For some time now, kale has been hailed the queen of healthy green vegetables – be it massaged, juiced or wilted. However, Daylesford’s Resident Nutritionist Rhaya Jordan says that despite kale’s impressive statistics, it is really variety that reigns supreme and spring is the perfect time to renew your acquaintance with some of kale’s growing companions.
“The wider the range of foods you eat, the more likely you are to be nourished – and there are a whole host of vegetables out there that will flood our bodies with as much, if not more, goodness than our beloved kale. Here are a few to get you started.
Purslane and Watercress:
Though not related, purslane and watercress are often likened, with their young, raw, tender leaves being delicious in salads, soups and sandwiches alike. Tossed through warm Jersey royal potatoes with a little lemon, salt and olive oil is also a wonderful combination. Nutritionally speaking, both of these leaves are powerhouses, providing a potent source of vitamin A – some of the highest among green leafy vegetables. Purslane itself is one of the richest plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids, and, like watercress, delivers a powerful dose of antioxidants. Both are in abundance over our summer months and should be included in a varied, healthy diet.
Bitter Leaves Are Key:
Radicchio, chicory, dandelions and rocket are each enriched with a distinct bitter flavour – a flavour that remains in our cocktails but deserves to be returned to our plate. We are not completely sure how these bitters help our system but our leading theory is that bitter properties in these leaves stimulate the liver to sharpen up, and stimulates it to work a little harder to cleanse the body. Other bitter properties like glucosinolates in watercress (and kale) work as antioxidants themselves.
Ingredients such as young dandelion leaves freshly pulled from your garden path posses this lovely bitterness, and new leaves can work perfectly in a pesto with pumpkin seeds, parsley and garlic – as well as tossed through salads with other more subtly flavoured leaves.
One final thing to note about these bitter leaves is that by pitching bitter against sweet, each characteristic is often enhanced. So for those looking to lower their sugar intake, try using bitter notes to open up the palate to more sophisticated flavours.
As the first cousin of our beloved kale, radishes also offer rich pungent antioxidant properties, and do not throw away your radish leaves! Rich in iron, vitamins C and A, they can have an exponential effect on your health if eaten as part of a varied diet. While we are on the subject of radish tops, the other nutrient dense and delicious leaf you might be missing out on is beetroot tops.
Beta Carotene is abundant in both tops, and is something that contributes hugely to our overall health, as it is transformed naturally by the body into vitamin A. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that is fantastic for the skin and hair – most of the “glow” that food bloggers talk about comes from increased levels of these beta carotenes.
Vitamin A/beta carotene is also a fantastic anti-inflammatory. Do not throw your leafy tops away but juice or sauté them for a dose of brilliant nutritional value – just as you would your kale!
Parsley is the world’s most frequently eaten herb and deserves far more attention than just as a garnish. It is an excellent source of vitamin K and vitamin C as well as a good source of vitamin A, folate, and iron. Old fashioned herbalists often referred to parsley as ‘the blood cleanser’ due to its powerful antioxidant properties, and its reputation for cleansing the breath might even extend to helping the lungs. In animal studies parsley has shown a protective effect against cancer cells. Make the best of all worlds by adding garlic and salty bitter capers for a beautiful spring salsa verde.
As the soil becomes evermore depleted of natural minerals including magnesium levels, it is really important to turn to organic leaves such as parsley, watercress and beetroot, grown in enriched soils, to keep our bodily levels topped up – particularly magnesium in this fast paced and tiring world as it is used by our cells in the process of creating energy.
We think about greens as cleansing but in many ways they are fortifying and strengthening foods to have in your diet. So when you are stressed and tired, be sure to eat lots of parsley, (radish tops, watercress, anything green) to build up your magnesium levels and get back to feeling energised again.