One of the most striking vegetables I see throughout the whole growing season—either at the farm stand or in the produce section or in the garden—is Swiss chard. The magnificent colors of its stalks are a sight to behold. There are several varieties but my favorites are Ruby Red and Rainbow Chard. With the abundance of vegetables in the summer many people do not take the opportunity to sample or prepare Swiss chard since it is not as well known as other dark green veggies. But this is one that should not be missed, and it can be harvested from early spring until the first hard frost. It is a biennial plant, which means that it has a two-year life cycle. It remains dormant for the winter after its first growing year, then comes back in the spring to complete its growing season.
The first use of Swiss chard was reported approximately 2,500 years ago, and it is native to the Mediterranean region. It is thought to have acquired the label “Swiss” chard” after it was first described by a Swiss botanist early in the 16th century. It is a member of the chenopod family and is in the same family as spinach, amaranth, and beet greens.
Swiss chard is a rich source of vitamins A, K, and C, as well as many minerals such as potassium, copper, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Thirteen different antioxidants have been identified in Swiss chard leaves and stalks. Kaempferol is one of them, which has been shown to have cardioprotective properties, and another important one is syringic acid, which has been shown to have positive effects on regulating blood sugar levels. Vitexin is yet one more plant compound found in chard that has shown great promise in fighting cancer. One additional prominent group of plant compounds found in the stalks of Swiss chard are the betalain compounds; these are responsible for the spectacular array of bright colors. All in all this flamboyant plant packs a powerful nutritional punch! We all need to take advantage of this incredible vegetable!
When purchasing chard, look for greens that are vibrant and firm. Do not wash the greens until right before using them, and use within a few days of picking or buying them since the nutritional value decreases with longer storage. Chop up the stalks and leaves and add it to pasta with garlic and olive oil or to lasagna. It’s delicious in omelets, quiche, or frittatas. Try this delicious soup recipe on a cool summer or fall day. The combination of chard, lentils, and onions has a delectable flavor and can be served cold, too. Sometimes it comes out more like a stew than a soup—you can add more water as desired.
Try these fabulous recipes using Swiss Chard!
by Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist