NDSU Extension - Mercer County

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Identifying Leafy Greens

leafy greens, lettuce, chard, spinach

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Community Wellness

Have you ever felt overwhelmed while shopping in the produce section of the grocery store? The variety of color and choices can be intimidating.

The same can be said for deciding what to plant in the garden. May is the best time to plant leafy greens such as lettuce, chard and spinach. Don’t feel like you’re behind if you haven’t planted your garden yet. The cool wet weather put many gardeners behind schedule. It’s still early enough to plant.

Leafy greens are a popular item that have many different options to choose from. Selections include lettuce, spinach, beets, Swiss chard, kale and arugula.

How do you tell the difference between these leafy greens?

Lettuce is available in many different varieties. The type of lettuce is classified by leaf shape and the tightness of the head.

Looseleaf lettuce is available in shades of red and green and has a mild flavor.

Butterhead or Boston lettuce consists of a loose head, with large soft leaves and has a sweet, buttery flavor.

Summer crisp or Batavian lettuce is a mix between a soft, loose head with a crispy, firm head.

Romaine lettuce is made up of elongated and stiff leaves with a prominent white midrib.

Iceberg or crisphead lettuce is composed of a light green color with a crispy and tightly-folded globe shaped head.

Spinach is accessible with a few different characteristics. Spinach is commonly dark green, slightly rounded with a glossy texture. Smooth spinach leaves are smooth and flat, whereas, semi-savoy spinach has slightly crinkled leaves and savoy spinach leaves are entirely crinkled.

Beet greens include long, green leaves with a red vein running along the middle.

Swiss chard is accessible with dark, wrinkled green leaves and has a thick stalk.

Kale can vary in colors of deep green to purple and has rough, curled edges with bushy leaves.

Arugula is characterized by a long, slender spine with quill-like leaves gathered into a bundle, and has a peppery flavor.

Ensure you are selecting the best-quality greens while at the grocery store. Look for fresh greens that are vibrant in color, crisp and do not appear to be wilted. You will want to avoid any bundles that have a slimy texture and/or yellow leaves. These greens tend to have an increased bitter taste and cause the rest of the bundle to quickly spoil.

Proper storage at home is important to prevent spoiling of the leafy greens. First, rinse the greens under cool, running water. Then, use a paper towel or salad spinner to remove any excess water. Finally, store the leafy greens in the refrigerator to maintain the fresh quality. The leafy greens are then ready to be used to add color to your plate and nutrients to your body.

To learn more about leafy greens and preparation methods, see the North Dakota State University publication “From Garden to Table: Leafy Greens!” at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/food-nutrition/from-garden-to-table-leafy-greens.

Sources: Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and McKenzie Schaffer, NDSU Extension program assistant

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