As summer approaches, you might consider adding collard greens to your backyard garden. Whereas the intense heat can overwhelm many local greens that grow well during the cooler months, collards will thrive throughout the year.
Collards are native to the southern Mediterranean, from an area called Asia Minor. The Spanish-speaking countries call the vegetable “berza,” while the Portuguese and Brazilians call it “couve” (pronounced “ku-vey”). In the U.S., “collard” is a corrupted term from the word “colewort,” meaning “wild cabbage plant.”
Kale is a type of collard, and both are known for their high nutritional and antioxidant properties. However, the more heat-tolerant collards can be distinguished from their northern kale cousins by their large, rounded, cabbage-like leaves.
In Hawai‘i, you can grow collards as a perennial vegetable. I like ‘Walking Stick’, which is an old variety brought to Hawai‘i by the early Portuguese immigrants. It can reach a height of 10 feet—and when it gets too tall, you just cut off the top, stick it back in the ground, and watch its leaves grow again, so it serves as a regular food source.
Like cabbage, collards can be salted or even fermented to preserve them, as in sauerkraut or kim chee. They fit perfectly into the local diet as an addition to stews, soups, saimin, and stir-fry. Please remember to cook before eating, since collards contain calcium oxalate, an irritant to some of our organs. Cooking breaks down this compound.
Got a puka in your garden for a hardy, nutritious, perennial green? Collards are a keeper.
Glenn Teves, Cooperative Extension Service, UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources