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'Book of Kale and Friends' explores powerhouse vegetable and 13 other greens

The cover of “The Book of Kale and Friends” by Sharon Hanna and Carol Pope (Douglas & McIntyre, 2014), is pictured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

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The cover of “The Book of Kale and Friends” by Sharon Hanna and Carol Pope (Douglas & McIntyre, 2014), is pictured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

TORONTO - Following on her award-winning "The Book of Kale," author Sharon Hanna has teamed with avid gardener and writer Carol Pope for "The Book of Kale and Friends."

The "friends" in the title refers to 13 other "superfoods" that are as easy to grow as kale — and also nutritious. On the menu are arugula, basil, chives, cilantro/coriander, fennel, garlic, lovage, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme.

Kale, a hardy vegetable which thrives in gardens across the country, is packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (plant-based compounds). Benefits include boosting immunity, repairing damaged tissue and protecting eyes from damaging UV light, helping to prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, among others.

"Kale is just so easy to grow and so prolific and so generous and so year-round that really there's nothing else in the Pacific Northwest or the Canadian climate or even the North American climate that we could think of that matched it, so we wound up with 'The Book of Kale,'" Pope said by phone from Victoria.

"From there we looked in our own gardens at what are the things we enjoy all year, every month of the year, that are really easy to grow and so we've come up with this additional list of plants that I use daily and so does Sharon. I kind of feel like everyone knows about these plants, but it's kind of a secret for a lot of people about what to do with them and how incredibly useful they are and basically how year-round they are."

In addition to tips on cultivating kale and its 13 "friends," there is plenty of information about nutrition.

"Those things grow so easily and just make such a huge difference when you're serving food ... throwing a bunch of herbs on stuff just elevates it plus adds a whole lot of nutrition which we really didn't realize," said Hanna from her Vancouver home.

Rosemary, for example, has antioxidant qualities, multiple vitamins and minerals. It's also anti-inflammatory and iron-rich. Parsley is a big supplier of vitamin C, iron, chlorophyll and antioxidants. Sage, like kale, provides a lot of vitamin K. It contains flavonoids, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is billed as a memory enhancer.

Statuesque lovage "is such a great plant for bees and it's dead easy to grow and it's very good and you just need to use a couple of leaves and it's like a celery substitute or you can use the stalks for straws and drink out of them," said Hanna, suggesting trying that with bloody caesars.

"I think it's a missed opportunity for people to not use their food," she added. "They grow them and they look pretty in the garden and they're nice and they smell great.

"The big thing is that when they flower the bees love them. The other main focus for us in the book is bees. We really wanted to bring to almost every page what people could do to help the bees because they're in trouble."

Experts believe pesticide use and mites have contributed to the decline of bees.

"Without bees pollinating many of our food sources, such as fruits and vegetables, we'd be missing a whole lot of food," said Hanna, who received a Taste Canada award last fall for "The Book of Kale."

The blooms of flowering herbs are useful for pollination.

"The bees love the very simple, very old-fashioned flowers and they go crazy for the kale buds," said Pope, who lets 10 per cent of her garden flower at any one time to attract bees.

Pope has 13 raised beds at her home in Garden Bay in Pender Harbour on B.C.'s sunshine coast. The beautiful plant photos were shot by her on her property.

"When you step outside in my garden at any time from the spring right through to the fall and you're quiet you can just hear the droning and humming and there's hundreds of bees. It's exciting and it makes me feel the garden is so prolific," said Pope, who was editor of GardenWise magazine for more than a decade.

In addition to more than 130 precise recipes, there is a section called "Kale Quickies and Other Superfast Meal Ideas," which Hanna said she hopes stimulates home cooks into experimenting. There are lists of "best friends" of kale, including oils, butters and sauces, nuts, citrus, savoury flourishes and cheese, ways to enjoy kale in salads, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a dozen ways to enjoy kale with takeout rotisserie chicken.

Pope suggests growing herbs indoors in winter. Fresh herbs can also be dried or frozen in ice-cube trays to last throughout the year.

"These are the foods that people should be growing if they're looking for food that will truly help them with their food budget, that will make their meals tastier and more delicious and also so that they have an ongoing supply of fresh-from-the-garden nutrition," said Pope.

Follow (at)lois_abraham on Twitter.

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