It may sound silly, but in order to talk about green vegetables, we first need to think about exactly what constitutes a vegetable. Most people would define a vegetable as being any herbaceous part of a plant that is eaten, raw or cooked. These herbaceous bits are part of a plant’s vegetative growth, hence the name vegetable. It may be broad enough to seem simple. However, there is quite a bit of debate as to what really constitutes a vegetable, especially in the culinary world. Some plant parts that we consider vegetables aren’t herbaceous — like root vegetables — while others are technically generative rather than vegetative. It’s all a bit muddled.
Again, it may sound silly. However, if we adhere to this broad definition of what constitutes a vegetable, then plenty of edible plants that don’t make the grocery store inventory technically qualify. With every edible part of every green plant in the world, then, essentially qualifying as a vegetable, we couldn’t possibly list them all.
In this article, we’ll highlight 20 notable green vegetables, some of which are commercially available, and some of which you may have to forage for. We’ll also talk about a few of the things that make each one particularly interesting, tasty, nutritionally valuable, or all of the above. You may be surprised which ones find their way onto your plate.
20 Green Vegetables
Some of the green vegetables on our list below may be unfamiliar, especially the ones you may need to forage for yourself. If you do find yourself foraging, always ensure that you have correctly determined the identity of any plant you plan on eating. If you’re not sure you’ve found what you’re after, it’s best not to eat it. As a general rule, you should always avoid eating any plants found along roadsides. Additionally, make sure that any plants you grow or forage have not come into contact with any herbicides or pesticides, as these can be detrimental to your health. Again — if you’re not sure, then don’t eat it.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to the list.
If you’ve grown asparagus at home, then you know how alien this green vegetable can look in the garden. The spears that we’re all probably familiar with are the young shoots of the asparagus plant that, if left in the ground, mature to become tall ferns that change color in the autumn. These tender shoots are delicious in the pan or on the grill.
There are many types of cabbages out there, and, in general, they’re all very good for you. Napa cabbage, green cabbage, bok choy, savoy cabbage, and more are all commonly available at most grocery stores. They’re all very versatile in the kitchen. Peel them back leaf by leaf to use as sandwich greens, chop them up for a salad, or sauté or stir-fry them with other vegetables. You can even shred your cabbage to make your own sauerkraut at home! Green cabbages are a great source of vitamins C and K, as well as potassium.
As with cabbages, there are many types of lettuce as well! Iceberg, romaine, butter lettuce, and bibb lettuce are all green lettuces, but these are by no means all of them. These leafy vegetables are salad staples and often make up the bulk of the bowl. But salads aren’t all these veggies can do. Lettuces taste great grilled, or added to burgers and sandwiches for a little extra crunch. They make great wrappers for other foods and can even be the main ingredient in soups!
If you’re looking to add a punch to your next meal, mustard greens are a great choice. They not only have a unique spicy, peppery flavor, but they’re also packed full of iron, calcium, Vitamins A, C, and K, several B vitamins, and a number of antioxidants. While some may be put off by their strong flavor when raw, these green veggies mellow out when cooked. Try them steamed, boiled, or stir-fried.
Broccoli, as a Brassica species, is part of the cruciferous vegetable family. The delicious crowns we eat are the plant’s immature flower buds. It is probably one of the most iconic green vegetables, and for good reason! The crisp stems and buds of this Brassica are full of vital nutrients and minerals as well as antioxidants. The best way to make sure you’re reaping all the benefits your broccoli has to offer is to avoid overcooking it. A gentle, two to three-minute steam is ideal.
Did you know that cauliflower and broccoli are actually the same plant species? So are kale, Brussels sprouts, and even collards! Because they are different varieties of the same species, they hybridize quite easily. That’s where green cauliflower comes from. Nutritionally, this hybrid Brassica is similar to its parent varieties. Like its parents, it contains a number of important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, especially beta-carotene.
Spinach is often touted as a superfood as it contains a multitude of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that aid in long-term bone, eye, and heart health. In addition to their many health benefits, these little leaves are versatile in the kitchen. Chop it up and add it to salads, soups, or stews. Sauté it in butter alongside your other favorite veggies, or add it to your next stir-fry. You can eat your spinach raw, too, but cooking it breaks down the oxalic acid that prevents your body from taking up the plant’s rich supply of iron and calcium.
No, not cilantro, culantro. This leafy green is native to Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, but graces farms and gardens the world over. It is a common component of many salads and dishes where it serves a similar function to that of cilantro, or coriander. The two plants belong to the same family and are similar in flavor, though culantro tends to be much stronger overall. It is easy to grow at home as well. If you live somewhere warm, it is easy to grow at home as a perennial.
These musky green vegetables are key ingredients in many soups and stocks. Belonging to the genus Allium, they are direct relatives of garlic, onions, and shallots. The tender white or light-green base of the veggie is usually cut up and added to foods while the tougher, dark green tops are often used to add depth to soup stocks. Leeks are good for more than just soup, though. They can shine all on their own when seasoned and braised.
Chives are also Alliums! These small, clumping onion relatives are extremely useful in the kitchen and are very easy to grow at home. Chives impart a delicate oniony flavor that doesn’t overwhelm and are therefore very popular additions to butters, soups, dips, and sauces. They’re even great to eat as a snack right out of the garden. In the spring, chives produce fluffy, light purple flowers that are not only beautiful but edible as well.
A truly bitter green vegetable, the dandelion leaf adds deep flavor complexity to any dish or salad, whether cooked or raw. These delicious greens are common stock in some grocery stores but can be hard to find in others. Luckily, you can easily find dandelion in the form of tea. The greens are high in calcium, vitamin C, and potassium, the latter of which produces a noticeable diuretic effect. This means that it increases urination and helps against water retention.
If you’re a flower gardener, you may already have this one growing at home! The broad, pad-shaped leaves of the garden nasturtium are deliciously edible and have a very unique flavor. They are crisp and peppery with a refreshing bit of sweetness — less bitter than many popular greens. Nasturtium leaves and petals also contain lots of vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants. Research also suggests that they contain bioactive compounds that may be medically beneficial.
Wood Sorrel Greens
Many people are unfamiliar with the fact that this plant is edible! Often considered a noxious weed, the green, shamrock-shaped leaves of the common wood sorrel, Oxalis stricta, are edible and quite delicious as part of a salad. Not bitter like most greens, these have a rather sour flavor due to their content of oxalic acid. The flowers, seeds, and seed pods are edible too, but don’t get carried away. Some people report stomach upset after eating this plant.
Clover Greens, Red or White
Another pair of plants that often makes the list of common weeds, red and white clovers are entirely edible. The green stems and round, three-leaved foliage may resemble those of the common wood sorrel, but they are anything but sour. People often substitute them for spinach, cooked or raw, or steep them alongside their edible flowers to make delicious tea.
While the scapes of the hard-neck garlic plant are technically generative rather than vegetative growth, they are often considered vegetables anyway. The long, curly, green stems and immature flower buds are delicious when sauteed, pureed, fried, or even steamed. They have a pungent, garlicky flavor just like the bulb of the plant! If you can get your hands on them, give them a try.
“Seaweed” is a blanket term that encompasses many marine plants and algae. Many of these seaweeds are deliciously edible and are staple foods of many coastal and island cultures. In general, these sea-faring plants contain high levels of iron, sodium, and dietary fiber. Many edible seaweeds, as research suggests, contain not only a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but other bioactive compounds as well that may have a whole host of health benefits.
Watercress tops the ranking of the world’s most nutrient-dense food! This leafy green is similar to the garden nasturtium in that it has a delicious, fresh, and peppery taste. Though you can certainly cook it up, heating watercress for too long causes its nutritional value to degrade. The best way to take advantage of this nutrient powerhouse is to eat it raw. Watercress is a wonderful and satisfying snack on its own but makes a great addition to salads and soups as well.
Like broccoli, these scaly, fibrous, green vegetables are actually immature flower buds. People usually steam the whole artichoke to soften up the individual scales, called bracts, and then eat the soft flesh at the base of each one. In the center of the artichoke, deep inside its many layers of petals, sits the meaty, tender heart. Often, these are dipped in butter or marinated and added to salads.
Everyone is probably familiar with celery, and many have probably heard the claim that it is a negative-calorie food. While this claim is certainly not true, it is still worth eating! Celery is an important vegetable in developing deeply flavored soup stocks and broths, and the high volume of fiber it contains — both soluble and insoluble — goes a long way in supporting digestive health. It is also very high in various antioxidants and minerals, and may even possess anti-inflammatory properties.
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