Part 1 – In Praise of Kale
Isn’t kale the best! What vegetable do we know here in our North Eastern climate that is so hardy, generous and nourishing? Kale deserves an award for its tenacity, nutritional and medicinal value, and quiet beauty in the garden. It, and other members of the Brassicaceae family such as collards, cabbage, broccoli, turnip and Brussels sprouts are easy to grow in our region, and they store well after the fall harvest.
Last year I planted more kale than we could possibly eat. I left the plants in the ground after they stopped producing leaves around December, they overwintered and now they are producing tender, sweet new leaves. Kale is a biennial, it has a two year life cycle; in the first year it produces only leaves, the flowers and seeds appear in year two. My kale stems are growing quickly and are beginning to form flowers, which I will let fulfill their purpose – to produce seeds. I will harvest these seeds, dry them and plant them next spring. Let your kale overwinter this year and enjoy its full potential.
In the meantime, I am enjoying the leaves in salads and stir fries; I also made a vinegar extract using apple cider vinegar by simply chopping the leaves and steeping them in apple cider vinegar for 2 weeks. Kale, like many other green leafy vegetables (and herbs), is rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, manganese and other minerals, which can be drawn from the leaves by the acetic acid in vinegar.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates
Kale is considered a “superfood” because in addition to its nutritional value, kale has medicinal properties due to the presence of various secondary metabolites. Research has revealed it to be therapeutic for managing blood sugar, anti-inflammatory, balancing to the gut microbiome, and cancer prevention.
“…kale has beneficial effects on the gut microbiome by increasing the bacterial diversity and proliferation of specific beneficial bacteria, such as Coriobacteriaceae. Furthermore, glycan degradation and vitamin B1 metabolism are enhanced by kale and these have been shown to play an important role in attenuating inflammation.”
“The preliminary results suggested that intake of kale reduced postprandial plasma glucose levels (16).” Source
“Sulforaphane, another compound found in kale,17 was proven by studies to deliver a protective effect against certain cancers,18,19,20 and may help enhance the health of your liver21 and gastrointestinal tract.22 “ Source
Kale, like other greens, is rich in chlorophyll, which has many known medicinal benefits, which leads me to part two of this article…
Part 2 – The Power of Green – Chlorophyll – “stored sunshine”
Spring is all about the greens – leafy plants and trees emerge from their winter slumber, appearing and unfurling in a succession of shapes and shades. As a herbalist, I get very excited by the return of my familiar friends, the early medicinal leaves of spring – dandelions, ground ivy, nettle, comfrey, horsetail, violet, chickweed and false lily of the valley (to name a few). Most of these are edible as well, offering a variety of vitamins, minerals and other compounds that nourish.
The nutritive herbs and leafy food plants such as kale, collards, spinach, and lettuces, are rich in chlorophyll, the pigment that gives plants their green colour. As you may recall from high school biology, chlorophyll allows plants to absorb the energy from sunlight, which they use through the process of photosynthesis to create carbohydrates, which fuels their growth and development. A byproduct of photosynthesis is the release of oxygen, which enriches our atmosphere, and is essential for our existence – the breath of life. In return, we breathe out carbon dioxide, essential for plant life. It is a true marvel to contemplate this exchange between plants and animals, the exquisite balance of life on Earth.
Chlorophyll is nearly identical in molecular structure to haemoglobin, the red blood cell of animal blood. The only difference is the molecule held at the center of the ring structure, as shown in the diagram below:
Due to this similarity, chlorophyll has a high bioavailability when ingested, especially when combined with iron rich foods. Plants rich in chlorophyll help to build the blood and remedy anemia and deficiency.
According to nutritionist, Paul Pitchford,
“chlorophyll supports bone mass by directing calcium to deposit in the bone; it can also, like vitamin D, help with cellular renewal because chlorophyll foods all contain “growth regulating factors” that spark proper cell differentiation, growth and development. This healthy cell patterning stands in contrast to the unchecked, undifferentiated, malignant growth of cancer.”
I recommend eating green leafy vegetables and herbs daily, either raw, sauteed, or steamed. Kale and other Brassicaceae family plants should not be consumed raw by those with thyroid disorders.
The increasing abundance of locally grown vegetables available at our farmer’s markets, in the wild and in our gardens, is all the encouragement we need to load up on greens.