native to: probably originated in mainland China
in season here: year-round
Radishes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, from the mild white daikon to the peppery black Spanish radish. They’re low in cholesterol and high in nutrients such as vitamin C, folate and potassium. A lot of the calories in a radish come from sugars, but there aren’t that many calories in there so this probably isn’t the place to worry about it.

The sharp, pungent flavor of radish comes from an isothiocyanate compound called sulforaphane, which is an anti-oxidant that (studies suggest) prevents a bunch of different cancers by inhibiting cancer cell growth and even killing cancer cells. They also contain indoles, which are detoxifying agents, and zea-xanthin, lutein and beta carotene, which are flavonoids — more antioxidants! On top of that, there are the more familiar vitamins C, B6, riboflavin, and thiamin, and minerals such as iron, magnesium, copper and calcium.

Historical Chinese sources mention radishes as early as 2,700 B.C. and they were cultivated in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, where they were served with honey and vinegar.

In Britain, radishes were used to treat kidney stones, bad skin, and intestinal worms. Modern-day medicinal uses include soothing skin disorders as well as regulating blood pressure and relieving respiratory problems. They’re also useful for their antibacterial, antifungal, and detoxifying properties.

Radish greens can also be eaten, and there is a variety of radish that is grown for its edible pods as well. Because they grow so quickly, radishes are a great choice for planting in a child’s first garden.

Read more:
Label-style nutrition summary
More about radish nutrition, including a caution for people with thyroid issues
Nutrition and medicinal uses

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Bok choy

Native to: China
Local season: best fall-spring
Also spelled pak choi and called leafy Chinese cabbage, this is a “zero calorie food” — meaning it’s so low-calorie you burn at least as many calories eating it as you get from it. It’s a member of the cabbage family and likes cool weather, making it popular for winter and early spring gardens.

It provides a bunch of anti-oxidants and is an excellent source of vitamins A and C. You’ll also get lots of vitamin K from it, and the various B-complex vitamins that are so important when you’re under stress (and who isn’t these days?). It also supplies a variety of minerals — calcium, phosphorous, potassium, manganese, iron and magnesium — along with some more recently popular nutrients such as omega-3s, beta-carotene, and lutein.

Read more:

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Beet greens

Native to: Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East
Local season: spring-fall, best in spring
Beet greens are sometimes lumped together with things like turnip greens and mustard greens and called “dark green leafy vegetables” (DGLV), often touted as a source of calcium. Looked at by themselves, however, they turn out to be a better source of magnesium than either turnip or mustard greens. They’re also a good source of the carotenoids lutein and beta-carotene, and provide lots of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as the various Bs.

Did you know that beets are a close relative of Swiss chard? If you like chard, you’ll probably like beet greens (if you don’t, try changing the water halfway through boiling either of them to reduce the bitterness; that’s what works for me). The greens are actually more nutritious than beet roots, and lower in sugar.

Mostly when you buy beet greens you get the roots as well, which means you can get two meals out of a bunch if the beet roots are big enough. If the roots are very small you can cook them with the greens, but it can be difficult to get all the grit out of the area where the greens join the root. You might prefer to cut the roots off, trim and perhaps peel them, and then throw them in with the greens. If you need to store your greens, which you can do for a few days, cut them off the roots and consider putting the cut ends in a glass of water in the fridge, like a bouquet, to extend their keeping time. Very young, tender greens can be used in salads and juiced with other greens, citrus fruits, and perhaps a cucumber. More mature leaves and stalks are better cooked.

Beets as we know them evolved from wild seabeet, which is a native of coastlines from India to Britain. Sea beet was first domesticated in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, where it was grown for its leaves.

Read more:
Nutrition-and-you.com, including cautions about oxalic acid and vitamin K for certain health conditions

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.


Native to: Central and Southwest Asia
Local season: fall-spring

Anyone who grew up with Popeye cartoons is probably familiar with spinach’s reputation for being good for you. Anyone who has ever tried to emulate the sailor and eat canned spinach will understand it’s lack of popularity. Farmers’ Market shoppers know fresh spinach is something else entirely, whether raw in a salad or cooked in scrambled eggs.

Spinach needs cool weather to grow well. Once summer hits it all goes to seed and you’ll have to make do with chard.

Although spinach’s reputation is for iron, it’s also high in other minerals — notably calcium, niacin,and zinc — and a bunch of vitamins, including A, C, K, and B6. It’s a bit high in sodium, as vegetables go, but with a glycemic load of 0, no cholesterol, and a load of anti-oxidants, it’s worth cutting your sodium elsewhere if that’s a concern for you.

Read more:
full label-style nutritional description and other details, including pie charts.
interesting spinach facts at whfoods.com.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.