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Incredible Edibles: 13 Nutrient-Rich Plants

Plant these 13 nutrient-rich, easy-to-grow fruits and vegetables this year.

| March/April 2015

  • Arugula is a good pick for growing in containers indoors.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • Beets are packed with antioxidants and essential vitamins.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • Brussels sprouts are delicious when blanched, then sautéed with onions and bacon.
    Photo by iStock
  • These easy-to-grow, nutrient-rich plants have guaranteed flavor and health benefits.
    Photo by iStock

If you’re investing time and energy to cultivate a garden, it makes sense to grow foods that deliver the greatest health benefits. For a harvest that pays off in tastiness and nutrition, try these easy-to-find, easy-to-grow plants that thrive in many climate zones. We narrowed the list to feature flavorful produce that’s well-suited for family-friendly meals and snacks. Enjoy these foods fresh from the garden or choose cooking methods such as steaming and stir-frying, which minimize the loss of water-soluble vitamins.


Prized by chefs for its peppery flavor and bright green color, arugula—also known as rocket—is rich in cancer-fighting glucosinolates and higher in antioxidants than most lettuces. A spring or fall green that’s easily grown from seed, arugula thrives in lightly shaded areas that receive consistent watering. Enjoy the just-picked greens in salads, atop pizzas, layered in sandwiches and tossed with warm pasta.


Garlic is as renowned for its flavor-enhancing qualities as it is for its abundant antioxidant nutrients. The pungent bulb contains high levels of potassium, sulfur, zinc, saponins and phosphorus, and moderate levels of vitamin A, vitamin C and selenium—a mineral that one study suggests may have anti-cancer properties. Raw garlic has natural antibiotic properties, and people who ate raw garlic at least twice a week in one study lowered their risk of developing lung cancer by 44 percent. The unfussy bulb grows well in most soil types. Softneck varieties are generally better suited to the temperate South, while hardy hardneck varieties thrive in northern climes. Although some types can be planted in early spring, bulbs are typically planted in autumn and harvested in spring and summer. Use garlic to flavor just about anything, including sauces, soups, salad dressings, and Italian and Asian dishes; visit Garlic 101 for some of our favorite recipes.


Every sharp-sighted rabbit knows that carrots are good for the eyes, and studies suggest eating carrots more than twice a week can reduce glaucoma risk, provide cardiovascular benefits and inhibit the growth of some cancers. In addition to the common orange varieties, red and purple carrots such as ‘Red Samurai’ and ‘Purple Dragon’ are especially rich in the antioxidant anthocyanin. Carrots thrive in sunny areas with light, sandy soil. Baby carrots are popular for crudité trays, but large carrots actually tend to be sweeter because more sugar concentrates in their larger cores. Carrots are delicious oven-roasted or sautéed slowly (try this Mark Bittman recipe we love). For a tasty and nutritious dip for raw carrots, combine whole-fat plain Greek yogurt with powdered garlic, fresh minced herbs, salt and pepper.

Green Onions

Compared with common white onions, green onions have more than five times more phytonutrients—organic plant compounds that may help prevent disease. Also known as scallions, slender green onions are easily grown from seed or “bulblets” from the nursery. To harvest, pull the entire plant from the soil when the bulb is about the same diameter as its leaves. The green portions of scallions are more nutritious than the white, so eat the entire plant. Green onions can be used to flavor and garnish dishes, or eaten whole with dips. Mo hanh is a Vietnamese green onion condiment that’s easy to make: In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of mild-flavored oil such as grapeseed. Add 1 bunch of chopped scallions. Let it cook until onions wilt, a few minutes, then season with salt and pepper. Use this condiment on rice, noodles or whenever you want a bright onion flavor.

Purple Cauliflower

Purple cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable whose color is caused by the production of anthocyanins—the same heart-healthy compounds found in red wine. Purple cauliflower is also rich in vitamin C and contains high levels of phytochemical glucosinolates—antioxidants that may inhibit certain cancers. Cauliflower is sensitive to temperature extremes and may be started from seed indoors early in the season or grown from nursery plants; common purple types include ‘Sicilian Violet’, ‘Violet Queen’ and ‘Graffiti’. Although technically a biennial, cauliflower is grown as an annual in most parts of the country and harvested in early autumn. Raw purple cauliflower tastes milder and sweeter than white varieties, making it a good choice for a veggie tray. Cauliflower is also delicious and nutritious when steamed and puréed like mashed potatoes; the vegetable’s vibrant purple color fades when cooked.

3/19/2015 4:19:22 PM

Planning my container garden now, so find this very useful. Hope to plant and enjoy a number of these veggies!

3/17/2015 3:21:21 PM

Leafy greens and romaine? Nutrient dense: I do not think this phrase means what you think it means.

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