Broccoli, officially known as Brassica oleracea, variety italica, is a well-known member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae, formerly Cruciferae) that also includes its cousins such as, cabbages, kale, romanesco, and broccoli rabe. Broccoli, a native of the Mediterranean and Asia Minor area, was grown by the Romans in ancient times, but didn’t show up until the early part of the 18th century in England. Mention of broccoli in the Americas wasn’t recorded until the early 19th century, but has steadily gained popularity since.
Brilliant Broccoli to Make You Blossom
This beautifully green, hardy, and nutritious cool season vegetable is both delicious raw and cooked. When we chomp down on broccoli we typically eat the florets, but the stalks and leaves can be consumed as well. All offer nutrition and their own unique taste and texture. When we look at broccoli’s nutrition we see is offer 30 calories for a 1 cup (chopped) serving (91 grams), 0 grams of fat, 3 grams of protein, and 6 grams of carbohydrates (2 grams of which is dietary fiber). Beyond this, it offers us an excellent source of Vitamins C and K, and is a good source of Vitamins A and B-9 (Folate), and the mineral manganese. Broccoli also provides the Vitamins E and all the B’s, except B-12, and the minerals calcium, copper, non-heme iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc.
Broccoli, and other Brassicaceae family members, have another health benefit. They contain what are called glucosinolates. When you cut, lightly cook, and/or chew the vegetables in this family, an enzyme known as myrosinase is released and it can convert glucosinolates into sulforaphane. Even with a small amount of sulforaphane, the production of the detoxifying enzyme called glutathione (GSH) is stimulated. This is important to us because GSH can provide protection against some kinds of cancer, including intestinal cancer. This happens because as sulforaphane attaches itself to GSH, it causes cells to produce more GSH, so more protection is provided. However, too much sulforaphane can deplete our bodies of its detoxifying capacity, but this usually only occurs with supplementation, not from the food we eat.
Brilliant Blooming Broccoli
To grow this nutritional powerhouse you will need to plant seedlings in early spring or late fall in full sun and moist, slightly acidic soils. Direct seeding can be done, but is more successful in fall plantings. If you planting in the spring, sow broccoli 2 weeks before the last spring frost date, when soils are above 40°F. If planting in the fall, plant your broccoli 3 months prior to the first average fall frost date.
As you plant, place seeds ½ inch deep and space 1’ apart. Seedlings should be spaced preferably 2’ apart, but 1’ is adequate. As your plants grow, water consistently to keep the soil moist and mulch to retain soil moisture. Mulching can also keep your garden free of weeds, which improves air circulation in your garden. Proper air circulation and keeping water off the heads of the broccoli will help reduce the likelihood of developing mildews, wilts, and rots. If you find your broccoli has yellowing leaves, it may be suffering from a nitrogen deficiency. Adding organic blood meal can fix this problem.
If your garden is plagued with pests such as aphids, flea beetles, and cabbage worms there are few things you can do. To start, keep your garden nice and tidy and rotate your broccoli with non-mustard family plants. This will reduce the risk of your plants succumbing to most diseases and pests. Planting to attract natural pest predators is a great way to reduce pest numbers. You can also use floating row covers to protect from Lepidoptera species.
Once you have grown a beautiful and healthy crop of broccoli now is the time to harvest. You want to harvest your broccoli when you see that the buds of the heads are firm and tight, and the plant hasn’t flowered. If your broccoli does start to flower, harvest ASAP. As you cut heads, cut them at a slant and be sure to harvest in the cool morning hours to preserve taste, and take no less than 6” of stem with it. As mentioned above you can also eats the leaves, just make sure they are green and healthy looking. The leaves may be a bit bitter when eaten raw, but will mellow out and taste great when sautéed or roasted in the oven with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.
If you are storing your broccoli, wash it, but be sure it’s thoroughly dry before placing it in the refrigerator. It will last up to 5 days. When you are ready to consume your broccoli here is a great recipe to try.
2 heads broccoli, cut into large florets
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs. sweet Italian sausage links
5 cloves garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
8 oz. sliced pepperoncini rounds
½ cup pickling liquid from the pepperoncini rounds
2 cups chicken broth
Preheat oven to 425°F
Place broccoli on baking sheets
Drizzle with 6 tablespoons oil
Salt and Pepper
Toss to coat
Roast broccoli until fork tender and browning begins (20 minutes)
Toss and rotate baking sheets once while roasting
While broccoli is roasting, heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat
Cook sausage until browned on all sides (10-15 minutes)
Remove sausage from skillet and let cool slightly
Cut sausage into ½ inch pieces
Reduce heat to medium
Add garlic and pepper flakes to skillet
Sauté for 1 minute
Add pickling liquid and broth to skillet
Bring to a boil
Cook for 5 minutes
Remove skillet from heat
Add pepperoncini rounds, broccoli, and sausage to skillet
Serve and enjoy!
Brilliant Booming Broccoli
Broccoli is a vibrant garden vegetable that provides a good deal of nutrition and can be easily grown. Broccoli is big in taste and goes great in any growing space. So when spring or fall rolls around, get your gardening going and plant yourself a hearty broccoli crop and be successful in the garden and the kitchen. Happy gardening and growing, and enjoy your broccoli, leaves and all!
Smith, P. April, 2003. Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. Broccoli. http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/vegetables/crops/hgic1301.html
Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Texas A&M. Cabbage Flowers for Food. Aggie Horticulture. http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/publications/vegetabletravelers/broccoli.html
Zanichelli, F., et al. April 2012. US National Library of Medicine. National Health Institute. Department of Experimental Medicine, Biotechnology and Molecular Biology Section, Second University of Naples, Italy. Dose-dependent effects of R-sulforaphane isothiocyanate on the biology of human mesenchymal stem cells, at dietary amounts, it promotes cell proliferation and reduces senescence and apoptosis, while at anti-cancer drug doses, it has a cytotoxic effect. V: 34(2). Pages:281-93. doi: 10.1007/s11357-011-9231-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21465338