Gardening - Salad days

By: Andrew Steens

One of the joys of spring is the ability to grow and pick a wide range of plants for daily salads. There is nothing healthier than fresh salad from the garden, with loads of different plants and the full range of colours to get the maximum number of anti-oxidants.
Standard salad greens are baby spinach leaves and the various types of lettuce. Both are easy to grow year-round and spinach in particular is very nutrient dense and good for you.

For a bit more heat in the salad the Brassica family provides a wide range – mustard greens (actually red or green), rocket (the wilder types are spicier), nasturtium leaves (Tropaeolum majus), garden cress, watercress (Nasturtium officinale), Mizuna, Tat Soi (Asian cabbage) and baby kale are all very fast growing and pack some solid anti-oxidant punch.

The chicory family also provides an easily grown group of plants that are important for our health – frisee, escarole, endive and radicchio are collectively known as bitter herbs, providing a refreshing bite to the salad with varying degrees of bitterness according to variety.

A sweeter taste can be obtained from mache (corn salad) and pea shoots, both vigorously growing at this time of year. For a more herbal flavour or texture, consider adding coriander, florence fennel (provides a nice crunch), basil, dill, lemon balm, mint, parsley and many more. Try a different combo each day, you will be pleasantly surprised at how some herbs and greens combine to provide a taste experience.

Vibrant colour in a salad is often reliant on adding tomatoes or capsicum, but flowers can also be used to give a salad a zhoosh up and a unique taste profile. Edible flowers include calendula (sweet and peppery), nasturtium (spicy and hot), borage (like cucumber), viola, pea and bean flowers, cornflowers, dianthus (clove flavour) and day lilies (red ones have the best flavour). Pretty much all the herbs can have their flowers harvested and eaten, with the flowers often just a milder version of the plant. This can be handy for salads where a slight taste of garlic from the flowers may be preferable to using the bulbs.
Any of these crops can be sown or planted now and if planted in succession will quickly provide an ongoing source of fresh salad greens while you wait for the slower salad crops like tomatoes, capsicum and cucumber.

Andrew Steens


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