How To Store Greens

A typical haul from the local Farmer’s Market: a whole lotta greens!

I eat a lot of greens.  Nutrient dense. Low carb. Alkalizing. Healing. A big yes to greens! This of course means that I buy a lot of greens, so it’s been important to find the optimal way to keep them fresh and flavorful. I used to let my greens just hang out in loose produce bags or in plastic containers they’re sold in. I’ve also experimented with keeping some greens, such as herbs, in glasses of water or in bags with damp towels wrapped a round their ends.

However, none of these techniques have really proven to be optimal. I still end up with limp, pale, or even worse gooey leaves after half a week. Why is that? Well, after being harvested our produce is still “alive.” Fruits and veggies will continue to “breathe” by taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. Sealed bags and containers prevent produce from “breathing” and so after a few days of “suffocating” they understandably decline. The result is sad wilted leaves and a reduction in both their flavor and nutritional content.

When greens are left out, or stored openly in the fridge, a different problem occurs. Now the greens are over exposed to oxygen which causes them to rapidly respire. All of that heavy “breathing” burns up the natural sugars found in the plant along with the antioxidants that we want for ourselves! The open environment in our fridge is also insufficiently humid for ideal storage, so the leaves are unable to maintain the level of internal moisture needed for full vibrancy.

So what can we do to keep our chlorophyl rich lovelies in tip-top shape? In order to best preserve greens, the first step is to pull off the individual leaves, lightly wash them to remove any dirt, bugs, or pesticides, and then soak them in very cold water for about 10 minutes. During the colder months this is as simple as using cold tap water in a bowl. When it gets warmer out I add a couple of ice cubes to the bowl to ensure it’s got a nice chill. Remove the cubes before giving your greens a dip, or let them melt first.

A 10 minute soak in cold water slows the aging process of these fresh leaves.

The cold water bath lowers the temperature of the greens which signals them to slow down, and age less. (Makes me wonder if icy cold baths would do the same for me!) Soaking the greens also increases their moisture content, and that moisture is the key for crispness. However, we want that high moisture to remain purely internal. External moisture on the leaves will lead to quicker decomposition. So remove the greens from their refreshing soak and use a salad spinner or towels to dry them as well as possible. The goal here: lots of water on the inside, not on the outside. Think of this step as like drinking a tall glass of water while using an umbrella.

I use my salad spinner to remove excess moisture from my greens.
I use my salad spinner to remove excess moisture from my greens.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the health benefits of various phytonutrients in plants. But did you know that phytonutrients are produced by vegetation as a response to perceived threats? Living plants use various phytonutrients as a means to ward off bugs and other critters that want to munch on them. That’s why the outer leaves of vegetables like cabbage, and the skins of other produce, have the highest levels of these health benefiting compounds. It’s part of their survival strategy and it’s one we can use for our benefit! So here’s a trick: if you know you’ll be eating your greens within a day or two, rip up the leaves. They’ll respond by creating a surge of phytonutrients that will actually double their previous antioxidant content!

Now for storage. In order to keep the greens fresh, and with all of their natural healing goodness and flavor intact, I store mine in micro-perforated bags. To make these I use ziplock bags that I prick with a pin to create tiny holes. I label these bags as being designated for greens and then re-use them whenever needed. I prick 10-12 holes in my quart size bags and twice that for gallon sized bags.

I create micro-perforated bags for my greens using a thump tack.
I create micro-perforated bags for my greens using a thump tack.

The tiny holes protect the greens from receiving too much oxygen while allowing them to continue to “breathe.”  These “micro-perferated” bags also keep an ideal amount of humidity around the greens when stored in the crisper, the most humid area in the fridge.

Gently press out the extra air from around the greens before sealing the bag.
Gently press out the extra air from around the greens before sealing the bag.

I place my cold, dry greens into my “micro-perferated” bags and gently remove any excess air before sealing them shut. Into my fridge crisper they go, and now I have stay-fresh, ready-to-go greens. By using this inexpensive method to store greens I’m able to enhance the preservation of flavor, crispness, and as many of the healing nutrients as possible. So load up on greens at your next shop and eat well!

(For more on how to properly store produce, and why, pick a copy of “Eating on the Wild Side” by Jo Robinson.)

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