Forget about iceberg lettuce. It’s one of the least nutritious vegetables you could eat. Iceberg lettuce is 95% water and low in pretty much every nutrient, even fiber. So why give it space in your survival garden? By comparison, many other leafy green crops are packed with nutrition.
Leafy greens are typically high in beta-carotene and lutein, 2 types of carotenoids. The six most common carotenoids are: alpha-carotene (kale), beta-carotene (dark green leafy vegetables), beta-cryptoxanthin (red bell peppers, butternut squash), lutein (dark green leafy vegetables), zeaxanthin (orange bell peppers, scallions simmered in oil, goji berries), and lycopene (tomatoes, papaya, guava). All six of these carotenoids, individually and as a group, are good for overall health and may reduce the risk of various diseases.
Kale is high in calcium, potassium, vitamin C, fiber, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lutein. It’s also high in the bioflavonoids isorhamnetin, kaempferol, and quercetin. Flavonoids (or bioflavonoids) may reduce your risk of certain diseases.
Kale is easy to grow, thrives in cold weather, and survives hard frosts. If you live in a cold climate, kale is a great early spring or fall crop. And the leaves only get sweeter in response to frosts.
Romaine Lettuce is a good replacement for iceberg lettuce. It’s less frost-hardy than kale, but does become sweeter in cold weather. It has much more crunch than the loose leaf lettuces, and is high in beta-carotene, potassium, and lutein.
Parsley is easy to grow indoors on a window sill, so you can have a continuing harvest year-round. It’s one of the few foods that is high in the bioflavonoid apigenin. Like other leafy green vegetables, parsley is high in beta-carotene, lutein, and vitamin C.
Red Leaf Lettuce and Green Leaf Lettuce are two types of loose headed lettuce. They are each high in lutein and beta-carotene.
Turnip Greens are one type of Cruciferous or Brassica vegetables, which may help prevent certain types of cancer. Arugula, collard greens, kale, and cabbage are also cruciferous vegetables. Which vegetables you grow is a matter of personal preference. But it would be good for overall health to choose at least one or two leafy green cruciferous vegetables.
Cabbage is cold hardy and easy to grow. The purple variety makes a colorful addition to any salad. And you can use any color of cabbage to make coleslaw. The red cabbage is particularly high in the bioflavonoid cyanidin (also found in blueberries and radicchio).
Spinach is a quick growing leafy green. Spinach is high in calcium, potassium, lutein, beta-carotene, and is a source of magnesium. You can harvest baby spinach leaves only a month or so after planting.
For survival purposes, leafy greens (and root crops) have a certain advantage over grains, legumes, and fruits. The plant produces leaves as soon as it sprouts. So if you need food, a leaf or root crop can be harvested early. You get less food that way, but at least you have food. By comparison, you can’t really harvest a grain crop before it produces grains in the ear. Every survival garden should have a good assortment of leafy crops and root crops.