Swiss Chard is a veggie, or more specifically a salad green, that is bountiful, beautiful, and incredibly nutritious. It is a member of the beet family (Chenopodiaceae) and therefore is closely related to beets and spinach both in botanical origins and flavor. This green is old, like Greco-Roman age old, and has been known by many names over the years including strawberry spinach, seakale beat, Sicilian beet, and roman kale.
Chard is descended from a variety of wild sea beets historically found in coastal Mediterranean regions. The plant was cultivated over the years to emphasize leaf size and shape over root development. In modern times this has continued with highlights on colorful varieties (red, white, gold, orange, purple) in the form of rainbow chard. Chard got its name from a similar, stalky plant also found in the region called cardoon. When chard made its way through Europe, it was confused for cardoon in France and referred to as “carde” which has since been adapted to chard. Much of what we find today is called “swiss” chard, which as nothing to do with being from Switzerland but comes from Swiss botanist Karl Heinrich Emil Koch who originally gave it its scientific name.
This beautiful green has an upright growth structure, springing from the ground in a tall and fanned out form. Leaves are stiff and easily broken off during harvest. The plant is a “cut and come again” variety meaning as long as the apical or growth stem remains intact it will continue to produce new leaves. Additionally, it is a cold weather crop but resists bolting, or flowering, when subjected to heat. It’s easy to grow, has a large yield and is climatically versatile, a great plant for your backyard garden!
As is the case with most veggies, chard is best eaten fresh though if needed it can be easily frozen by blanching and securing in a plastic bag. The key to prepping chard is to de-stem the leaves before cooking or eating raw. Though, as opposed to a few other sorts of leafy greens the stem or petiole of the chard leaf is delicious when sautéed with onions and garlic. Don’t let it go to waste! It works well in recipes that include spinach or other leafy greens and pairs amazingly with mustard and garlic flavors.
Pickle your stems and add them to salads or a grain bowl
+ used for its medicinal purposes as a digestive aid by ancient Greeks
+ high concentrations of Vitamins C, K, E, beta-carotene and the minerals manganese and zinc.
+ contains betalain, which has shown to have a detoxifying affect on the digestive system. Studies have even suggested that chard can be used in a preventative strategy against digestive cancers.