Gardening · Growing Vegetables

Kale – Why and How to Grow this Superfood in Your Garden.

Kale growing in our garden, 2016.
Curly green kale growing in our garden, 2016.

Why Kale Is Considered a Sooperfood.

First my disclaimer – I am not a doctor or nutritionists, so please don’t consider this information as a medical advice. This is just what I have found from my research. It is best to consult your doctor or other specialist in this field when you have some serious medical problems or nutritional deficiencies.

Kale is one of the healthiest vegetables you can grow in your garden. I has amazing antioxidant properties thanks to high levels of so called phytochemicals, which may be helpful in keeping us healthy by preventing or slowing down many diseases including eye problems (like molecular degenerations – AMD, cataracts), premature aging and some cancers. One of the phytochemicals found in kale (idole-3-carbinol) can support DNA cell repair and help to slow down the growth of cancer cells, as Dr. Mercola wrote in his article. The same component can be also helpful in cases of lungs congestion and is good for your stomach, liver and immune system.

Thanks to the high amounts of phytochemicals (also called flavonoids) it can be even helpful with keeping cholesterol levels in the healthy range.

Kale is low in calories, but has high amounts of fiber and many important vitamins and minerals, especially of vitamin K1, C and A, as well as one of B vitamins – folate (particularly important in pregnancy).  One of the phytochemicals it contains in very high amounts is an antioxidant lutein. Perhaps you have already heard about lutein, as being so important for the health of our eyes, protecting them from sunlight damage and resulting from it loss of vision from molecular degeneration. Vitamin A, which kale is a good source, is also very helpful in keeping eyes healthy. As it was not enough, kale also contains zeaxanthin, also very helpful for the health of the eyes.

Kale and other vegetables growing organically in our garden in 2016.
Kale and other vegetables growing organically in our garden in 2016.

Vitamin K1 (also called phylloquinone), for which kale is a great source, is very important for proper blood clotting, preventing excessive bleeding and is even used to counteract the overdose of some blood thinning medications. There are different kinds of vitamin K and particularly important seems also vitamin K2 (menaquinone), which helps in proper calcium assimilation and management in the body, keeping the bones strong and arteries cleaned from harmful plaque. This powerful vitamin, is very valuable for prevention and could be helpul with osteoporosis, atherosclerosis related hearth problems, as well as in cases of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers argue if vitamin K1 found in so high amounts in kale, could be converted in sufficient amounts by the body to the K2 vitamin. This vitamin is naturally produced by the liver, pancreas and by the beneficial flora in the intestinal tract. However some researchers say if the number of beneficial flora is compromised due to the use of antibiotics or for some other reason, then the natural K2 levels could be very low. Also some reserchers, like Dr. Mercola say, even if K2 is produced by the intestinal flora, it can not really be absorbed from there. One of the best sources of K2 are naturally fermented, unpasteurized foods and some cheese.  To find out more abut vitamins K, I recommend you read this great article about it by Dr. Mercola.

Because kale is a high source of calcium and vitamin K, it is very helpful for keeping the bones strong. If you are vegan an don’t eat dairy products, eating kale could be an important source of calcium for you. Kale is also a good source of protein, iron and even very healthy Omega fatty acids.

Please note that many antioxidants and some vitamins present in kale will be found in lesser amounts when you cook this vegetable. Also organically grown plants may contain much hired dose of healthy nutrients when compared to non organic, so it is one more reason for you to organically grow kale in your garden.

My Experience with Growing Kale.

I have stared growing kale in my garden last year and I am quite happy with this amazing sooperfood easy to grow plant.  I have tried 2 varieties – one of them was curly green kale, as you can see in the picture above, and the second one was curly purple.

Small green curly kale plants growing in our vegetable garden. That's how they looked at the beginning of growing season.
Small green curly kale plants growing in our vegetable garden. That’s how they looked at the beginning of the growing season. In the back there are some peppers, cucumber and bean plants.

Both of them I have grown from small starter plants. I got 4 purple kale seedlings from my neighbour and the other 5 – green curly kale, I have purchased from a local nursery.  I have planted green kale on our main vegetable lot, where it was receiving a very good light during most of the day. The lighting there was particularly good at the beginning of the season. Later in the summer our green kale was a bit overshadowed by our pretty big zucchini plant and in the afternoon by huge sunflowers. There was also some shade later in the afternoon since then the sun was shining mostly on the other side of our garden. Nevertheless, kale in our main vegetable garden was growing very well and it has produced many leaves, which I was collecting till the late fall, when after several cold nights its leaves have become pretty bitter and harder.

Kale is quite cold resistant and it was one of the last plants that was still surviving in our vegetable garden. In fact, it is still standing there and we have already almost April of the next year. The leaves during the winter got finally damaged by cold, but are still green.  I have heard some people grow the same kale next year and maybe when I cut the old leaves, it will start producing new one. We will see.

Here kale is in our garden is already bigger.
Here kale in our garden is already bigger.

I have planted the purple kale on the small vegetable patch on the other side of our garden when there was good light only later in the afternoon. It was growing there pretty well, but not as good as the other one, maybe because of not enough light or the heavier, less cultivated soil. Still I was also collecting from it many leaves.

When cutting leaves, I was taking the lover leaves and the plants were constantly producing more new leaves, so there was plenty for us to eat. We have mostly eaten our kale in the form of salad and we have really enjoyed it. The way I made it was not bitter and tested very good. I will give you the recipe for my salad as the end of this article.

I was growing my kale, organically. I have added some composted manure to the soil at the beginning of the growing season and then I have only used some worm casting powder already premixed with rock dust (for added minerals).  The only problem I had with growing kale was white butterflies layering their eggs and then, if I didn’t remove them on time, the green larvae hatching and eating my plants. White butterfly love kale, as many other plants from Brassica family to which kale belongs. I have later found out that a pretty good method of removing their eggs and larvae is by spraying them with some pretty strong stream of water from the water hose (but not too strong, or you could damage your kale or other plants). Make sure you pay a particular attention to the underside of the leaves where butterfly’s eggs and larvae are often found.

Because kale providse so many health benefits and it quite easy to grow, if you are not growing it yet in your garden, maybe it is time you will give it a try.

How to Eat Kale.

Ready for eating kale and other plants in our vegetable garden, 2016.
Ready for eating kale and other plants in our vegetable garden, 2016.

It looks like the best way to eat kale is to eat it raw in salads since the in this form in contains the highest amounts of nutrients. However you might be careful with eating too much of it particularly in the form of juicing and smoothies, especially if you already have thyroid problem or are pregnant.  Eating kale in normal amounts should be fine and very healthy for most people.  The problem with eating too much of raw kale, as well as other plants from the same family, so called cruciferous vegetables, (inclulding cabbage, arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, brussel sprouts, collard and mustard greens, turnips, and watercress) is that they can interfere with the proper iodine absorption, which is very important for thyroid health and the development of healthy fetus. Such cruciferous plants are considered “goitogenic” – containing substance called thiocyanate, that can cause poor iodine absorption and result in weakening and enlargement of the thyroid gland.

The thyroid needs iodine to produce thyroid hormone and in this very interesting article about cruciferous vegetables and thyroid health, Dr. Leung said:  “thus exposure to very high amounts of thiocyanate can potentially result in hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) and compensatory growth of the thyroid (goiter). .. “For the general population, the many health benefits of eating kale and other cruciferous vegetables in usual amounts far outweigh any potential adverse risks to the thyroid. In usual amounts, kale consumption is healthy and should not be avoided. ”

If you are very worried about consuming too much of iodine blocking thiocyanate and do not care much about other extra benefits raw kale can provide, you might just cook your kale since it seems to inactivate such component, or at least lower its activity to no more than about 33%.

So it looks like eating kale and plants from this family is generally very safe and healthy, so I would not worry about eating it raw, unless you are overdoing it by eating it in extraordinary big amount.

How to Prepare Kale for Eating.

Here is kale in our garden in the third week of October 2016 - still going strong and tasting good. You can see some leaves damaged by the larvae of white butterfly.
Here is kale in our garden in the third week of October 2016 – still going strong and tasting good. You can see some leaves damaged by the larvae of white butterfly.

If you are harvesting it straight from the garden, cut a few lower leaves from your plants, as many as you need without taking too many from one plant, or you can kill it. What I do is usually collect a few lower leaves from a couple of plants and let my kale continue to grow to produce more fresh leaves from the top. This way you can keep collecting some fresh leaves once or twice per week, depending on how many plants you have and how much kale you would like to eat. It is best to collect fresh leaves when you are ready to use them in salads or cooked dishes, but if you want, you can also store them in a plastic bag in the fridge for a few days, or even a week or so. If I do that, I usually wash them first then dry the leaves with paper towers, or at least sprinkle them with some fresh water to prevent them from drying. I put them in clear plastic bag suitable for food storage, then loosely close it and keep the bag in the one of my crisper drawers in the fridge. Kale stored in this way keeps quite well, even if it might lose some nutritional value over time.

Once I collect kale from the garden, I make sure there are no bugs or spiders on it and I discard damaged or poor quality leaves.  Because of the possible bugs hiding in the leaves, it is best to wash kale immediately.  I have noticed spiders and sometimes other bugs like to hide in the curls of this plant. Once leaves are ready, when you want to make a salad, or cook them, discard the harder stems and veins from the leaves (or you can maybe cut them out and use in soups). Then shred the leaves into smaller pieces, as you normally would do when making salads. Then put them in a salad bowl, add some good quality oil (I like using cold pressed virgin olive oil), a bit of good quality salt (like sea salt or Himalayan salt) and mix them well with a spoon or massage slightly with your clean hand. Let it stand to soften for at least 15 minutes before eating.

Kale still growing in our garden in the middle of November 2016. As you can see other plants were already gone. I think because of pretty cold weather and some frost, by this time the leaves have become harder and more bitter.
Kale still growing in our garden in the middle of November 2016. As you can see other plants were already gone. I think because of pretty cold weather and some frost, by this time the leaves have become harder and more bitter.

How I like to Eat Kale – My Kale Salad Recipe.

Ingredients:

  • About 5-7 fresh kale lives (about 2 cups of ready to eat, washed leaves with harder parts already cut out) – approximately 3-4 cups.
  • 2-3 tablespoons of good quality cold pressed virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons of Modena balsamic red wine vinegar (I like the one from Acropolis, since it already has some honey added to it). If you use other vinegar you nigh like to add a teaspoon or two of raw honey or real maple syrup (optional)
  • About 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of sea salt or Himalayan salt
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp of dry oregano
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of raw, unsalted walnuts cut into smaller pieces or use about 1/4 cup of pine nuts
  • A handful of dry cranberries (I always wash them to rinse some sugar out and make them a bit softer).  You can use raisins instead.

Mix all ingredients well and let them stand for at least 15 minutes before eating. The olive oil, salt and vinegar help to soften the leaves.  Eat the salad on the same day and maybe also on the next day if it’s still looking fresh and was kept in the fridge. I think it is really delicious. I am sorry I don’t have any picture of our salad this time. I didn’t think about photographic it. Maybe I will take a picture the next time I make it and add it later.

Copyright Info.

All photographs and this article are copyrighted by me, Renata Ratajczyk. I you would like to use any of them in your publications or on your website, please contact me. Thank you.

Other Articles You Might Also Like.

  1. How to Choose the Right Kind of Tomatos for Your Garden – Part 1.
  2. Seven Important Questions to Ask When Choosing Plants for Your Garden.
  3. How I Have Started My First Garden – Part 1: Deciding Where to Grow Flowers, Vegetables and Herbs.
  4. Are All Weeds Bad? Burdock in Our Garden and How You Can Use It. Starting and Designing Our First Garden – Part 2.

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