(Beta vulgaris ssp cicla – Family Chenopodiaceae)
stalk/rib chard (var. flavescens)
Chard, Swiss chard, spinach beet, perpetual spinach, silver chard, silver beet, seakale beet, leaf beet, leaf/cutting chard, rainbow chard, white beet, acelga (Spanish)
Although called a beet and related to it, the plant is grown mainly for its large, fleshy leaves, which are similar to spinach, but coarser. The edible stalks are generally cooked separately in different ways.
The history of the chard has been traced back to the famous hanging gardens of ancient Babylonia. It also has a long history in the Arab world. Native to the Mediterranean, chard was well-known to the Greeks, who ate its roots with mustard, lentils, and beans.
Aristotle wrote of red chard in the 4th century BCE, and Theophrastus recorded both light and dark green varieties. The Romans introduced it to central and northern Europe; and, from there, chard spread to the Far East in the Middle Ages and to China by the 17th century. Chard has broad red or white leaf stems and midribs.
The word chard came by way of the French and Latin words for thistle, even though it is not a related plant. It eventually came to mean the stalk or ribs of such vegetables as chard or cardoon,
which is a related plant of the thistle.
By the 19th century, seed catalogues were adding Swiss to the name, presumably to distinguish it from cardoon. The scientific name cicla refers to Sicily, one of the places where it first grew.
Chard is popular around the Mediterranean, especially in Provence and Nice and in Catalonia, including the Balearic Islands, where the leaves are often prepared with pine nuts and raisins, a dish of Arabic origin.
Chard is now widely grown in Italy, France, Spain, Holland, Switzerland, and the US. Stalk chard is the most common type on the market and differs from the cutting chard only in its stalks. Stalk chard is often formed as one loose head, while the cutting chard is individual.
Leaf chard develops relatively small broad leaves and fleshy stalks up to four inches across and a foot long. The very large leaves, which can be ruffled or flat, can have a pungent bitter taste. Therefore, the best flavoured ones are those just a little larger than spinach leaves.
Looking something like bok choy, the celery-like red or white stalks can be wide or narrow and have distinct white or red veins running through the leaves. Both the leaf and stalk coloured varieties, regrettably, change to a grey during cooking.
Chard leaves are prepared like spinach or stuffed, and the stalks can be sliced and steamed or used in soups or stir fries. The leaves should be cut from the stalk and cooked separately as each varies in its cooking times.
Traditional medicine used the juice from chard as a decongestant, and the leaves were said to neutralize acid and have a purgative effect. Chard has much the same nutrient content as spinach. It is an excellent source of beta carotene, potassium, and vitamin C; and, just like spinach, it contains oxalic acid, which inhibits the calcium and iron found from being adequately absorbed by the body.
Chard grows well with all beans except runners and flourishes alongside any of the cabbage family; as well as onions and lettuce.
Some popular varieties include the following:
has brilliant multi-coloured leaves and stems.
has huge glossy leaves with white veins and stems. It is tasty and high yielding, producing bumper crops, even during high temperatures.
produces pale leaves with fleshy white midribs.
Perpetual Spinach, or Spinach Beet,
produces narrower stems, and dark, fleshy leaves. It is a good one for growing again for the occasional meal once the stem has been harvested.
Rhubarb Chard or Ruby Chard
is noted for its magnificent bright crimson leaf stalks and dark green ruffled leaves. It is often used as an ornamental border.
produces beautiful red stems and dark green, sweet tasting leaves.
White King has snow white stalks and deep green leaves.