A close relative of kale and other vegetable greens such as turnip, mustard, and beet, collard greens are most familiar to Americans who practice Southern cooking. However, collards were a staple of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Collards have more nutritional value and better flavor when cooked, and collard greens are a new favorite of nutritionists for their remarkably high fiber, mineral, and vitamin content.

Collards are among the easiest vegetables to grow.
Collards are among the easiest vegetables to grow.
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Nutrient-dense collards are a delicious part of many vegetable recipes. In this article, we'll talk about growing collards, selecting and serving collards, and the health benefits of collards.

About Collards

A hardy biennial that is grown as an annual, collards grow 2 to 4 feet tall and have tufted rosettes of leaves growing on sturdy stems. Collards are similar to kale, a primitive member of the cabbage family that does not form a head.

Common Names: Collards, collard greens, borekale
Scientific Name:
Brassica Oleracea

Hardiness:
Very Hardy (will survive first frost)

In the next section, we'll show you how to grow collards.

Want more information about collards? Try:

  • Vegetable Recipes: Find delicious recipes that feature collard greens.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.

Growing Collards

Collards are hardy and can tolerate low temperatures. They're also more tolerant of heat than some members of the cabbage family. In the South, get ahead of warm weather by planting collards from fall through March. In the North, you can get two crops by planting in early spring and again in July or August.

Collards should be picked while still tender.
Pick collards while tender.

Collards like fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5. Collards are usually grown from transplants planted four to six weeks before the average date of last frost. Set transplants deeply if the stems are leggy or crooked to prevent the plants from becoming top heavy. Where there is a long cool period, seeds can be sown directly in the garden in the fall for a winter harvest. Sow seeds an inch deep and thin seedlings to 12 inches apart.

The time from planting to harvest is 75 to 85 days for transplants and 85 to 95 days for seeds. Collards become sweeter if harvested after a frost but harvest them before a hard freeze. In warmer areas, harvest the leaves from the bottom up before the leaves get tough.

Types of Collards:

  • Georgia mautres in 75 days.
  • Vates matures in 75 days.
  • Top Bunch only needs 67 days, is heat tolerant, and a good producer.
In the next section, we'll show you how to select collards.

Want more information about collards? Try:

  • Vegetable Recipes: Find delicious recipes that feature collard greens.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year. Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.

Selecting Collards

Selecting the best bunch of collard greens from your home garden or the market is easy once you know what to look for and what to avoid.

Choose greens that have smooth, green, firm leaves. Small, young leaves are likely to be the least bitter and most tender. At market, be sure the produce department kept the greens well-chilled or they'll be bitter. Wilting is a sign of bitter-tasting greens.

One pound of raw leaves yields about a half cup of cooked greens.
Photo by Ned Raggett
One pound of raw leaves yields about a half cup of cooked greens.

Tips for Preparing and Serving Collards
Be sure to wash greens well and remove the tough stems; cook only the leaves. Cook greens in a small amount of water, or steam them, to preserve their vitamin C content. Cook with the lid off to prevent the greens from turning a drab, olive color.

When you can, strain the nutritious cooking liquid and use it as a base for soups or stews. Greens will overpower a salad. To eat them as a side dish, simmer in seasoned water or broth until wilted (collards may need to cook longer). Or you can combine collard greens with other vegetables and a whole grain for a healthful stir-fry dish. Finally, add them to soups and stews, where their strong flavor is an advantage.

In the next section, we'll teach you about the health benefits of collards.

Want more information about collards? Try:
  • Vegetable Recipes: Find delicious recipes that feature collard greens.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.

Health Benefits of Collards

Collards are gaining new respect as nutrition powerhouses -- they're loaded with disease-fighting beta-carotene and offer respectable amounts of vitamin C, calcium, and fiber. All these attributes make cooking greens a wise choice for your diet.

Cook collards in this Southern Style Chicken and Greens recipe.
Cook collards in this Southern Style
Chicken and Greens
recipe.

As fat-fighters, collard greens play the same role as most vegetables, providing few calories but filling stomachs with some fiber and furnishing nutrients galore. Just avoid the traditional way of cooking greens in bacon grease to keep your weight-loss routine sound, and turn collards into true fat-fighting foods.

If you're minimizing
calories, you depend on certain foods to provide more than their share of certain nutrients. And cooking greens fill that role for two nutrients in particular.

First, greens contribute an important non-dairy source of calcium that's absorbed almost as well as the calcium found in dairy products. That's good news for those facing the threat of osteoporosis, as calcium is one of many factors crucial to bone health.

Second, collards are an excellent source of
vitamin A, mostly in the form of beta-carotene, which has been shown to help protect against cancer, heart disease, cataracts, and other diseases of aging through its antioxidant properties. Vitamin A also helps keep the immune system strong. Other carotenoids found in greens may be just as potent cancer conquerors as well, but research is continuing. The outer leaves of greens usually contain more beta-carotene than do the inner leaves. Dandelion greens are bursting with twice the vitamin A of other greens.

Dark, leafy greens are also a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C. Many of the greens contain appreciable amounts of magnesium (good for bone and heart health) and the B vitamin team of folate and B6 (also good for heart health).

Folate by itself offers a few additional health boosters. It helps in the production of red blood cells and in normal nerve function. And by helping to reduce homocysteine levels in the
blood, it may help prevent dementia and bone fractures in people with osteoporosis.

These greens are also rich sources of phytochemicals, such as the carotenoid called lutein and lipoic acid. Lutein is proving itself to be a protector of
vision -- helping to prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Lipoic acid is an antioxidant and also helps to regenerate vitamin C and vitamin E in the body. Because of the particular role lipoic acid plays in energy production, it's being investigated as a possible regulator of blood sugar.

To reap the benefits of all the nutrients in dark, leafy greens, include them often in your 21/2 cups of daily vegetables. They will be a boon to your health while helping with weight loss, since they are so low in calories.

Nutritional Values for Collard Greens, Cooked
Serving size: 1/2 cup
Calories 25
Fat <1 g
Saturated Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Carbohydrate 5 g
Protein 2 g
Dietary Fiber 3 g
Sodium 15 mg
Vitamin A 7,708 IU
Vitamin C 17 mg
Calcium 133 mg
Potassium 110 mg
Carotenoids 9,271 micrograms

Want more information about collards? Try:
  • Collards Recipe: Southern-style chicken and greens made easy.
  • Nutrition: Find out if collard greens fit into your nutritional plan.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.