Bitter Chard | Did you Know…


By Himanee Gupta-Carlson

Do you know …   What the term “bolting” means?

Many customers asked our Friends of the Market volunteers at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market what the term meant after spotting our food fact on bolting Swiss chard. I like to think of bolting as running amok. In gardening terms, bolting is sort of like that. A plant that is bolting is one that has grown quickly, has stopped producing flowers (or in the case of plants like lettuce, tender leaves), and is going to seed.

Most gardeners associate bolting with such food plants as lettuce, cilantro, arugula, and basil. However, other food plants can bolt, as well.

I noticed that Swiss chard that I had planted in a garden I maintain for food pantry clients of the Franklin Community Center began to look a little unusual about three weeks ago. Some leaves were less crinkly and more pointed than curled than the others. Another volunteer tasted a leaf and said that it seemed more bitter than the others.

I suspected that the chard was bolting because I had noticed the same thing occurring with chard at my house. However, the leaves still seemed edible so I had been continuing to harvest from the plant.

A visit from Katie Doyle, education coordinator for the Troy-based Capital Roots, confirmed what I thought. She surveyed the Franklin Community Center’ garden and said that the chard appeared to be going to seed. When I told her that the same thing was happening in my home garden, she replied, “We’ve had an unusually hot and dry summer. Chard will usually bolt in any extreme temperature conditions like freezing and in extremely dry hot weather.”

Doyle noted that the plant might continue to produce the typical chard leaves, and that the smoother leaves are still flavorful but more bitter than others.

Doyle’s advice inspired me to experiment with some “bitter chard” leaves in the kitchen. I cooked them much as I often cook the greens from such root vegetables as turnips and radishes, dry roasted with spices that would balance bitterness. The result was a savory dish that served quite well as an appetizer. It whetted the appetite for the meal that followed.

In case you encounter a chard plant that is bolting, here is the recipe I devised;


Bitter chard


• 5-6 leaves from a chard plant that has bolted

• ¼ teaspoon of each of the following: cumin seeds, fenugreek, black mustard seed


1. Wash chard leaves well and shake dry (or use a salad spinner to remove excess water). lice leaves into thin ribbons (the smaller the better)

2. Lightly oil a griddle or skillet.

3. Heat griddle and add spices. Roast for about 30 seconds, then add chard. Toss with two spoons until leaves have wilted.

4. Serve immediately