Snow and cold winds have still been blowing on the east coast. Wintry weather regardless, it feels like it is time to start working in the garden and to think ahead to a crisp salad.
March was the first month among the ancient Romans and appropriately so, as it is the time of year when the world seems to be “waking up” after winter. In honor of a time of new growth and new beginnings, here are seven spring superfoods that can help you celebrate with a good blast of nutrients on your plate.
I’ve always thought of artichokes as signs of spring. Growing up in northern California, we’d eat them as the season started. My favorite part was the artichoke heart, which you only discovered after working your way through the leaves and past the prickles.
There are real benefits to eating them as artichokes contain some unusual compounds including cynarin, which stimulates the taste bud receptors; inulin, a prebiotic that promotes the growth of good-for-the-gut bacteria and antioxidants (more than any other fresh food, says the USDA), plus fiber, vitamin C and more.
For all that you can get asparagus year-round, the green stalks (endowed with vitamins A and K, B vitamins, protein and folate) are the greenest, tenderest and tastiest now. Asparagus is high in fiber and can help to cleanse your system (it’s been suggested as a hangover remedy).
Asparagus is actually from the lily family and has more uses than adding color and nutrients to your meals. African species of asparagus are grown as ornamental plants. Asparagus is also cultivated in underground in parts of France to prevent the development of chlorophyll.
3) Lettuce and Leafy Greens
Another green vegetable that you can get year-round (grown in California) but that’s best in spring is lettuce. Get yours grown locally and organically and you’ll know it may not have any pesticides or chemicals, such as perchlorate, which is found in rocket fuel. In previous years, perchlorate was discovered in the Colorado River, which provides water for California’s crops.
The dark green varieties of lettuce (such as romaine) as well as other dark leafy greens, like collard greens and kale, are rich in B vitamins. Arugula is a sort of “multivitamin” all on its own as it contains beta-carotene, vitamin C, folate, vitamin K, magnesium, fiber and calcium.
A mainstay of the simple Cantonese stir-fries I sometimes make , scallions or green onions are rich in the antioxidant quercetin, which helps to lower blood pressure and can help allergy sufferers as they act like a histamine. Scallions also contain vitamins A, C and K, as well as B-complex vitamins. But take note: if you use them raw as garnish or in a salad, make sure you wash them carefully to remove any dirt — less-than-clean scallions have been linked to outbreaks of hepatitis A.
This leafy green has been called the “first superfood.” It gives you a full share of vitamin C, folate, lutein, omega 3 fatty acids and zeaxanthin, a phytochemical that can help age-related macular degeneration. Even more (no wonder it was the food that gave superhuman strength to Popeye), spinach contains anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents and can help to strengthen your bones.
Forget about those bricks of frozen spinach in the freezer case. Spring is the optimum time to eat spinach as, says OrganicGardening.com, warm days and “cold, nearly frosty nights” draw out its natural sugars best.
Rhubarb is a vegetable that is usually treated as a fruit; it belongs to the same family as sorrel and buckwheat. Sour, fibrous and containing few calories, the stems (the only edible part of the plant — the leaves are toxic) must be cooked to be eaten in pies, jam and chutneys. It is used as a diuretic and laxative and also contains potassium and vitamin C. One study suggests that chemicals extracted from rhubarb called polyphenols could point the way to new drug treatments for leukemia and other cancers.
Another bright red spring superfood, radishes, can provide you with a good wallop of your daily vitamin C requirement; you’ll get even more if you eat the leaves. As radishes have a high water and fiber content, they can add bulk and crunch to your meals with fewer calories. Even more beneficial is combining radishes with broccoli as their cancer-fighting compounds are enhanced by myrosinase, an enzyme in radishes.
Wishing you a very nutritious, and colorful, start to the spring!
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