In describing these greens, days to maturity are not given, as most of them will be picked for salads while immature.
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
Spinach is a cool-season crop that can winter over with protection in sub-freezing winters. Most true spinaches will bolt before lettuce, but there are a couple of substitutes that love the heat of summer, for gardeners who find their taste acceptable.
There are generally two types of spinach grown: one with heavier, savoyed leaves used more often for cooking, and the smooth-leaved kinds now so popular in salads. However, very young leaves of any variety can be picked as baby salad greens.
'Bordeaux' is a newer spinach cultivar, one of several taking advantage of the trend to red-leafed greens. Its leaves are arrow-shaped, green with red veins. It is quick to bolt, so suitable primarily for picking early as baby spinach.
'Space' is advertised by Johnny's Selected Seeds as their slowest bolting smooth-leaved spinach, with an upright habit of growth for easy picking as baby leaves for salads. This one is becoming popular because of its extended harvest season and is available from many growers.
'Tyee' is also becoming popular as a slow-bolting spinach, but this variety has heavier, more deeply convoluted leaves that many people find less desirable in salads.
There are also some entirely unrelated plants that commonly go under the name of "spinach," sold as hot-weather substitutes. Whether or not these are an adequate replacement for salad spinach is a matter of opinion.
Malabar Spinach (Basella alba or B. rubra The leaves of this hot-weather vine can be picked very young for salads. Although it resembles spinach, the taste is more similar to chard or beet greens.
New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides) is another summer-growing vine with more of a physical resemblance to spinach, but less similar in taste for most people.
Chicories (Cichorium) This genus is a varied one, including such salad greens as radicchio, endive and escarole, as well as the common dandelion. Of these, the heart of radicchio most often resembles a small red cabbage, while endive leaves usually have fine-cut, frilly borders. Escarole is a type of endive with flatter leaves in a loose head. The hearts of endive are often blanched in the field to whiten them, as are the hearts of radicchio, which gives it the familiar red color. Chicories have a strong, bitter-spicy taste that makes them a nice accent in a salad, but they can go harsh in a hot summer. They are best grown as a fall crop, as colder weather at maturity brings out their best flavor.
'Rhodos' A new frisée type of endive with a naturally self-blanching pale heart at the center. Mild flavor.Eros A new mild escarole that resembles a leaf lettuce like Green Ice, this one is earlier to mature than other varieties. Johnny Selected Seeds has organically-grown seeds.
'Chiogga Red Preco No. 1', while not a new variety of radicchio, is one of the quickest to reach maturity and slowest to bolt.
'Clio' is a new variety of Italian dandelion bred for salad greens in Italy. While the leaves resemble the common dandelion, they have a more upright habit instead of spreading in a flat rosette as the lawn weeds do.
'Red Rib', as the name suggests, is a dandelion type with bright red stems and ribs contrasting with dark green leaves.
Beet Greens and Chard (Beta) Beet tops are best known as cooked greens, but young leaves are becoming more popular as baby salad greens. This group includes not only true beets [Beta vulgaris] but such relatives as Swiss Chard [B. vulgaris cicla] that are grown for their greens rather than as root crops. Chard is widely used as a summer substitute for other greens by gardeners who believe it stands longer in the heat without bitterness, but it is still best when grown in cooler weather
'Bionda di Lyon' is a new, more tender chard with pale green leaves and white ribs that are less fibrous than other varieties and not savoyed. Mild flavor.
'Bright Lights' This mixture of brightly colored chards was a 1998 All American Selection that may be of interest to gardeners who want more color variation in their salads. The ribs range in color from white to pink, orange, gold, red and purple, while the leaves also show great diversity in tone and texture.Gator Perpetual Spinach is also known more accurately as Leaf Beet, but it is most accurately a type of chard. The resemblance to spinach is striking, as the leaves are thinner and more tender than a typical Swiss chard, without the prominent midrib. The "perpetual" in the name is meant to suggest that this one will produce through the summer, at least in cooler zones.
While cabbage is a common ingredient in salads, the head varieties are outside the scope of this article. There are, however, other members of this family used as salad greens, in particular the mustard and turnip greens, which, like beet tops, have more traditionally been used as cooked greens. Some varieties have now been specifically developed for picking as baby salad greens.Longevity F1 is a new cultivar of rapa or turnip [Brassica rapa] with dark green leaves of uniform size in a tight, upright rosette, somewhat resembling spinach or chard. As the name suggests, it resists bolting to stand longer in the field.
Pizzo is a new mustard green [Brassica juncea]. Its leaves are bright green with deep-cut involuted borders. A mild mustard.
Garnet Giant is a new mustard that should please gardeners looking for more types of red salad greens. The color, even in the baby leaves, is a dark maroon, almost purple, with red veins visible on the underside. The taste is mild, but this variety is not bolt-resistant, so it should be picked quite young.
Red Mustard is not as red as Garnet Giant, but it does resist bolting longer than most mustard greens. The flavor is more pronounced.
Miscellaneous Greens Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled Cress (Lapidium sativum) I like this just for the name, but it looks a lot like Italian parsley. Cress adds a tangy, fresh accent to a salad.
Red Leaf Vegetable Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus) is simply a gorgeous plant that wouldn't be out of place in among the ornamentals instead of in the vegetable or herb garden. Amaranth is particularly rich in nutrients.
Vit is a variety of corn salad [Valarianella locusta], also known as mache, rampion or lamb's lettuce. It was originally a weed in Europe, picked by peasants as the earliest greens to emerge in the spring. It is very cold-hardy and can overwinter in many zones. Not a warm-weather crop. Red-veined Sorrel [Rumex sanguineus] is a new variety bred particularly for salads with deep red veins contrasting with the bright green leaves to make an attractive plant. Common sorrel, often considered an herb, grew wild as a weed in Europe. The taste is sharp and tart.
These are only some of the many types of greens available to grow for salads. Seed companies are also offering a wide selection of oriental greens that can also provide floavorful accents in salads. This article describes some of them.
Photo Credits: Images were reproduced with permission from:
New Zealand Spinach
Gator Perpetual Spinach
Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled Cress
Johnny's Selected Seeds
Chioggia Red Preco No. 1
Biondi di Lyon
Red Leaf Vegatable Amaranth
Territorial Seed Company