Leafy Greens
Resources > Term > L > Leafy Greens

Are you a Smart Kitchen™ Chef?

Try it FREE or take a TOUR to explore Smart Kitchen!
+ -

 

Leafy Greens is term that is synonymous for Leafy Vegetables, which are also called “Salad Greens,” though Salad Greens does tend to denote leaves that can be eaten Raw and many Leafy Greens must first be cooked before consumption.

Some lazy or sloppy people may use the term Leafy Greens interchangeably with “Potherbs,” but we don’t. The reason is that while a Potherb or Pot Herbs may be made from, or may actually be, Leafy Greens, the translation does not go as smoothly the other way around. Potherb means a type of Bouquet Garni and Pot Herbs are Herbs grown in pots that flavor and Season. Neither definition is synonymous with the broader definition of Leafy Greens which we detail below.

Pre-historic humans began the practice of eating leaves as food. Different types of leaves, depending on the place and the season, have always been a part of our diet. Traces of edible leaves have been found in ancient Egyptian archaeological sites, in ancient Greece and in ancient Rome.

With crop husbandry and evolution, many of those historical Leafy Greens have become more pleasant, better looking and more tender. How do we know? The comparison is easy. Some of the historical Leafy Vegetables are still out there thriving in the wild. In fact, many cultures blend both the farm-raised Greens and the wild Leafy Greens in their diets.

For example, in the Italian region of Liguria, a spring gathering of edible leaves from the fields and woods is a tradition. They make Preboggion (a stuffing for Pasta) from their foraged bounty. In Greece, they eat a mix of foraged Leafy Greens as a dish called Horta.

Now with the naming conventions and the history out of the way, what are Leafy Greens? Leafy Greens are plants with edible leaves and / or the edible leaves themselves. Leafy Greens come from a wide variety of plants and can be consumed by Humans either Raw or after being cooked. There are nearly 1,000 known plants with edible leaves (though we don’t vouch for every entry, there is a good online starter list of Edible Plant Leaves at Wikipedia).

The leaves of many fodder crops are also, technically, Leafy Greens since they are edible by humans. They are hard to digest and are not usually on the menu except during a war or famine. Some of these Leafy Green fodder crops include: Alfalfa, Clover, WheatBarley, etc. Fodder crops are abundant but hard to exploit for calories and nutrition because of their high fiber content. With most of them further processing (drying, grinding, pulping, juicing, etc.) is the best practice.

Varieties

The most familiar and most common Leafy Greens come from short-lived (single season), Herbaceous Plants (leaves and stems that die down to the soil level at the end of the growing season) such as LettucesCabbages and Collard Greens but also including: Beet GreensTurnip GreensSwiss ChardSpinachKaleEndiveWatercress, etc.

Some less familiar but still widely available (at better markets) Leafy Greens include: Dandelion GreensKohlrabiChicoryCowslipsBurdockSorrel, and Nasturtiums.

Woody plants whose leaves can be eaten as leaf vegetables include AdansoniaAraliaMoringaMorus, and Toona species.

Purchasing

It is important to remember that not all Leafy Greens are edible and some are very toxic. Before picking and Dressing a bowl of unidentified greens, it is safest to bring a sample to your local horticulturist for identification first. Also, even you can identify the Leafy Greens, where you pick them matters too. You don’t want to pick Leafy Greens from a location that may have been sprayed by herbicides or even wandering pets.

Culinary Uses

Our ancestors may have cooked up potherbs and Leafy Greens in a Pot or Mashed them up with Potatoes, but there are also a few newer options. Some Leafy Greens can be eaten Raw in a Tossed Salad, or on a Sandwich even blended into a “Smoothie.” They can also be used Raw to Wrap other ingredients such as shaped Meats or rice like a vegetarian “burrito.”

If Leafy Greens are cooked for food, they may be referred to as Boiled Greens. Various cooking methods such as Stir-FryingStewing, (traditional Soul Food Stews a lot of Leaf Greens with Pork), BraisingGrillingRoasting, and Steaming can all be used with Leafy Greens. If used as a Wrap, as mentioned above, Leafy Greens can also be Steamed, placed in a Pressure Cooker or cooked above a hot Grill.

Nutrition

The dark green leaves of Leafy Greens are generally high in nutrition, high in fiber and low in fat, and loaded with vitamins and minerals. In fact, the USDA with the USDA recommends eating at least one serving of Leafy Greens each day. The particular nutritional value of each type of Leafy Green is discussed in its individual Smart Kitchen Resources article.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

Yes