Swiss chard, otherwise known as “beta vulgaris cicla,” was first mentioned as a medicinal food by Aristotle in the 4th Century B.C.E. The first thing that interested me about this phenomenally easy-to-grow vegetable was why such a beautiful plant is burdened with the name “beta vulgaris,” or “vulgar beet.”
The chard we have growing in our garden is a mixture of rainbow chard, Fordhook giant and perpetual spinach chard, all heirloom varieties. In my quest to make gardening as labor free as possible, I decided to let a small patch of one of our chard beds continue to grow into the autumn and winter months, hoping it will turn itself into a perennial vegetable. After a few months, what I found were chard leaves growing upwards
from huge, gnarly roots. The leaves and stems continued to be not only beautiful but also delicious.
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The roots, however, tasted nothing like the root of its family member, the beet root. Beets and Swiss chard are actually the same plant, but over many years, observant gardeners selected the ones with the sweetest and best-looking and most swollen roots to become “beets” while selecting the ones with the biggest and most flavorful leaves to become “Swiss chard.” Swiss chard roots are decidedly unattractive and unpleasant to eat, but they provide a good base for the nutritious leaves growing up from them. That is my guess as to the “vulgar” name.
Vulgar or not, Swiss chard leaves are a powerhouse of nutrients. They contain 13 polyphenols or disease-resisting chemicals, one of which is the well-studied polyphenol Kaempferol, known for its cardio-protective effects. Swiss chard leaves also contain syringic acid, a phytonutrient that helps with blood sugar regulation. Two major betalains (betacyanin and betaxanthin), each of which stimulates phase 2 liver detoxification, also are contained in Swiss chard.
Swiss chard leaves, like beet leaves, contain a fair amount of oxalates, which are naturally occurring substances that, for some people with certain health conditions, are best to avoid; therefore, we cook them first, before dehydration, to releases some of the oxalates. We use heirloom Swiss chard varieties, either grown in our Napa garden or sourced from local organic farms.
One-half teaspoon of our Swiss Chard Powder (which equals about two large leaves) in your morning soup broth, added to a grain or pasta dish, or folded into scrambled eggs or tuna salad is a good way to boost the flavor and nutritional content of your meal. Let creativity be your guide as you enjoy the mild flavor and aroma of our Swiss Chard Powder!
Tom Cowan, M.D