Collard greens are various loose-leafed cultivars of Brassica oleracea (Acephala Group), the same species that produces cabbage and broccoli. The plant is grown for its large, dark-colored, edible leaves and as a garden ornamental, mainly in Brazil, Portugal, the Southern United States, many parts of Africa, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, southern Croatia, Spain and in Kashmir. They are classified in the same cultivar group as kale and spring greens, to which they are extremely similar genetically. The name collard is a shortened form of the word colewort ("cabbage plant").
Like kale, cauliflower and broccoli, collards are descendents of the wild cabbage, a plant thought to have been consumed as food since prehistoric times and to have originated in Asia Minor. From there it spread into Europe, being introduced by groups of Celtic wanderers around 600 B.C. Collards have been cultivated since the times of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. While collards may have been introduced into the United States before, the first mention of collard greens dates back to the late 17th century. Collards are an integral food in traditional southern American cuisine.
Collard greens are often prepared with other similar green leaf vegetables, such as kale, turnip greens, spinach, and mustard greens in "mixed greens". They are generally eaten year-round in the South. Typical seasonings when cooking collards can consist of smoked and salted meats (ham hocks, smoked turkey drumsticks, pork neck bones, fatback or other fatty meat), diced onions, vinegar, salt, and black, white, or crushed red pepper. Traditionally, collards are eaten on New Year's Day, along with black-eyed peas or field peas and cornbread, to ensure wealth in the coming year, as the leaves resemble folding money.
The cholesterol-lowering ability of collard greens may be the greatest of all commonly eaten cruciferous vegetables. In a recent study, steamed collard greens outshined steamed kale, mustard greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage in terms of its ability to bind bile acids in the digestive tract. When this bile acid binding takes place, it is easier for the bile acids to be excreted from the body. Since bile acids are made from cholesterol, the net impact of this bile acid binding is a lowering of the body's cholesterol level. It's worth noting that steamed collards show much greater bile acid binding ability than raw collards.
You'll want to include collard greens as one of the cruciferous vegetables you eat on a regular basis if you want to receive the fantastic health benefits provided by the cruciferous vegetable family. At a minimum, include cruciferous vegetables as part of your diet 2-3 times per week, and make the serving size at least 1-1/2 cups. Even better from a health standpoint, enjoy collard greens and other vegetables from the cruciferous vegetable group 4-5 times per week, and increase your serving size to 2 cups.
It is very important not to overcook collard greens. Like other cruciferous vegetables overcooked collard greens will begin to emit the unpleasant sulfur smell associated with overcooking. To help collard greens to cook more quickly, evenly slice the leaves into ½-inch slices and the stems into 1/4-inch pieces. Let them sit for at least 5 minutes to bring out the health-promoting qualities and steam for 5 minutes.
Unlike broccoli and kale and cabbage, you won't find many research studies devoted to the specific health benefits of collard greens. However, collard greens are sometimes included in a longer list of cruciferous vegetables that are lumped together and examined for the health benefits they provide. Based on a very small number of studies looking specifically at collard greens, and a larger number of studies looking at cruciferous vegetables as a group (and including collard greens on the list of vegetables studied), cancer prevention appears to be a standout area for collard greens with respect to their health benefits.
This connection between collard greens and cancer prevention should not be surprising since collard greens provide special nutrient support for three body systems that are closely connected with cancer development as well as cancer prevention. These three systems are (1) the body's detox system, (2) its antioxidant system, and (3) its inflammatory/anti-inflammatory system. Chronic imbalances in any of these three systems can increase risk of cancer, and when imbalances in all three systems occur simultaneously, the risk of cancer increases significantly. Among all types of cancer, prevention of the following cancer types is most closely associated with intake of collard greens: bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer.
Tips for Preparing Collard Greens
Rinse collard greens under cold running water. Chop leaf portion into ½-inch slices and the stems into ¼-inch pieces for quick and even cooking.
To get the most health benefits from collard greens, we recommend letting them sit for a minimum of 5 minutes before cooking. Sprinkling with lemon juice before letting them sit may be able to help activate their myrosinase enzymes and increase formation of beneficial isothiocyanates in the greens.
The Healthiest Way to Cook Collard Greens
We recommend Healthy Steaming collard greens for maximum nutrition and flavor. Fill the bottom of a steamer pot with 2 inches of water. While waiting for the water to come to a rapid boil chop greens. Steam for 5 minutes and toss with a Mediterranean Dressing.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Serve steamed collard greens with black-eyed peas and brown rice for a Southern-inspired meal.
Use lightly steamed, cooled, and chopped collard greens as a filling in your sushi vegetable rolls.
Paula Deen's Collard Greens
Simple Sauteed Greens with Sesame Oil
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