From JEFF COX
Organic Food Guy
Kenwood, Sonoma County
Botanically chard is a subspecies of ordinary garden beets, bred for its leaves rather than its root, and packs the same kind of nutritional punch. The name “chard” comes from the French chardon, or thistle, although chard is not a thistle (the name came about cecause chard has a wide midrib similar to the cardoon, which is a thistle, and because of this physical resemblance the French word for thistle came to be applied to chard as well).
For some reason, chard also goes by the name of Swiss chard. While the vegetable is commonly grown in Switzerland, among other northern European countries, it’s the French and Italians, not the Swiss, who have done the most with chard, with the Spanish and Greeks running a close second. In southern Spain and out on the Balearic Islands, it’s cooked much as the Arabs of North Africa use it, with spices and hot chiles, or cooked with sweetmeats. In fact, chard’s history is long, going back before Rome (its subspecies name, cicla, refers to sicula, the ancient name of Sicily), before Greece, back to ancient Babylon. Various theories have been proposed for why the country of Switzerland has been associated with chard, but none of them seem worth repeating. I just call the vegetable chard and leave it at that.
The Organic Factor
Make sure your chard is organic. The high-nitrogen chemical fertilizers used in conventional agriculture can cause the plants to take up too much nitrate, which can change within the human digestive system to cancer-causing nitrites. Organic soils feed chard their nitrogen from natural sources, at just the rate the plants need it.