Supercharge Your Meals With Dehydrated Greens
You can preserve the healthful benefits of garden greens as winter’s chill approaches…Posted Oct 28, 2016
You’ve seen them in health food stores stocking shelves for winter: ‘powdered greens’ supplements replete with a long list of healthful ingredients guaranteed to boost your immunity, repair free radical damage, and improve overall mood and vitality. The message is clear: if you aren’t getting enough fruits and vegetables in your diet (and who is, especially in winter?) you need these supplements to help bridge the gap.
True, some of these products have real benefits. There is evidence that plant-based supplements can help increase body pH*, along with other claims. But not all green powders are what they claim to be.
A report from Consumerlab.com** shows that at least some powdered greens supplements contain heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and cadmium. Others contain dangerously high levels of vitamins and minerals, which could exceed tolerable levels if not moderated carefully. So what’s a health-minded consumer to do?
One way to get the benefits of greens supplementation while controlling what goes into the blend is to make your own. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. With access to a home dehydrator, a food processor, and a plentiful harvest from your garden or local farmer’s market, organic powdered greens are within your reach. You might want to act before the frost does, however, or that taste of summer will be as fleeting as sunshine.
Home dehydration is one of the gentlest methods of preserving foods because many of today’s dehydrator models use low heat to dry food evenly and efficiently. This means minimal loss of vitamins and minerals and excellent, high-quality flavor. Dehydration also inhibits the growth of bacteria by eliminating the water they need to survive.
Home dehydrators come in a range of sizes, materials and price points. In general, most models include two important components: a thermostat to gauge drying temperatures and a heating element for drying food. Popular dehydrators like the Excalibur also feature a fan for circulating heat, which guarantees even dehydration without the need to rotate drying trays. This model also has a patented horizontal drying system that works to ensure optimal nutrition and flavor in dehydrated foods.
Dehydrators are simple enough to use and quite affordable considering their versatility. If your model has a fan, you’ll hear the fan running which can be noisy in an otherwise quiet room. Ideally, you can locate your dehydrator in the pantry, garage or other location where the sound of the fan is not a bother to anyone.
Harvesting and Drying Your Greens
Most powdered greens supplements contain a wide variety of dehydrated vegetables, grasses, fruits, and sea plants. A homemade greens blend can contain all of the above, but sticking to garden plants means avoiding some of the undesirable ingredients (such as toxins) that can reside in plants exposed to contaminated seawater. Our household’s favorite green ingredients include kale, Swiss chard, spinach, bok choy, arugula, carrot and beet tops, parsley, cilantro, and even weeds like dandelion and chickweed. The season’s last hurrah is your opportunity to preserve summer’s nutrients (which, incidentally, can also be done all season long).
Harvest as much leafy abundance as you can before the frost hits, keeping in mind that biennial plants like kale will leaf out again in spring before going to seed—if you don’t remove too much foliage now. If harvesting carrots or beets en masse for storage in a root cellar or garage, now’s the time to get the most of those leafy tops. Wash all harvested greens and drain in a spinner or on a clean towel.
To dehydrate the greens, place them in single layers on the dehydrator trays. Depending on your dehydrator model, (and whether or not it has a fan), the greens will dry in 8-24 hours at low to medium heat (115-125 F). Keep in mind that the lower the temperature, the longer the drying time. However, don’t rush the process: lower temperatures also work to preserve vital nutrients. If your dehydrator is lacking a fan, check the trays occasionally to see if they need rotating.
After your drying is complete, the greens should be brittle and easy to crumble. Remove any thick or woody stems and place the rest in a food processor to pulverize. You can finish greens off in a clean coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle if your food processor doesn’t grind things as fine as you would like. Store your greens powder in airtight containers with rubber linings or gaskets to ensure they stay as dry as possible. A glass jar with a screw top lid works well when stored in a dark pantry or cupboard.
Uses for Homemade Greens Powder
Our favorite uses for homemade greens powder include smoothies, soups, stews, dressings and dips. When preparing dehydrated greens for savory dishes, my tendency is to grind coarsely for added texture and flavor. In contrast, our breakfast smoothies receive the finest of powders possible using our home appliances.
And while these blends are not meant to replace a serving of fresh fruits or vegetables, a few pinches added to our scrambled eggs or a larger amount blended into a breakfast shake gives our meals a boost, enhancing the mineral and vitamin content and adding another layer of flavor reminiscent of summer. There’s also the satisfaction of eating (or drinking) a product crafted at home—for free—from bounty that might otherwise be wasted. Now I think that’s something worth savoring, don’t you?
*Berardi, John M. et al. Plant-based Dietary Supplement Increases Urinary pH, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2008.
**Contamination Remains a Problem With Greens and Whole Foods Powders, Consumerlab.com, 2008.
Shannon Cowan is an author, editor, and teacher who lives on six acres of land with her husband, daughters, and backyard chicken flock.