Cruciferous crossroads

Cruciferous crossroads

You might know them as members of the cabbage family. Nutritionists refer to them as cruciferous vegetables. But whatever you call them, this amazing plant family, which includes Brussels sprouts and kale, should be on your menu.

Their list of attributes is long and growing. Cruciferous vegetables influence our genetic and cellular behavior, also potently aiding detoxification, bone integrity, respiratory efficiency and other bodily functions.

The root of the word "cruciferous" comes from Latin, meaning "cross." Related words include crucifix and "la cruz," Spanish for cross.

The name comes from their flowers, which are shaped like a cross or plus sign. Any gardener can confirm the look of kale or arugula flowers after the plants bolt.

Cruciferous vegetables contain many of the nutritional building blocks needed for good health. They're a good source of fiber, vitamin C, selenium, sulfur and calcium, and they supply plant chemicals that offer powerful health-enhancing effects.

Also known as the brassicas, which include mustards, the crucifer clan is colorful and pungent: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustard greens, bok choy, horseradish, wasabi, kohlrabi, collards, round radishes, watercress, tatsoi, turnips, maca, arugula.

The crucifers are abundant across cultures and continents. Some grow in water, others in high mountains. Some have edible aerial anatomy: leaves, seeds and flowers. Others have edible underground parts.

The calcium in cruciferous vegetables is more absorbable than that in milk products, and crucifers are easy to prepare. I generally suggest a daily fresh dose of arugula or watercress, for example, as part of a large salad and a second serving, perhaps cooked, such as sautéed kale or roasted Brussels sprouts.

The most efficient way to obtain the protective sulfur-based compounds in crucifers is by eating sprouts and microgreens. Higher quantities of the naturally-occurring chemicals are found in the young, tender leaves and shoots.

When available, I purchase cruciferous microgreens from Horse Creek Biodynamic Farm at the Ashland growers market. Carol Johnson, one of the farmers, sells their goods, which are free of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. At the market, she clips and bags the greens to order.

While microgreens spark up any salad, they can also be added to pesto, wraps and smoothies.

Look to your crucifers, and cross the line to a personal plus.

Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness and the Centre for Natural Healing. He teaches at Southern Oregon University and College of the Siskiyous. E-mail him at michael@ventanawellness.com

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