This blue-green algae is a classic health food store green. It is an extremely nutrient-dense green food; it contains vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin K, potassium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, zinc, and about 60% protein by weight. Spirulina supports healthy vision, energy, a strong immune system, detoxification, and low levels of inflammation. Powdered spirulina can be mixed into smoothies or used in recipes, but it does have an oceanic flavor, so many people prefer to take it in pill form.
Medicago sativa, better known as alfalfa, is an herbalists’ favorite. It is chock full of vitamins A, D, E, K, and the full range of B vitamins. Its extensive root system also allows it to reach deep into the earth, pulling up minerals like calcium, iron, and magnesium. Animal and human studies have shown that alfalfa can support healthy cholesterol levels. Alfalfa can also be used as a gentle detoxifying diuretic and laxative. Some people even say alfalfa helps with their arthritis. Try alfalfa in a powder, capsule, or tea.
3. Chinese Cabbage
Also known as Napa cabbage, Chinese cabbage is in the Brassicaceae plant family, which also includes the other cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, bok choy, turnips, mustard greens, and arugula. Vegetables from this family, including Napa cabbage, have antioxidant effects. Eating cruciferous vegetables on a daily basis supports healthy inflammatory response and might even have some protective effects against cancer. Chinese cabbage and other similar vegetables contain some unique phytochemicals, including indole-3-carbinol (I3C). Chinese/Napa cabbage is a more delicate vegetable than traditional green or red cabbage and tastes good cooked, fermented, or raw. However, people with hypothyroidism should avoid eating too much raw cabbage or other cruciferous veggies; cooked should be fine. Here are some ideas for ways to use Chinese cabbage.
Chlorella, a single-celled microalgae, is best known for its ability to bind and detoxify heavy metals. Once its tough outer cell wall is broken, its molecular structure allows it to bind to harmful minerals and metals and remove them from the body. Chlorella is also full of vitamins, minerals, and protein, has radioprotective effects, supports immune function, has antioxidant properties, and supports balanced blood sugar and cholesterol.
5. Stinging Nettles
Nettles (Urtica dioica) are one of the most mineral-rich, anti-inflammatory, nourishing greens we have. Alfalfa was mentioned above as an herbalists’ top pick, but nettles (which are the same as stinging nettles) are even more popular; there is even a saying that reflects nettles’ true tonic nature: “When in doubt, give nettles.” The leaves contain chlorophyll, protein, iron, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, B vitamins, and vitamin K, and are tasty as a tea or used in place of any greens in recipes (think nettle pesto, green soup, and layered into lasagna or spanakopita). Freeze-dried nettle leaf is often successfully used for allergy symptoms. The leaf also has diuretic qualities, and there are anecdotal accounts of it helping for chronic bladder and urinary tract issues. The root and seed are also used medicinally: the seed is used to restore kidney and adrenal function, and the root is often used for prostate health. Nettle leaves are best harvested in early spring, when they are young and tender. If you find a wild patch or grow some, harvest lots, then dry and freeze your excess leaves so you can eat them year round. I used powdered or frozen nettle leaves in lots of different recipes; it’s one of the healthiest greens for smoothies. But be careful! Stinging nettles live up to their name. Their sharp hairs do sting, which can be very irritating to some people’s skin. Drying or cooking deactivates the stings. However, even nettle’s stingers can act therapeutically: some people apply fresh nettle stings topically (directly to painful joints, intentionally stinging them) to relieve arthritic pain.
6. Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA)
Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, or AFA (also sometimes called blue-green algae), is one of the prime examples of why you need to know the source from which you get your foods. This cyanobacteria forms surface blooms in water with a high nutrient content, and depending on how clean that water is, AFA can be either extremely healthy or fatally toxic. If you get your AFA from a very pure source that grows it in completely uncontaminated water and does strict testing for contaminants, AFA is a great supplement to take for longevity and overall health. Lab studies have shown that it is an effective antioxidant. AFA also contains beneficial fatty acids, protein, beta-carotene, chlorophyll, phycocyanin (which is anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing), phenylethylamine (PEA) (which helps promote alertness, focus, and mood). We recommend certified organic E3Live AFA since it is grown in the Klamath Lake of Oregon, which is not only very mineral rich, but also free of harmful chemicals thanks to its unique geographic features.
Watercress is low calorie, but contains more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals, making it very nutrient-dense. It is a good source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, magnesium, and more. In one study, participants ate 1.5 cups of fresh watercress every day for 8 weeks; over the 8 week period, participants had lower triglyceride levels and higher levels of lutein and beta-carotene, both of which are associated with eye health. Evidence also points to watercress as a vegetable with antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties. In a list by researchers at William Paterson University, watercress ranked #1 in a list of powerhouse fruits and vegetables. This peppery green is tasty in salads, sandwiches, risottos, vegetable hashes, and more.
8. Wheat Grass
Wheat grass shots became popular for good reason—they are full of vitamins and minerals, and a juice shot provides a quick, easily absorbed source of all-natural energy. Wheatgrass is often considered one of the healthiest greens for juicing. Like all our other green foods, wheat grass is a great source of chlorophyll, which helps deliver oxygen to the blood, detoxify the body, and reduce free radical damage. Wheat grass is also rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes. A fresh wheat grass juice shot is great, but if you don’t have access to fresh juice, try wheatgrass juice powder; some manufacturers juice wheat grass then dehydrate the juice, leaving behind a fine powder that is easily mixed into smoothies or consumed simply in juice or water.