Global Greens

Move over spinach and collards, and welcome the exotic leafy greens like amaranth, calloloo, and purslane.

| Fall 2013

  • Orach, which is pictured on this issue's cover, is also known as 'Mountain Spinach.' Instead of being related to spinach it is a relative of lamb's quarters. Orach is a versatile plant that can be grown throughout the summer and into winter for salads and cooked greens. The flavor is not bitter and slightly similar to fennel. It is very slow to bolt and quite ornamental in the garden. In fact, it is also used in floral arrangements as a filler.
    Photo by Brian Dunna
  • These greens are destined to make a beautiful, interesting salad.
    Photo by Aviva Furman
  • In many parts of the world, including tropical Africa, India,and China, amaranth is grown as a leafy green.
    Photo by Aviva Furman
  • Callaloo cooks quickly, and tastes best when the color turns a deep-rich green. It can be used in any recipe that calls for spinach.
    Photo by Aviva Furman
  • The flavor of purslane is slightly sour and its texture slightly mucilaginous. Both the stems and leaves can be enjoyed raw, chopped into a potato salad, as a garnish for a cold soup, or tossed into an omelet.
    Photo by Aviva Furman
  • There is much diversity among kale varieties, with leaf colors ranging from blue-green (like this Lacinato) to shades of magenta, and textures ranging from frilly to flat.
    Photo by Aviva Furman
  • Kale is rich in vitamins A, K and C and is an excellent nondairy source of calcium. It’s also high in magnesium, which together with vitamin D helps our bones absorb calcium.
    Photo by Aviva Furman
  • Leafy greens are an important nutritional component of every traditional cuisine, like these that hail from Nigeria.
    Photo by Aviva Furman
  • High in antioxidants, rich in fiber, and packed with minerals, leafy greens are protective against cancer and heart disease.
    Photo by Aviva Furman

http:///Kale and callaloo, purslane and pea vines. These are among the greens found growing in a community garden in a diverse neighborhood in southwest Boston. With garden members hailing from more than 10 different countries, including Nigeria, Mexico and Ireland, the crops we grow reflect the cultural diversity of our members. Leafy greens are an important nutritional component of every traditional cuisine. Our garden plots are full of them. High in antioxidants, rich in fiber, and packed with minerals, leafy greens are protective against cancer and heart disease.

Greens are not only healthy, but they are one of the easiest crops to grow. A wide variety of greens can be harvested from early spring through the first chilly days of winter. Some, such as purslane, nettles, and lamb’s quarters even grow as weeds, with tender young leaves as tasty and nutritious as their cultivated cousins.

Back when some of us were growing up, “eat your greens” meant suffering through an unappetizing mass of soggy spinach. It took Popeye to inspire children to eat these greens, and often the family pet benefited instead. When you didn't grow your own, the choice of greens was limited, often coming from a can or the freezer. These days, grocery stores and farmer’s markets’ tables are stacked with a wide array of fresh, crisp leafy greens, from Rainbow Swiss chard to Baby Bok Choy. However, vegetable gardeners have an even wider choice of leafy greens, including ones such as amaranth which are too perishable to be transported, and purslane, which grows commonly as a weed.

In the United States, amaranth is mostly thought of as a high-protein grain found in some breakfast cereals. However, in many other parts of the world, including tropical Africa, India, and China, amaranth is grown as a leafy green. The plant varies considerably in its appearance. Leaves can be light green, dark green or variegated with red. Flower heads can appear as decorative red tassels, huge upright spikes, or tiny clusters of white seeds. Plants are typically 3 to 5 feet in height, but some plants can grow as tall as 6 feet. A single amaranth plant can be a beautiful focal point in an edible garden.

Amaranth is very easy to grow, but like most leafy greens, it benefits from a nitrogen-rich loamy soil. Richer soil will produce taller, more robust plants. Amaranth can be grown in the heat of the summer, when other greens such as spinach bolt quickly. The plants are almost always pest free. Amaranth leaves can be harvested when young and tender, but continue to be delicious up until the time the plant begins to flower. Young leaves can be enjoyed raw in salads, the older ones are best cooked. Leaves can be used in any recipe that calls for cooked spinach, resulting in a more nutritious dish, with three times the calcium as the same dish prepared with spinach.

In Jamaica and other countries of the Caribbean, the most popular leafy green is known as callaloo. This green is also an amaranth, Amaranthus viridis or Amaranthus spinosus. Like the other varieties of amaranth, callaloo thrives in hot summer weather. It grows quickly and can be harvested in 30 to 40 days. Since it is so fast growing, callaloo is perfect for succession planting. Several plantings can be ready for harvest in just one season. Callaloo doesn’t need a rich soil, and is tolerant of different moisture conditions. Interestingly, this plant can be grown from cuttings as well as seeds. To root from a cutting, snip a 4-inch segment with several sets of leaves and put in the ground. Keep it watered well and roots will appear soon. Callaloo is best harvested before it flowers. Stems are edible as well as the leaves.

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