’ market or your CSA box are not the same as the common dandelions that pop up in your yard unbidden. The kind you buy are technically part of the radicchio/chicory family, while the bane of manicured lawns is a different species. You can eat the common dandelions, too (provided they aren’t contaminated with road exhaust, lawn chemicals or dog urine), but the tend to be more bitter.

Ironically, even the cultivated form of dandelion/chicory can have weedlike properties, as can purslane (some people have purslane growing in their yards without ever having planted it). This is perfect, because the southern edge of my vegetable garden gets a fair amount of shade thanks to a tall fence, tends to be pretty darn moist, and already attracts weeds (including the common dandelion). We had a runaway lemon balm plant going crazy there a few years ago (boy, did that sucker self-seed!). I’ve had trouble intentionally growing other veggies there, but I think these super nutritious greens will be just the thing.

The dandelion greens are actually perennials (much like their common cousins), so it will take a full year to be able to harvest, but they should establish themselves nicely, and it will be wonderful to have some greens that don’t require replanting each year.

Thinking about planting some greens? Even if you don’t have a proper veggie garden, greens are easy to grow in containers. It’s a nutritious way to celebrate spring!