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.