Among the things I enjoy about spring and early summer is the appearance of one of my favorite bitter vegetables, dandelion greens. Although many people despise these so-called weeds, in reality these golden-headed plants boast leaves that are brimming with nutrition. I carefully gather them from locations that have not been treated with any chemicals, rinse them thoroughly, and add them to other simple cooked vegetable dishes or soups.
What are bitter vegetables?
Bitter vegetables are the edible leafy green portions of plants that have a quality known as astringency. The level of bitterness can range from mild to wow, and often the young leaves or the leaves from early in the season tend to be on the mild side while leaves from the same variety can be much stronger later in their growing period. You can alter and reduce the bitterness of greens by cooking them longer or adding other ingredients to the pot.
Collard greens, for example, is a bitter vegetable that is often prepared Southern style with bacon or other fatty ingredients, but you can enjoy an equally delicious dish without the fat and extra calories and use tomatoes, garlic, and your favorite herbs instead. In addition to collard greens and dandelion greens, some other bitter vegetables include arugula, Belgian endive, beet greens, bitter melon, chicory, escarole, kale, mustard greens, radicchio, rapini, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens, and watercress.
Benefits of bitter vegetables
Each of the bitter vegetables are great sources of various vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and other health benefits, but they have their individual differences as well. Here are a few examples.
- Arugula provides vitamins A and C, fiber, calcium, and phytonutrients called isothiocyanates, which are cancer-fighting elements.
- Bitter melon looks like a bumpy pale cucumber and packs a good wallop of iron, beta-carotene, calcium, vitamins A and C, and fiber. This low-calorie bitter vegetable also reportedly has some ability to lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes.
- Collard greens provide high levels of vitamins K and A and are great sources of vitamin C, manganese, and calcium as well. As a cruciferous vegetable, they possess anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting qualities.
- Dandelion greens are super sources of vitamins A and C and also have iron and calcium. This bitter vegetable provides diuretic properties.
- Kale, another cruciferous veggie, gives you a super shot of vitamins K, A, and C along with manganese and copper. In addition, kale also has cholesterol-lowering properties as well as anticancer and anti-inflammatory abilities.
- Swiss chard offers some components not seen in some other bitter vegetables, such as kaempferol, a flavonoid that can help protect the cardiovascular system; and syringic acid, another flavonoid that appears to help regulate blood sugar. Swiss chard also is a super to great source of vitamins K, A, and C, and the minerals magnesium, manganese, copper, and potassium.
If you suffer with digestive problems, it’s time to turn to bitter veggies. When you eat these foods, your body responds by producing enzymes and stomach acids that help prepare your tummy for digestion. Another health benefit of bitter vegetables is their ability to help detox the body. Not only do they provide fiber but also sulfur-based factors that support the liver’s detoxification tasks. If few or none of these bitter treats are currently part of your menu, it’s time to introduce them gradually several times a week.
Toss some spinach leaves and Belgian endive into your salad. Stir dandelion greens or chopped collard greens into soup. Steam some mustard greens and serve them with chopped walnuts and a dash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. If you have some favorite ways to enjoy bitter vegetables, let us know! For more information about the medicinal value of foods, see The Complete Book of Nutritional Healing: The Top 100 Medicinal Foods and Supplements and the Diseases They Treat.