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Escarole growing in our backyard garden
Escarole growing in our backyard garden

1. Lettuce

From the beginning of my raw food journey in 1990, lettuce has been one of my go-to leafy greens. I love the mild taste and versatility of lettuce, which often forms the basis for my salad recipes. Before my interest in raw food developed, I knew of one type of lettuce: iceberg. This changed quickly as I learned of the many varied types of lettuce including grocery store mainstays such as Romaine, green leaf, red leaf, and Boston. When I started shopping at farmers markets and growing my own food several years ago, I became familiar with lesser known and heirloom varieties of lettuce that expanded my lettuce repertoire further. Right now, Rick and I have 8 varieties of lettuce growing in our backyard garden. Lettuce is a member of the sunflower plant family.

2. Dandelion Greens

Dandelion greens are popularly consumed as an early spring green, but I personally love dandelion greens year round, and enjoy them in my salads, smoothies, and juices. The mineral content of dandelion greens is notable and rivals kale in calcium content. Dandelion greens are in the sunflower plant family (Asteraceae), along with lettuce, endive, escarole, frisée greens, sunflower seeds, and Jerusalem artichokes.

3. Tree Collard Greens

Rick and I planted several collard plants in our garden when moved into our house a few years ago, and they are still going strong and producing beautiful large deep green leaves, year round in northern California. What we love about our tree collards is that they are relatively low maintenance and are a reliable source of greens for us. We enjoy greens from our tree collard plants mostly in smoothies, but occasionally put them in juice or a salad. These tree collard greens are tender and easily digestible for us in comparison to collard greens we find in the grocery store that generally have a tougher consistency. Our tree collards are now about 12 feet tall and still growing, with numerous leaves that can measure up to 8 inches in diameter or more. Collard greens, like other members of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae) contain noteworthy amounts of certain minerals.

4. Kale

Kale is most certainly one of our many favorite leafy greens and a backyard garden staple. I first became interested in kale when I discovered its impressive calcium and iron content, which is not surprising, given that kale is a member of the cabbage family. Members of the cabbage plant family are also called “cruciferous”, in reference to the cross-like appearance of their flowers, or “brassica” vegetables, reflecting their plant family name Brassicaceae. Rick and I enjoy kale in smoothies, juices, soups, and many other recipes. Since we like to have a variety of foods in our diet, we rotate our leafy greens to enjoy the diversity of flavors, textures, and nutrients offered by different leafy greens. For example, we might have kale as our main leafy green on one day, dandelion greens the next, frisée greens the next, and so forth.

5. Escarole

Rick and I recently returned home from traveling, visiting, and teaching on the east coast to find that the tiny escarole starts we planted in September had grown into huge plants, with 9-inch diameter leaves, at the largest. Given the size of the leaves, this escarole would make great wraps. We have found that escarole grows well in cooler weather, so the size of our plants is not a surprise, given that it is mid-November.

Escarole is in the sunflower plant family, so its strong resemblance to some lettuce varieties is justified. I have found that the taste of escarole can vary, for example, the escarole growing in our yard has a more mild taste than the more bitter versions I have found in grocery stores and farmers markets.

Here are some of the nutrient highlights of escarole:

3 cups chopped escarole (150 g) Adult Daily Values
Calories 25.5
Calcium 78 mg 1000 – 1200 mg
Iron 1.24 mg 8 – 18 mg
Zinc 1.18 mg 8 – 11 mg

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Tree collard plant

April 1st is upon us and here in northern California, Rick and I have been preparing our backyard raised beds for planting. This year, we are planting many of our garden staples such as heirloom tomatoes, squash, bell peppers, basil, and some plants we have not grown before, such as mizuna and stinging nettle. One plant that grows year round in our garden is tree collard greens. We have several tree collard plants that have been in our garden since we moved into our house a few years ago, and they are still going strong and producing beautiful large deep green leaves.

Tree collard leaf

What we love about our tree collards is that they are relatively low maintenance and are a reliable source of greens for us. Of course, we rotate our greens for variety so we are planting a variety of other greens in our garden this year, which we will cover in another blog post or video. We enjoy greens from our tree collard plants mostly in smoothies, but occasionally may put them in juice or a salad. These collard greens are tender and easily digestible for us in comparison to collard greens we find in the store that have a tougher consistency. We have observed over the years, that the greens that we grow in our garden tend to be softer and more tender than commercially available greens. Although this may not be true across the board, this is just an observation from our own personal experience.

Here is a sampling of the nutrients found in regular collard greens:

3 cups chopped collard greens (108 g) Adult Daily Values
Calories 32.4
Calcium 156.60 1000 – 1200 mg
Potassium 182.52 4700 mg
Folate 179.28 400 mcg
Beta carotene 4149.36 mcg

How do these numbers compare to the nutrients found in actual tree collard greens? We have yet to know, given that I have not yet been able to find neutral information on the nutrients measured in actual tree collard leaves. I would not be surprised if they are similar. This is the beauty of science and research, there is much that is known and much that has yet to be known. Happy spring!

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