The old adage “eat your greens” should be amended to “eat your purple and red greens.” Red and purple vegetables get their coloring from anthocyanins—plant pigments that double as super healthful antioxidants. Growing (and eating!) plants with dark red or purplish pigments is an easy way to add a dose of cancer-fighting, free radical demolishing antioxidants to your diet. Plus, the red greens look especially pretty in the garden. Here are a few of my favorites:
Purple Choi This gorgeous Asian green features deep aubergine colored leaves set above pale green stems. For an especially pretty contrast of color and texture, consider planting Purple Choi next to edibles with ferny, light green leaves, including dill, Delfino cilantro, and carrots. The vase-shaped plants also look especially cute in containers. Grow it in fall and spring for use in salads and stir-fries.
Ruby Streaks mustard This spicy little green produces deeply serrated maroon colored leaves accented by chartreuse stems and veins. The leaves may look dainty, but they have a delicious nutty, mustardy flavor that adds a bit of heat to salads and also tastes delicious cooked. ‘Ruby Streaks’ quickly goes to seed in the heat, so plant it in late August or early September for a fall crop.
Rainbow Lacinato kale This kale variety from Wild Garden Seeds is a hybrid between the classic red curly kale Redbor and the popular Tuscan kale Lacinato. The slightly ruffled, rumpled blue-grey leaves are overlaid with red and purple. The plants grow nearly 5 feet tall and make a beautiful statement in the garden. Quite heat- and cold tolerant.
Merlot lettuce Named for the full-bodied red wine, the deep burgundy colored leaves of Merlot look pretty partnered with a green speckled lettuce like Forellenschluss. Merlot tolerates heat better than many green lettuces, making it a good choice for growing in the summer, and it has the deepest red leaves of any lettuce I’ve ever grown.
Willi Galloway is the author of Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, and she writes about organic vegetable gardening and seasonal cooking on her blog, DigginFood.