Chard, Beta vulgaris, (also commonly called Swiss chard) is a leafy green whose veins and stems come in a variety of vibrant colors. It belongs to the same subspecies as beets but has a slightly milder, less earthy taste than beet greens.
Chard originated in the Mediterranean and was likely a popular vegetable in ancient Greece. It remains popular today in Mediterranean dishes. Chard seeds found their way to the United States in the 1830s and remained a specialty crop for several decades. Its cultivation became widespread following the Civil War.
Chard is a biennial, which means that it grows for two seasons before producing seeds. When a chard plant does bolt in the second season, it produces hundreds of seeds and is a sight to behold. Chard grows best in mild temperatures, but can withstand both hot days and near-freezing nights if given the right protection. Here in Yavapai County, farmers and gardeners can grow chard year-round. “Rainbow” chard is not its own variety, rather a mix of different colored varieties: red, pink, orange, yellow, white and green.
Like other leafy green vegetables, chard is highly nutritious. Chard leaves contain more than a dozen antioxidants. It is a fantastic source of vitamin K and is high in vitamins A and C. It’s also a good source of magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, iron and dietary fiber.
Both the leaves and stems of chard are edible. Young leaves can be added raw to salads, but once the leaves reach about 4 inches long, they are best cooked. Once cooked, the leaves have a flavor similar to cooked spinach, but taste almost buttery. Since its taste is similar to spinach, it makes a good substitution in the summer when spinach isn’t in season. Chard is a wonderful green for sautéing and/or steaming. It’s a great addition to lasagnas, omelets, burritos and soups.