Grow and Eat Your Leafy Greens

Leafy Greens

Mustard greens are the perfect plant for laissez-faire gardeners like me.  They are durable and robust.  I don’t believe in struggling to grow plants that require babying, fertilizing, or covering.  If it won’t grow where I live without a lot of extra effort, I won’t plant it.  My gardening methods primarily involve creating a humus rich soil and then watering when needed (and weeding, although I’m not exactly diligent about that part, see photo below).  That is all.

Over the past few years, I’ve been exposed to different sources that have inspired me to eat more leafy greens.  Thus leading me to plant more leafy greens.

Leafy greens include broccoli, cauliflower, bok-choy, Swiss chard, kale, collards, beet greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, Napa cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cilantro, parsley, spinach, arugula, and lettuces.  In this series I’ll be taking an in-depth look at mustard greens, spinach, mesclun greens, kale, and arugula.

Health benefits of leafy greens

Nutritionists rave about the health benefits of leafy greens.  Doctors calls them the king of foods.  After reading Eat to Live I became even more convinced that leafy greens are the fountain of youth.

Here’s what Fuhrman has to say about leafy greens:

  • Leafy greens are the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.
  • Green veggies have anti-cancer effects.
  • The consumption of green vegetables have a protective effect against heart attacks.
  • Leafy greens aid in longevity and a high volume of greens protects against illness.
  • Fuhrman recommends eating 1 pound of cooked plus 1 pound of raw veggies every day.
  • Leafy greens contain omega-3 fats (beneficial fats).  They are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, phyto chemicals, vegetable protein, and essential fats.
  • “Green vegetables are about half protein, a quarter carbohydrate and a quarter fat.”
  • “All green vegetables are high in calcium….Fruits and vegetables strengthen bones.  Researchers have found that those who eat the most fruits and vegetables have denser bones.  These researchers concluded that not only are fruits and vegetables rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium, and other nutrients essential for bone health, but because they are alkaline, not acid producing, they do not induce unrinary calcium loss.  Green vegetables in particular have a powerful effect on reducing hip fractures, for they are rich not only in calcium but in other nutrients, such as vitamin K, which is crucial for bone health.”
  • This is what dietician has to say about greens:  “They are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants that are critical for warding off heart disease, cancers, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and inflammation. Greens are genius at promoting weight loss, immunity, eye health, and hormonal balance.  They are high in fiber, protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins K, C and folic acid. Additionally, they are swimming in a plethora of phytochemicals including lutein, beta-carotene, and zeaxanthin. With all of this nutritional punch, they provide minimal calories and fat.”

Ayurveda and the yogic perspective on greens

As a yoga teacher, I’ve spent some time studying Ayurveda, also known as yoga’s sister science.  Ayurveda is a combination of theory, practice, and centuries of observation.  Ayurveda tells us that food is the key to health.  Modern medicine is finally catching up.  There’s a lot to Ayurvedic nutrition, but to simplify, eating a nutritionally balanced diet can be as easy as following our tastebuds.

In Ayurveda, there are six food tastes:

  • Sweet (fruit, sugars, milk, grains, root vegetables)
  • Salty (salt, sea vegetables, packaged snacks, processed meats)
  • Sour (yogurt, fermented foods, cheese, wine, vinegar, sauerkraut)
  • Bitter (dark leafy greens, herbs and spices, dandelion root, grapefruit)
  • Pungent (garlic, onions, hot peppers)
  • Astringent (legumes, some beans, popcorn, raw fruit and vegetables, pears, lemons, cranberries, asparagus)

By eating a balance of each of the 6 tastes on a daily basis, or better yet, at each meal, we end up eating what’s considered a nutritionally balanced diet even by the standards of modern science.

Our modern Western diets involve too much of the sweet and salty tastes and not enough of the other tastes, especially bitter.  Its easy to get enough of the bitter tastes by eating leafy greens.

Ayurveda also maps out each individual’s constitution, called a dosha, which is a make up of our individual physical, mental, and emotional traits corresponding to the elements which predominate in our beings (ether, air, earth, fire, water).  My dosha is Pitta, which is balanced by consuming more bitter, sweet, and astringent tastes.  Pittas get imbalanced by consuming too much salty, pungent, and sour tastes (Pittas tend to be naturally sour.  So eating too much sour just makes us more sour).  Eating more greens makes me healthier, more grounded, and balanced on all levels.

A lot of personal insight can be gained by learning about Ayurveda and discovering one’s dosha.  Understanding one’s dosha is an in-depth process – there are many dosha quizzes online – I’d recommend doing a few of them to get an accurate reading.

How to grow mustard greens

I encourage you to find organic seeds that have been locally grown and harvested.  When you buy locally grown seeds you not only support small farmers but the plants also have a better chance of doing well in your climate.

I got these seeds at the local garden centre. They were grown and harvested about 60 km from my home.

Mustard greens (Brassica juncea) are easy to grow and will tolerate cool weather and even mild winters that don’t get freezing weather.  It tolerates full sun to partial shade.  Direct sow as early as possible in the spring.  It can also be grown in pots.   Mustard prefers cool weather and may bolt in hot weather.  It grows fast and can be planted in succession for new crops every two weeks.  Seeds be planted into the fall for cool season crops.  You can cut individual leaves at any stage of growth – baby or mature leaves from anywhere on the plant.  Mature leaves will be have a more powerful flavor and are not as tender.

These super greens grow and thrive despite my lack of weeding diligency. They also don’t seem to mind a few slug holes.

If they bolt (produce a tall stalk, then flower and go to seed) you can collect the mustard seeds when the pods are dry and use them as is in recipes or use them to make mustard paste.

Follow instructions on the seed packet for planting depth and row spacing.  If you are growing baby greens and not trying for mature plants, you can plant them closer than recommended.

Leafy Greens

How to prepare and eat mustard greens

How do they taste?

Peppery, spicy, powerful, piquant. Young leaves have only a slight bitterness.  Mature leaves are more powerful and bitter.

I didn’t grow up eating bitter greens so it took me some time to get used to them.  But now I’m addicted.  ADDICTED!!

Mustard greens can be eaten raw or cooked.  Young mild leaves are better for raw salads.

In this recipe, the bitterness of the mustard greens is balanced out by the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and sugar in the recipe.

Its an Ayurvedically balanced meal too:

  • Chickpeas = astringent
  • Balsamic vinegar = sour
  • Mustard Greens = bitter
  • Sugar = Sweet
  • Soy Sauce = salty
  • Onions = pungent

Other ways to eat mustard greens:

  • Chop them up and throw them into pasta dishes
  • Juice fresh leaves
  • Leaves can be blanched and frozen
  • Leaves can be dried and used for soups and stews