Winter Greens: A Prescription for Health”
by Christine Maccabee
Are you eating your greens this winter? I ask this question because years ago in the winter, I neglected to eat as many greens as I did during the summer.
During the growing season, I could easily go out to the garden and get my hands full of fresh organic kale and collards, not to forget beet greens and my very favorite wild edible: lambs quarters. However, in the winter, store bought greens just didn’t make it for me, so I stopped eating my greens and wound up in the hospital. Tests revealed I was low in potassium and calcium.
Dark green leafy vegetables have high levels of potassium, calcium, and vitamin A, too. I have learned that bananas have far less potassium than greens, so I rarely eat them, except to flavor my cream of wheat. At the hospital, I learned that lack of potassium can contribute to irregular heart rhythms and can lead to an imbalance of inter cellular fluids, creating nervous and muscular irritability. I had all the symptoms; sickness has a peculiar way of educating us.
Spinach is a great green, with more potassium than kale and also rich in iron. Over many years of planting spinach and a few other greens in my cold frames out back, I eat greens well into the new year. However, with the onset of extreme cold, temperatures remaining in the twenties for weeks, the plants do stop growing, but they come back with gusto in the early spring!
I highly recommend growing greens in a cold frame. The frames I have cost me nothing. Back in the early 2000s, I saw long glass windows and shower stall glass, by someone’s curb, with a sign saying “TAKE”… so I took. With the help of a skilled handyman friend, I now have nice, long cold frames that at this very moment have lettuce, tah tsai (an oriental, slightly spicy green), purple mustard, and spinach growing. I plant in a French-intensive gardening manner, meaning all plants grow tightly together due to scatter sowing, which I believe contributes to their ability to survive even in very cold weather. Of course, when it gets below thirty degrees, I cover the cold frames with quilts.
Every other day, no matter the weather, I go out and selectively thin the tender plants, breaking off the roots and placing them in a container to eat with dinner. I also have created a small hutch (with the skill of a dear friend with engineering background), over an area of lush edible chickweed. Chickweed? You ask. Yes, wild edible chickweed, with its smooth leaves, is wonderful with an earthy flavor and delightful crunch. Ground cherry is another wild favorite of mine, which I allow to grow anywhere it appears. It is encased in a small Chinese lantern-like husk and the berry inside is exquisite. They ripen with colder weather, so they are not to be eaten until golden in color in autumn. For me, they are nature’s vitamin pill. Sweeeet.
I find there is nothing more satisfying then growing your own food, even if it is just a pot of tomatoes on the porch. However, for me, the more the merrier. Gardening of all sorts gets me outside to listen to bird songs; watch the hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies on my flowers; and breathe deeply the fresh air. I also believe in stretching now and then to get rid of any pain from leaning over. For me, gardening has become my prescription for health, with greens as the centerpiece.
“Try it. You might like it,” I say to my grandson about eating his winter greens, but he might have to learn the hard way, like I did. I hope not.