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Swiss chard

Category: Food



Introduction and description


Beta vulgaris L. subsp. cicla (L.) W.D.J. Koch commonly known as chard or Swiss chard, occasionally as Silverbeet, Ruby Chard,  Leaf Beet or Seakale Beet, is a leafy green vegetable that is part of the Beet genus.  It belongs to the Chenopodiaceae family

The naming is indeed very confusing.  The Beta L  genus describes the Beets in general, Beta vulgaris L, the common beets, a species that includes beetroot, sugar beet, perpetual spinach and a host of apparently unrelated vegetables.  As you can see it also includes beets whose roots are used – like beetroot – and beets whose leaves are used – like perpetual spinach and chard.  It is only when one is down to the subspecies - Beta vulgaris L. ssp. cicla (L.) W.D.J. Koch – that one has found Swiss chard. It may also be known as Beta cicla (L.) L. and Beta vulgaris L. var. cicla L.

Chard was first described in 1753 by Linnaeus as Beta vulgaris var. cicla, which would seem a more sensible name.  All beet cultivars are descendants of the sea beet, Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima.


Swiss chard isn't native to Switzerland, but the Swiss botanist Koch determined the scientific name of this plant in the 19th century and since then, its name has honoured his homeland. The actual homeland of chard lies further south, in the Mediterranean region.  The Greek philosopher, Aristotle wrote about chard in the fourth century B.C.

It is now cultivated all over the world, but the French, Italians and Spanish are great users of Swiss chard and it is the subject of much research in Spain and Italy, where the growing conditions and differing nutrient values under various growing conditions are being studied.  In the UK, it is grown on allotments, only recently has it appeared in the supermarkets, and mostly via the online delivery supermarkets, because it is very difficult to keep fresh once picked.  Like spinach, it wilts once picked.


Although Swiss chard is technically a beet, in the same family as beetroots and sugar beet, it is the leaves that are eaten.  The leaf has a white or coloured rib and then a deep green leaf.  The rib and leaf are separated and cooked separately as the cooking times are slightly different.  This said, they can be combined after cooking and you get two vegetables for the price of one.

There are a number of different varieties:

  • Common Swiss chard – which has a deep green leaf tasting of spinach and a white midrib with a slight hint of celery
  • Rhubarb chard – which has crumpled dark green leaves and a deep red midrib
  • Rainbow chard or ‘Bright Lights’ – is the most ornamental of swiss chards, having coloured stems in classic red, white, pink, violet, green, gold, orange, yellow and some even striped! These wonderfully coloured stems are crowned with large foliage of green or bronze. Has the RHS Award of Garden Merit
  • Leaf Beet Lucullus - A much more prolific form, with an abundance of large, tasty leaves and wide, white mid-ribs. If the plants are left to flower, the flower stalks can be cooked and eaten like sprouting broccoli. Has the RHS Award of Garden Merit
  • Perpetual Spinach - One of the most useful vegetables which can be picked continuously right through to autumn. Cook leaves and stems like spinach. Valuable on dry soil, where true spinach runs to seed. Recommended for deep freezing.


 A swiss chard flower border


Chard is a biennial. The coloured stem varieties, such as Bright Lights, can look attractive enough to be planted in a flower border. They also grow readily in containers. The plants will produce for well over a year, so need a good supply of compost, manure or a general purpose fertiliser, such as Growmore or Blood, Fish & Bone.


Sow thinly in April, directly into good soil, preferably manured the previous winter. A row of around 2 m (6 feet) should be sufficient for the average family, producing some 2Kg over the year. Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, thin to one plant per 20–30 cm (8–12 inches). Keep weed-free and water in dry weather.

Slugs like to eat seedlings and small plants, but are much less of a threat once the Chard has developed.

Chard can be harvested while the leaves are young and tender, or after maturity when they are larger and have longer stems. Although the commercial growers tend to pull up the entire plant, those of us with vegetable gardens or allotments simply go down and – using a sharp knife – simply slice off  the stems and leaves we want for lunch.  If you only take one or two leaves from each plant, then you don’t exhaust the plant and you can have a continuous supply of leaves for months and months.   If you supply it with plenty of manure, it can also be encouraged to last longer than two years, although it does have a tendency to want to run to seed after the two years are up.

Medicinal uses

avocado, orange, red pepper and swiss chard salad

The ancient Greeks, and later the Romans, prized chard for its medicinal properties. Although the vegetable is widely recognised as being nutritionally good with an abundance of minerals and vitamins, the medicinal properties are on the whole not as well examined.  Dr Duke’s analysis is for the family of beets, thus although they share a number of phytochemicals one cannot expect the properties to be identical.  We have provided the analysis for reference.

The combination of traditional nutrients, phytonutrients (particularly anthocyans), plus fibre has meant it has been the subject of study for intestinal complaints, notably digestive tract cancers. Several research studies on chard have focused specifically on colon cancer, the observations provide more details. Preliminary animal research has also indicated that Swiss chard may confer a protective effect on the kidneys of those with diabetes through reducing serum urea and creatinine levels, again the research paper abstracts are provided as observations.

swiss chard, fennel and white bean gratin

But there is a dark spot on the horizon.  Swiss chard is an excellent chelator.  And in particular it can chelate cadmium extremely well. It is especially good in saline [salty] soils].  One can look at this positively, swiss chard is thus a potentially valuable bioremedial plant in times of climate change and high flooding; but you would be very unwise to eat the plant afterwards!  Make sure any swiss chard you buy comes form a cadmium free farm, or grow your own.

Crops, particularly in the Northeast region of Mexico, have to cope with increasing soil salinization due to irrigation. Chloride (Cl(-)) concentration has been strongly related to enhance cadmium (Cd) uptake by plants due to increased solubility in the soil solution. The effect of irrigation with slightly saline water from a local well was evaluated … on the accumulation and translocation of Cd in Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris L.) …Results showed that Cl(-) salinity in the WW effectively mobilized soil Cd and increased its phytoavailability. A higher level of Cd was found in roots (46.41 mg kg(-1)) compared to shoots (10.75 mg kg(-1)). PMID:  24453013


Poached eggs with tomatoes, chick peas, black olives and swiss chard

The analyses we have seen seem to vary somewhat in the content they attribute to the plant, however, this is not unusual as it depends to a large extent on the soil in which they were grown.  One analysis found “high concentrations of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, vitamin E, and dietary fiber. Swiss chard also emerges as a very good or good source of copper, calcium, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, protein, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, folate, biotin, niacin and pantothenic acid”.

According to the USDA Nutrients database the nutrients are as follows:

swiss chard, onions and caraway


Swiss chard, cooked, no salt

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)


84 kJ (20 kcal)


4.13 g


1.1 g

Dietary fiber

2.1 g


0.08 g


1.88 g


Vitamin A equiv.


lutein zeaxanthin

(38%) 306 μg

(34%) 3652 μg

11015 μg

Vitamin A

6124 IU

Thiamine (B1)

(3%) 0.034 mg

Riboflavin (B2)

(7%) 0.086 mg

Niacin (B3)

(2%) 0.36 mg

Pantothenic acid (B5)

(3%) 0.163 mg

Vitamin B6

(7%) 0.085 mg

Folate (B9)

(2%) 9 μg


(6%) 28.7 mg

Vitamin C

(22%) 18 mg

Vitamin E

(13%) 1.89 mg

Vitamin K

(312%) 327.3 μg



(6%) 58 mg


(17%) 2.26 mg


(24%) 86 mg


(16%) 0.334 mg


(5%) 33 mg


(12%) 549 mg


(12%) 179 mg


(3%) 0.33 mg

Other constituents


92.65 g

 There is one essential ingredient of which one should be aware and that is oxalic acid.  Rhubarb contains oxalic acid and it is this that gives it its sharp taste.  It is not a good idea to eat too much oxalic acid.  The following seemed quite sensible advice

“Do not cook chard in an aluminium pot since the oxalates contained in the chard will react with the metal and cause the pot to discolour. .. Chard is one of the vegetables that benefits from quick boiling (as opposed to steaming or healthy sauté) since this helps to free the oxalic acids it contains and makes the chard less bitter and more sweet. “

and just to finish on a positive note, swiss chard is being used in the space programme

Salad greens will be among the first crops grown on lunar or planetary space stations. Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris L.) is an important candidate salad crop because it is high yielding and rich in vitamins and minerals. Five Swiss chard cultivars were grown in the greenhouse under two light levels for 13 weeks to compare cumulative yields from weekly harvests, mineral composition, and to evaluate sensory attributes as a salad green. The varieties Large White Ribbed (LWR) and Lucullus (LUC) were the highest yielding in both light regimes. LWR was the shortest of the cultivars requiring the least vertical space. LWR also received the highest sensory ratings of the five cultivars. LWR Swiss chard should be considered as an initial test variety in food production modules.  PMID: 12481809


swiss chard  fried-rice with butternut-squash and chestnuts

Swiss chard is able to be married with some quite robust flavours – anchovies, garlic, chili, and capers.  The steamed midribs, for example, can be served with ‘brown butter’, capers and toasted almonds.   If you separate leaf from midrib, it can be stir fried very successfully, as long as you start with the sliced midrib and then add the chopped leaves last.

When the leaves are very young they can be eaten raw in salads with a dressing like aioli [garlic mayonnaise] and crispy bacon scattered on the top.  The Lebanese cook it and serve it with a tahini sauce and sprinkle it with chopped mint.  The Italians use the leaf as an alternative to spinach.  The Greeks use the leaf as an alternative to vine leaves, keeping the leaf whole, lightly blanching it to soften it and then stuffing it with rice, minced lamb, pine nuts, mint, onions and raisins.

John Evelyn, author of Acetaria used to cook the leaves in their own juices and serve them on heavily buttered toast topped with a lightly poached egg.

They key to success is to remember that in Swiss chard you have two vegetables in one.  They need to be separated.  The green leafy part can be cut from the midrib using scissors, and then snipped into small pieces.  The midribs can either be sliced lengthwise or diagonally.  The leaves of Swiss chard are much heftier than spinach and don’t collapse the way spinach does.  If you put them in salted boiling water, they still only need about 2 minutes, however, and need to be drained thoroughly.  The midribs can be steamed.

The midribs, painted with olive oil can be chargrilled and served with parmesan.  The leaves can be sauted and sprinkled with pine nuts and raisins, and the two served for lunch with crusty bread or used as an accompaniment to grilled meat or fried halloumi.


Swiss chard can be used as a replacement for spinach, but also goes well with spinach.  It also goes well with sorrel.  A lovely rich creamy tart can be made by using sorrel, spinach and swiss chard with fried onion and garlic, in a cream and egg sauce topped with grated parmesan.

Swiss chard provencal

The quantities depend somewhat on your taste and the amount you have from the garden.  The chopped chard leaves and stem are mixed with grated courgette, crushed garlic, chopped lightly sauted onion, cooked rice and grated gruyere cheese. To this are added two beaten eggs and placed in a casserole, then baked with more gruyere and Parmesan scattered on top. It is nice with sliced fresh, peeled tomatoes, with olive oil and chopped herbs.

Chard with poached eggs

The chili powder can be replaced by Dijon mustard or left out completely.  Quantities are somewhat up to you depending on how oniony or chardy or eggy you would like the dish!

Swiss chard, leaves and midribs separated and chopped

Shallots very finely chopped

Pinch chili powder to taste [optional]

4 medium eggs [duck eggs are especially good]


Olive oil

Double cream or crème fraiche

Salt and pepper


Saute shallots in oil and butter till transparent

Add midribs, cook until just crisp

Add chard leaves, cook until wilted.

Add chili powder

Add cream [sufficient to make a creamy sauce but not to make it too runny]

Place mixture in four ramekin dishes

Make well in centre and put in the egg

Sprinkle on parmesan

Bake in oven for about 5 to 10 minutes until egg is just done and cheese is slightly toasted and melted



 Swiss chard patties with green sauce

Adapted from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty.  The breadcrumbs can be replaced by ground almonds with a dash of cornflour , if you are on a gluten free diet. They can also be grilled


2 cups basil leaves, packed

1 cup spinach leaves

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 tsp salt, divided

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper, divided


1 1/4 lb Swiss chard, cut into 1/2-inch strips

1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted

4 oz grated Cheddar cheese

1 egg

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp breadcrumbs

1 tsp cayenne pepper

Olive oil or grape seed oil, for frying



Sauce -  Place the basil leaves, spinach, yogurt, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of the salt, garlic, mustard and 1/4 teaspoon of ground pepper in a blender. Blend until fully incorporated and bright green. Taste and add salt, if desired. Refrigerate until needed.

Patties -  Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the chard and simmer for 4 minutes. Drain the chard and allow to cool slightly. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as possible. Chop the leaves and stalks again and squeeze out any remaining water. Place the chard in a large bowl.

Add the almonds, cheese, egg, breadcrumbs, cayenne, and the remaining salt and pepper to the chard. Combine with your hands or a spatula until well incorporated. Form the mixture into 8 patties, which should measure about 3-inches wide and 1-inch thick.

4. Pour enough frying oil into a large skillet to come 1/4-inch up the sides. Fry the patties for about 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Place on paper towels to absorb oil. Serve warm or at room temperature, with sauce on the side.



Baked Macaroni with Swiss Chard and Artichokes

I cup macaroni

1 lb Swiss chard

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, very finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 jar artichoke hearts in olive oil

2 cups grated parmesan cheese


Cook macaroni in salted water

Separate swiss chard ribs from leaf.  Chop both

Cook onion in olive oil until soft [2 mins], add garlic saute for 1 minute more, add swiss chard stems, saute for 2 minutes stirring all the time.  Finally add the swiss chard leaves and cook until wilted.

Season to taste

Add drained macaroni and artichoke hearts

Place a layer of mixture into a casserole dish, sprinkle with cup of parmesan.

Place final layer of mixture into casserole dish, sprinkle with second cup of parmesan

Put in oven and cook until top is melted and golden brown.

Serve with a rocket salad



Stuffed Chard Recipe

8 – 10 very large chard leaves, stems finely chopped and reserved

2 tablespoons walnut oil (can be substituted with other oils)
1 white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small butternut squash, or sweet potato diced
1 carrot, grated
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 cup cooked brown rice
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup walnuts or filberts (hazelnuts), chopped
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
fresh goat cheese, crumbled


Blanch the chard leaves in boiling water, plunge in cold water and drain

Fry onion, garlic, squash, & carrot in oil until soft.

Add pepper, paprika, parsley and cumin, mix in then transfer to a bowl.

Add rice and lemon juice and mix well.

Add chopped nuts , cranberries and crumbled goat’s cheese, mix well.

Place leaves flat on a wooden board, put a generous heap of the mixture on the leaf.  Roll the leaf until it looks like a pancake roll and tuck in the edges.

Put all the stuffed leaves into a baking dish

Drizzle with olive oil and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.

Bake for about 15 minutes until warmed through

Serve with midribs sauted in butter


Swiss chard gratin

If you need to go gluten free the breadcrumbs can be replaced by gluten free muesli

1/2 cup toasted coarse breadcrumbs

2-4 Tbs. unsalted butter

1 cup double cream

2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. salt

3 strips bacon (about 2-1/2 oz.)

1 lb. (about 1 bunch) Swiss chard

1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


Wash and drain the chard, remove the stems and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices

Cut the leaves into 1/2-inch wide ribbons

Melt 1 tbsp. of the butter and toss it with the breadcrumbs/muesli; set aside.

Bring the cream and garlic to a boil, simmer vigorously for 5 minutes; [optionally] remove the garlic cloves with a slotted spoon. Season.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon until crisp and browned. Drain and crumble or snip when cool.

Melt butter in a skillet,  add the chard stems and sauté them until softened and browned on the edges. Reduce the heat, add the chard leaves and toss them with the contents of the skillet until all the leaves are wilted.

Transfer the contents of the pan to the gratin dish (leave behind any excess liquid in the sauté pan), spreading them evenly.

Sprinkle the crumbled bacon and then the cheese over the chard. Pour the seasoned cream over all and top with the buttered breadcrumbs/muesli.

Bake for 25 minutes; the gratin will be brown and bubbly. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.



Swiss chard spaghetti

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 bunches Swiss chard, trimmed and chopped (about 14 cups)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juices
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
8 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti
1/4 cup pitted black olives, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino cheese
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Heat the oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium heat.

Add the onions and saute until tender, about 8 minutes.

Add the chard and saute until it wilts, about 2 minutes.

Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Stir in the tomatoes with their juices, wine, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer.

Cover and simmer until the tomatoes begin to break down and the chard is very tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

Season the chard mixture, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring frequently, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the spaghetti. Add the spaghetti to the chard mixture and toss to combine.

Transfer the pasta to serving bowls. Sprinkle the olives, cheese, and pine nuts and serve.




References and further reading

  • Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2014 May;21(9):5909-16. doi: 10.1007/s11356-014-2498-3. Epub 2014 Jan 23.  Saline irrigation and Zn amendment effect on Cd phytoavailability to Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris L.) grown on a long-term amended agricultural soil: a human risk assessment.  Valdez-González JC1, López-Chuken UJ, Guzmán-Mar JL, Flores-Banda F, Hernández-Ramírez A, Hinojosa-Reyes L.  1Facultad de Ciencias Químicas, Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, UANL, San Nicolás de los Garza, NL, Mexico, 66451.
  • Life Support Biosph Sci. 2002;8(3-4):173-9.  Swiss chard: a salad crop for the space program. Logendra LS1, Gilrain MR, Gianfagna TJ, Janes HW. Collaborators (1)

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