Purple Vegetables for Color and Nutrition

Purple Vegetables for Color and Nutrition Featured Image
At various times and places, purple has been the color of royalty, rock stars, and rebellion. It has represented bravery, as well as overwrought prose. A shade of purple—mauve—was even used to describe the 1890’s, a time when the invention and widespread use of aniline dyes made purple fabrics and clothes widely available.

In vegetable gardens, purple is currently the height of fashion. From kale to kohlrabi, vegetables and herbs with purple leaves, fruits and flowers can add interest to your edible array. Whether you have a formal potager, a raised vegetable garden, or multiple containers, adding purple—either a little or a lot—brings you to the glowing intersection of beauty and nutrition.
The purple color in vegetables and herbs is caused by anthocyanins, which are well-known antioxidants. Research suggests can offer real health benefits–helping the body boost its immune system and fight disease. The following vegetable patch stalwarts will add purple to your patch and healthful food to your table.

Purple Herbs and “Greens”

Purple kales
Purple kales of all varieties are healthful and delicious.

Some of the best looking purple leaves available appear on kale varieties. Ruffled kale ‘Redbor’ features flavorful red-purple leaves and stems that are good for salads or soups. Use it as a garnish and even non-kale lovers will appreciate its decorative qualities. Elsewhere in the cabbage family, the rounded heads of ‘Candy Red’ and ‘Ruby Perfection’ cabbage glow in bright purple tones. Likewise, the ‘Red Dragon Hybrid’ Napa cabbage looks like a giant purple rose, but tastes a lot better.

Purple basil and flowers
Purple basil is beautiful and its lavender-purple flowers are also edible.

In the herb garden, plant one or more of the many available varieties of purple-leaved basil. ‘Round Midnight’ features lustrous bronze-purple leaves. ‘Amethyst Improved’ is a Genovese basil with rich flavor and shiny purple-black leaves to tint your pesto. The purple-leafed basils make great edging plants for vegetable gardens, and with their strong scent they may even ward off a few pests.

Purple Vegetables

Purple cauliflower
Brilliant purple cauliflower holds its color well when steamed.

Many standard vegetable favorites are available in purple varieties. Sweet and tender ‘Purple Passion’ asparagus is a sure harbinger of spring. Carrot lovers can harvest a large handful of purple-hued veggies, including slender ‘Purplesnax Hybrid’ and plump ‘Purple Dragon’. Both varieties feature orange flesh inside, while ‘Deep Purple’ boasts inner flesh to match its outer skin.
Another spring vegetable with brilliant purple color is the crisp violet-purple kohlrabi ‘Kolibri’, which looks great alongside the vibrant ‘Graffiti’ cauliflower.
Eggplant is fabled for its purple skin and lavender flowers, a visual double whammy in the garden. Some varieties, like the classic ‘Traviata’, are very dark-hued, while others, like ‘Dancer’ and ‘Orient Charm’, veer into Easter-egg-purple territory. The ‘Listata di Gandia’ heirloom variety features purple and white skin, mottled like marble.

Purple potatoes
Purple potatoes make a pretty mash. Some varieties hold their color better than others.

Elsewhere in the nightshade family, potatoes pop up in vivid purple shades. ‘Adirondack Blue’ is a standard-sized potato that is blue-purple outside and inside. ‘Magic Molly’ is smaller, a fingerling type, with the same blue-in, blue-out coloring. Both retain the color when cooked, an important consideration, as some “blue” potatoes fade to a less appetizing gray when exposed to heat. If purple skin appeals more than purple flesh, potatoes like ‘Harvest Moon’, with purple skin and yellow flesh, makes a nice compromise.
Sweet potato lovers also have many purple varieties from which to choose. The deepest purple ‘Becca’s Purple’ is a vining variety that produces sweet tubers midseason and ‘Dingess Purple Flesh’ is a very dark purple variety with elongated tubers that produce earlier in the season.

Purple beans
Purple beans lose their color when cooked, but they can hold it when lightly steamed.

Bell peppers are available in a rainbow of colors, but purple is somewhat less celebrated than green, red, yellow, and orange. Quite a few are purple when immature, turning from orange to red as they develop, but some are purple at maturity. The purple outer skin of ‘Islander’ is a sweet bell pepper that is purple when immature with yellow inner flesh. Somewhat spicy ancho chiles are true purple peppers turning from deep green to very dark purple as they age.
Beans are delicious, easy to grow, and abounding in purple options. The appropriately named ‘Amethyst’ produces long, sweet string beans, as do ‘Purple King’ and ‘Purple Queen’. Yellow and purple-streaked ‘Dragon’s Tongue’ would be a choice addition to a garden beanpole.

Purple Edible Flowers

Chive blossoms
Chive blossoms are oniony and look and taste great in salads. (Image by Jessie Keith)

If you are adding purple to the vegetable garden, Start early in the season by using plants that also bear edible purple flowers. Sweet ‘Sugar Magnolia’ peas are twice as nice, with tasty two-toned lavender/red-purple flowers and lavender pods. Chives feature clover-like lavender flowers in spring that taste sweet and oniony. ‘Aromatto’ purple basil also bears flowers in that color. In earliest spring, you may even consider sugaring your purple pansies or lawn violets for adding a sweet floral accent to baked goods.

Pot It, Plant It, Love It

To get the best out of purple edibles, start with the best potting or garden soil. Whether you are positioning your eggplant in a garden bed, giving your peppers the advantage of a raised bed, or potting up herbs in containers, improve the soil with a quality amendment, like Fafard® Garden Manure Blend. For container-grown plants, Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Soil will provide good yields and is OMRI Listed® for organic gardening. Your yields will be better and you will get more purple for your efforts.

In the Raw

Purple carrots
Purple carrot sticks look great on a crudités tray.

Many purple vegetables are best eaten raw because they lose their attractive color when cooked. Many are tastiest in raw form too. Beans and some potatoes lose their purple color with heat, while peppers, carrots, and sweet potatoes reliably maintain more their purple color when cooked.
However you choose to eat them, purple vegetables are nutritious and fun to grow. For color in the garden, color on the plate, and a little more excitement in your gardening life, pepper the vegetable patch with purple.

About Elisabeth Ginsburg

Born into a gardening family, Elisabeth Ginsburg grew her first plants as a young child. Her hands-on experiences range from container gardening on a Missouri balcony to mixed borders in the New Jersey suburbs and vacation gardening in Central New York State. She has studied horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden and elsewhere and has also written about gardens, landscape history and ecology for years in traditional and online publications including The New York Times Sunday “Cuttings” column, the Times Regional Weeklies, Horticulture, Garden Design, Flower & Garden, The Christian Science Monitor and many others. Her “Gardener’s Apprentice” weekly column appears in papers belonging to the Worrall chain of suburban northern and central New Jersey weekly newspapers and online at http://www.gardenersapprentice.com. She and her feline “garden supervisors” live in northern New Jersey.

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