A member of the Beta vulgaris family, chard is a distant cousin of those other "greens" spinach and orach, and a kissing cousin of the beet, the latter historically cultivated for its root as the former has been for its tasty and succulent, above-ground midribs and leaves. The English herbalist John Gerard continued to note of chard in his Herball of 1636 that "the leaves . . . are for the most part very broad and thicke, like the middle part of the cabbage leafe, which is equal in goodnesse with the leaves of the cabbage being boyled." Chard, historically, has been available in a number of color variations since its first herbal documentations, the Swiss botanist Casper Bauhin recording white, yellow, red, and "dark" varieties in his Phytopinax of 1596.
‘Bright Lights,' a refined strain of Five Color Silverbeet, is actually a collection of a number of chards cultivated for their coloration by amateur grower John Eaton in New Zealand in the mid-1990s. A 1998 All-American Selections Gold Medal Winner, ‘Bright Lights' is a true showstopper in the garden. The lushly savoyed and blistered green leaves of each seedling are shot through with veins and midribs of brilliant red or orange or yellow, each combination almost neon in its vibrancy, and certainly electric as an aggregate.
The benefits of eating chard
Chard is also one of the healthiest vegetables on earth. A single cup of cooked chard contains 388.9 percent of your daily dose of vitamin K (important for maintaining bone health), 137.3 percent of your allotment of vitamin A, 47 percent of magnesium, and 10.2 percent of your daily dose of calcium, yet contains a paltry thirty-five calories. Its fortifying combination of nutrients and fiber also seems particularly effective in preventing digestive-tract cancers, precancerous lesions in animals having been found to be significantly reduced following diets heavy in chard extracts.
Chards are a relatively carefree thing to grow. Start in seed cups 4 weeks before last frost and plant out, or direct sow after danger of frost 1⁄2 inch deep, 2 to 3 inches apart, in well dug, fertile soil (optimum soil temperature for germination is 55 to 75 degrees). Thin to 8 to 10 inches apart after plants reach a height of 3 inches, and enjoy the show. I'm very fond of making a summer relish with the colorful midribs of these beauties (reserve the leaves to sauté as spinach). Cut stems into medium dice, sauté in a bit of olive oil with diced onion, golden raisins, a minced garlic clove, and a pinch each of brown sugar, cumin, and cardoman, toss with freshly chopped mint, cool, and enjoy.