In most cultures and spiritual traditions, spring is a time of rebirth, renewal and purification; it’s no surprise that farmers markets across the country are suddenly bursting with artichokes, asparagus, arugula, watercress and spring onions. All these vegetables cleanse and prepare our bodies for warmer temperatures. If you are curious about seasonal eating, visit your local farmers market and check out the abundant displays of organic green produce.
This week I rounded up some of the season’s most delicious super greens* to help inspire and kick start a healthful spring. If you only see a few of these vegetables in your area, keep checking in at your farmers market, co-op or CSA (community supported agriculture) over the next few weeks: More spring produce gets plucked every day. Here are some gems to look for:
Don’t let the thorny leaves intimidate you! Artichokes peak in the spring and are one of the season’s greatest culinary pleasures; they make an ordinary meal special. At the market, listen for leaves that squeak when pressed together. In a percentage of the population, artichokes’ phytochemical cynarin stimulates the taste buds and brings a sweet flavor to the saliva. The artichoke is an excellent source of inulin, a prebiotic that promotes beneficial bacteria in the gut and aids in digestion. It’s also rich in fiber, antioxidants, potassium and magnesium, which helps keep the heart and other muscles in good shape.
Perfect Steamed Artichokes
Arugula isn’t just another lettuce. It’s a nutrient rich member of the cruciferous family (think broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage), delivers calcium, iron, and vitamins A, C and K, and is believed to protect against certain cancers. Its high magnesium content boosts the immune system, which helps guard against spring colds as the weather transitions from chilly and rainy to warm and sunny. Plus the peppery taste of arugula adds a spark to salads, pestos and omelettes.
Spring Onions and Garlic
The Allium family is particularly vibrant this time of year, offering young spring onions, shallots, garlic, scallions, leeks, ramps (wild leeks) and chives. All share the antioxidant quercetin, which acts like an antihistamine and helps ease seasonal allergies. This family is also a rich source of glutathione, an antioxidant that Dr. Mark Hyman calls “the mother of all antioxidants.” A reported potent cancer-fighting antioxidant, glutathione is believed to be particularly useful in helping the liver eliminate toxins and carcinogens.
Spaghetti with Ramps
Greenhouse or imported asparagus can’t match the sweet, tender stalks of freshly picked, organic, local asparagus. Another spring food linked to cancer prevention, asparagus is one of the richest sources of glutathione, which aids in removing toxins and carcinogens. It’s also rich in vitamins A and C, reported cancer-blockers; vitamin K, to help build stronger bones; and asparagine, a natural diuretic.
Asparagus with Mustard Vinaigrette
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said, “Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” He revered watercress for its healing properties and had his hospital built near a river (where it flourishes) so he could use it to treat the sick. This crisp and peppery green is not only a refreshing ingredient but also a powerhouse of nutrition with reported cancer fighting properties. Organic, raw watercress is a natural diuretic, helps cleanse the liver of toxins and contains vitamins A and C, several B vitamins, calcium, iron and potassium.
Watercress and Fennel Salad
*While I call these vegetables “super greens” because they are high in nutrients, phytochemicals and have many health benefits, this is not a term accepted by the scientific community.
Photos of scallions, arugula, ramps and asparagus courtesy of Lisa Roberts-Lehan. Photo of artichokes courtesy of La Grande Farmers Market. Photo of watercress courtesy of jules:stonesoup.