Winter greens are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat, and they are best fresh from the garden.
Jo Robinson, author of “Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health” (Little, Brown, 2013), said in an NPR interview that certain vegetables are “heavy breathers,” meaning that they use up their sugars and antioxidants quickly after being picked, so you should eat them within a day or two.
Robinson’s “Eat me first” list includes artichokes, arugula, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce, parsley, mushrooms and spinach. Other vegetables, such as roots, can be stored much longer without declining in nutritional value, she added.
Leafy greens and brassicas are good cool-season crops.
Parsley deserves to be eaten in salads for its own bright flavor, rather than being demoted to a garnish. In my gardens, it reseeds itself and comes back year after year. Rather than pulling it out when it flowers, I keep at least one plant to attract beneficial insects and to produce seed.
Arugula is another easy reseeder. As a member of the cabbage family, it has a more assertive flavor than most salad greens. I grew to like it when seeds blew into my garden from a neighboring plot this spring. For several weeks, I grazed on arugula and brought some home to eat in salads with whatever I’d picked from the garden, such as Mache, Redventure celery, beet tops, parsley, sunchokes, miner’s lettuce, viola flowers or kale. I often topped my spring salads with chunks of cooked butternut squash, marinated tofu or a ginger sauce.
I’ve given up on broccoli a few times because it’s an aphid magnet. But I have found one variety, Purple Peacock Broccoli, that seems less attractive to aphids, produces side shoots for months and has a lovely, sweet flavor. It’s a broccoli-kale cross, so its magenta-accented leaves are delicious as well.
Kales are my winter staple. Red Russian Kale and Dinosaur Kale (also known as Tuscan, Lacinato or Black Kale) are both choice varieties and easy from seed. All kales get sweeter after they’ve been touched by frost, so they’re an especially good winter crop. If you sow them directly, you can eat the thinnings as baby greens.
I like kales so much, in fact, that I rarely grow lettuce or spinach. The most versatile varieties are loose-leaf types, rather than head lettuces. You can pick exactly what you need, cutting the outer leaves first, and the plant will continue to grow. Choose red-tinged varieties to bump up the antioxidants.