Dave Kennedy

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Recent posts by Dave Kennedy


Which perennial greens work best is pretty closely tied to where you are growing them. Xisca must be in a pretty warm location to be growing chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius, C. chayamansa) and moringa or horseradish tree (Moringa oleifera). They are both amazingly good sources of many nutrients, but don't take to freezing temperatures. In cooler climates Chinese Toon or Fragrant Spring Tree (Toona sinensis) is an interesting choice. Grows up to
65 feet tall, it is a tree whose principal food product is neither fruit nor nuts,
but a leaf vegetable. The World Vegetable
Center in Taiwan rates Toon leaves as the most nutritious of all vegetables and the highest in protective antioxidants. It is usually kept trimmed to 6 feet or so when grown as leaf crop. The leaves have a distinctive but not unpleasant flavor of roasted garlic. They need to be eaten when young and tender or they can become too strong flavored and fibrous.

Another perennial leaf crop I like is Okinawa Spinach or Gynura (Gynura bicolor, G. crepioides). I would call it a die-back perennial in cooler climates, as it will be killed back to the ground in a hard freeze but spring back from its roots in the spring if given a little mulch protection. It has pretty leaves that are glossy green on the top and purple on the underside. Makes a very productive sprawling clump of greens about 3 feet high and 3 feet across. It has a slightly “piney” flavor reminiscent of rosemary.
4 years ago
Like most of you I love volunteers or self-seeded plants. I almost always get volunteers from red Hopi amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus), vine spinach or basella (Basella rubra) , quail grass (Celosia argentea), rice beans (vigna umbellata)spider wisp (Cleome gyandra), purslane (Portulaca oleracae), orach (Atriplex hortensis), shiso (Perilla fructans), and hyacinth beans (Lablab purpureus), as well as some of the ones others have mentioned. The edge of the compost piles is always a rich zone for free plants. One of the great things about self-seeders is they select for success in your conditions and they decide when is a good time to sprout, saving you some guesswork.
4 years ago
Some interesting observations on juicing and fiber. Greens tend to be a bit harder to juice than carrots, celery and many other juicing ingredients. I am generally in the camp of just blending the whole greens with whatever else gos in the smoothie. Not always as elegant or smooth for that matter. Americans on average consume less than half the recommended fiber, so a little extra in the smoothie seems like a sound idea. I guessing readers of this forum get more fiber and generally have a better diet than average Americans. Taking the fiber out of the greens to make juice then adding it to soups or other dishes would also work but less well for the lazy cooks like me.
4 years ago
Hi Xisca,

You must be in a warmer place than Montana. I am a big fan of moringa and malabar. Malabar is actually about as nutritious as moringa if you remove the water from both. In Sri Lanka (near the Malabar coast of India) the berries are used to color rice a beautiful violet for special occasions.

Not sure I know Chenopodieum nuttalensis but epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides) is similar to lambsquarters in growth habit and is used quite a bit in Mexican cooking. It is claimed that epazote added to cooking beans reduces the number and intensity of farts.
4 years ago
Lots of good information on plants with edible leaves not generally grown as leaf vegetables. The list of these is fairly extensive. Pumpkins, squashes, gourds and most members of the squash family have edible leaves. Fluted pumpkin (Telfairia occidentalis) leaves are widely eaten in Africa. Young okra leaves are a good source of calcium where dairy products are not widely consumed. Wheat, barley, amaranth, quinoa, beans, peas, black-eyed peas, onions, garlic, all have edible leaves. Gardeners are in a position to make much greater use of the whole plant than farmers, because it takes more labor and management to capture enough edible leaves at the right stage of the plant's growth to be worthwhile without diminishing the yield of the primary product too much. Almost always the maximum yield of food from these crops would come from combining a partial leaf harvest with the primary product. Most plants create a surplus of leaves so that they can tolerate the loss of about a third of their leaves to insect or animal's eating them. The idea with this is to make you that animal. Of course it works easier when you are looking for servings or meals rather than bushels and dollars.
4 years ago
Hi Valerie,

Sorry if I didn't address your question about strategies for getting non-enthusiasts to eat more greens. The blog format moves things along pretty quickly with lots off replies and comments so I'm not always sure who I am addressing.

New recipes is definitely one approach. Once again the Internet can be a potent tool for nutrition (or short movies about hamsters trying to ride little tricycles). Often you can take a leaf vegetable that you are unfamiliar with, say wolfberrry leaves, type the name of the vegetable with recipes after it into google or another search engine and you will quickly have some ideas for how to prepare it. I almost invariably modify recipes to suit my tastes and the ingredients I happen to have on hand.

A couple of things to consider with young kids and greens; kids have an instinctive defense against bitter flavors, probably an evolutionary protection against accidental poisoning from alkaloids, and young kids often have trouble chewing and swallowing tough greens because their teeth and muscles aren't fully developed. If they have one bad experience with greens it is hard to win them back over. So we try a lot of leaf enriched foods that use finely ground dried leaves. Cookies, crackers, smoothies, pasta, peanut butter snack balls, even birthday cakes. If the food is presented in a fun format (ie a T-rex cookie with a red dot eye) kids will be more likely to forgive the fact that it has nourishing greens in it. Of course, all kids deal with food issues a little differently.

4 years ago
Hi Mary,

Its a good time to be an adventurous gardener. The Internet offers access to a lot of seeds and other resources that were very hard to find a few years ago. A few places you might look (there are many others as well) for unusual seed varieties:

Chiltern Seeds
http://www.chilternseeds.co.uk
British based company with very large selection of vegetable seeds

Evergreen Seeds
http://www.evergreenseeds.com/vegetableseeds.html
250 varieties of Asian vegetable seeds and books for Oriental gardening and cooking

Johnny's Selected Seeds
http://www.johnnyseeds.com/
large selection of organic and non-organic vegetable seeds especially for cooler climates; garden supplies and informative catalog

Kitazawa Seed Company
http://www.kitazawaseed.com/
US company specializing in Asian vegetable seeds

Nichols Garden Nursery
http://www.nicholsgardennursery.com
family owned source of seed for many unusual leaf vegetables

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
http://www.groworganic.com/
very large selection of organic seeds and supplies including good range of cover crop seeds and agricultural tools, geared toward organic farms and larger gardens

Sakata Seeds
http://www.sakata.com/
Japanese seed company with distributors throughout the world

Seeds of India
www.seedsofindia.com
US company specializing in vegetable seeds of the Indian sub-continent

Terroir Seeds
http://www.underwoodgardens.com
specializing in heirloom vegetable seed

Thompson & Morgan Seeds
http://www.thompson-morgan.com
British company with huge selection of vegetable seeds

VNR Seeds
http://www.vnrseeds.com/
Indian vegetable seed company with branches around the world

You might also check in Eric Toensmeier's book Perennial Vegetables
4 years ago
Nice chard mountain. Lots of great suggestions from fellow forum members on how to put chard to good use. You might also try using the large leaves as edible wrappers ala stuffed grape leaves or tamales. Soften the chard a couple of minutes in steam or hot water to get it flexible enough to completely enclose a tablespoon of the filling of your choice. Good for road or picnic food.
4 years ago
Hi Heidi,

Sounds like you are up where Northern Lights are spectacular. That combination of low temperatures, short days, and long angle sun is a challenge to any gardener. Greens are definitely the most realistic possibility. You can improve the photosynthesis a bit with reflective surfaces around the planted area, but not having southern exposure is a big problem. You would likely get leggy spindly plants reaching for more sunshine. Probably the best strategy for you would be to start seeds 2 or 3 weeks before the 1st expected frost, so they some roots before the harsh weather hit. When it is really cold and thin sunlight the plants will grow very slowly, so slowly that it is basically a way to hold the greens fresh that made most of their growth earlier. If you can nurse them through you'll not only get winter greens but a big flush of growth in early spring when things warm up a bit. If you can provide a little heat from below the soil it is steadier than trying to heat the air. Might try an old fashioned hot bed with 16'” of fresh horse manure under 6-8” of soil. As the manure decomposes it warms the soil above. Elliott Coleman is by far the best source of information on this that I now of. Solar Gardening by Leandre and Gretchen Poisson is another good one.

As for preserving greens: I don't recommend canning (damages flavor, texture, and nutrition too much). Fermenting is good but really creates foods with pretty different flavors and uses. If you like sauerkraut and Kimchi they are a great addition to the winter diet. Freezing produces a food most like the original greens in flavor and texture, if you have adequate freezer space and a reliable electric supply. I use drying a lot, partly because I work a lot with people who have no freezers or refrigerators in the tropics. Drying leaves to below 10% moisture then grinding them finely and packing them in an airtight container out of sunlight gives you a concentrated nutritious food that will keep for a year without electricity. Dried leaf powder can be added to a lot of recipes that fresh leaves don't work well with. I usually try to replace 20% of the flour, corn meal or whatever staple is in a recipe with dried leaf powder from a high nutrition leaf crop.
4 years ago
Hi Cassie, Jerry and Erika,
Thanks for your questions about green leafy vegetables. A few thoughts to offer.
Favorite Non-Traditional Greens: I like quail grass (Celosia argentea) sometimes called soko or Nigerian spinach. It is related to amaranth and shares most of its high nutritional values, but is easier to grow, slower to bolt, and has beautiful foliage and flowers.
Edible Jute (Corchorus olitorius) also called molokhaya or bush okra, is another favorite. It is not related to okra except in name. It is an annual plant that is grown as a source of jute or burlap fiber. It is also a popular leaf vegetable in much of Africa, India, Bangladesh, China, Japan, and the Middle East. It can grow over 6 feet tall but is usually pruned to keep at a convenient height for harvesting. Varieties of this plant grown for jute fiber are quite different from the leaf vegetable varieties and can grow up to 16 feet tall. Jute leaves have a slightly bitter flavor and are somewhat mucilaginous, like okra. The leaves either fresh or dried are valued for their ability to thicken soups and stews. It is one of the most nutritious vegetables, being especially rich in iron, calcium, beta-carotene, and vitamin C.
Wolfberry or Goji (Lycium barbarum and L. chinense) is another favorite that cold hardy. With bright green foliage, red or pink flowers and scarlet berries, wolfberry plants are attractive and easy to grow from seed or suckers. Once they are established suckers are very easy to propogate. The plant produces the goji berry, which has been marketed in health food stores, but the leaves are even more nutritious.

In Asia the leaves are usually stripped from the stem (carefully, to avoid thorns) and stir-fried, steamed or added to soups. Wolfberry leaves are somewhat bitter and the younger leaves are the best flavor. generally cooked for a few minutes and used as potherbs. Wolfberry leaves have by far the highest content of iron among vegetables. This is potentially important to the roughly 2 billion women and children suffering from iron deficiency anemia.

Jerry asked “I, too, am curious about all the greens (aka weeds) that are growing in my yard and garden. I can recognize dandelions and most of their apparent seasonal variations. I have tasted some of the other greens, but don't positively know what they are. They taste okay and I have not noticed any ill effects. Is there a "rule of thumb" for safe sampling, should it be a taste or a handful? I am not sure how to look it up in the books I have. There does not seem to be a book says, "if your plant leaves look like this, then go to this chapter".

I am unaware of such a book. If you are double checking to make sure a plant is the one you are looking for a search through Google images will often give you many color photographs to compare to your garden sample. I might start with these common and nutritious weeds
• Dandelion (Taraxacum officiale)
• Dock (Rumex crispus)
• Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album)
• Chickweed (Stellaria media)
• Pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus)
• Plantain (Plantago major)
• Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
• Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)

As for a rule of thumb; I advise caution in eating plants that you don't know. A few, like members of the Elephant ear family can be dangerous eaten raw. Some like poke, have been commonly eaten in the past but are no longer recommended for human consumption. As Martin Price, the founder of ECHO would say “eat like a deer, not like a cow”. Caution with wild plants is especially important for young kids.
4 years ago