For many people in our area, the first fall frost of the season usually means that it is time to include collards with our fall meals. There is something about that first frost that people say makes collards taste so good.
Collard greens have long been a staple vegetable in Southern US cuisine.
Collard greens date back to prehistoric times and are one of the oldest members of the cabbage family. Historians are unsure of the exact origin of collard greens, but some believe it was growing wild in Asia Minor, now Turkey, as well as in Greece along the Mediterranean long before recorded history. The Greeks and Romans grew collards in domestic gardens over 2,000 years ago.
North Carolina ranks third in the production of collards (2001), representing 14.5% of U.S. production. Georgia ranks first and South Carolina ranks second in collard production. A total of 2,800 acres of collards were planted in North Carolina in 2001. The leading leafy green (collards, kale, turnip and mustard greens) producing counties in North Carolina include many of our coastal plain counties such as Sampson, Duplin, Cumberland, Pitt, Wilson, Lenoir, Greene and Wayne.
Collard greens are a form of cabbage in the mustard family. The mustard family also includes vegetables such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower, radishes, rutabaga and turnips. The name “collard” comes from the word “colewort” (the wild cabbage plant).
Collards are a cool season vegetable that is planted in the spring and fall seasons. Flowers of collard greens are also edible. Once the plant starts to bloom, it ceases production of new leaves and transports all valuable nutrients from the leaves toward the flowers and seed. Blooming decreases the quality of leaves.
Collard greens are an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese, vitamin C, dietary fiber and calcium. They are also a very good source of vitamin E, vitamin B1, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.
As you begin preparing for your holiday meals, do not forget to include locally grown collards. There are many local farms and markets that will be selling collards during the holiday season.
Jessica Strickland is an agriculture extension agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.