Top Five Iron Rich Leafy Greens

Dylan Smith in the bush
Leafy green vegetables are a great way to get iron into your body via diet.
Especially for:
  • Vegetarians
  • Vegans
  • Those who want to eat less meat
  • Those who don’t want to overload their liver with nutraceutical supplements such as iron supplements.
Out of the non-heme iron sources, leafy green vegetables are high sources of iron, but you got to ensure your body is absorbing iron well.
In addition to eating iron-rich leafy green vegetables, there are other important interventions you need to understand to enhance iron absorption and Boost Your Ferritin Levels Naturally.
Note: Amounts of Iron Will Vary
The amounts of iron mentioned below per leafy green vegetable is tested using standard vegetables. I don’t know how fresh these vegetables were, nor the growing conditions like the quality and organic state of the soil and farming practices.
Furthermore, these were tested by a couple of standard labs. There will be other researchers testing and getting different numbers.
I would assume if you were to pick the same vegetables fresh the day of or even the day before you eat them, whether you pick them from your garden, your local organic grocery store or from the wild, grown organically, the iron content would be significantly higher than the numbers mentioned below.
Leafy green crops in a field

My Top Five Iron Rich Leafy Green Vegetables

Here are my top five iron rich leafy green vegetables. I chose them because they are tasty, readily available, high in iron, and can be foraged in the wild which will significantly boost the nutrient profile.

#5 Warrigal Greens, AKA New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides) (cooked)

I love this vegetable because it grows abundantly and has a very tasty slimy texture.
Warrigal Greens is high in antioxidants as well as other minerals, nutrients, and vitamins. It is a common coastal and estuarine species of the Pacific region. It is native to New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Chile, and Argentina.
Warrigal Greens in flower
I love this vegetable because it grows abundantly and has a very tasty slimy texture.
Warrigal Greens is high in antioxidants as well as other minerals, nutrients, and vitamins. It is a common coastal and estuarine species of the Pacific region. It is native to New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Chile, and Argentina.
Caution: Oxalates
Like regular conventional spinach, Warrigal Greens has oxalates, which are compounds that put pressure on the kidney and actually block iron absorption.
Ensure to blanch the leave in boiling water for 20 seconds of so, then rinse with cold water or (even better) put straight into a bowl of cold water, then wash to remove the oxalates.
“Studies have shown that soluble oxalate levels in T. tetragonioides can range from 1.5 per cent in leaves of older plants to 12 per cent in leaves of young plants.”
Amount of iron in warrigal greens:
0.8mg / 100gms  (4% of recommended daily value/DV) (less when raw) (3)
Cooking tip: Don’t cook warrigal greens a lot. Just blanching to remove oxalates is enough.

#4 Amaranth Leaves (cooked)

A lot of us have heard about amaranth as an (ancient) grain, but the leaves of the plant are not only edible but very nutritious.
There are about 70 species of amaranth worldwide and they are all edible (4). The highly nutritious value of the plant was recognised by Aztecs and used in ceremonies. Today it is growing as a common weed amongst urban pathways, sidewalks, gardens and rural agricultural fields.
The most common weedy Amaranths in South East Australia are:
  1. Green Amaranth ( Amaranthus viridis)
  2. White amaranth ( Amaranthus allbus)
  3. The Natives: Amaranthus Mitchellii, Amaranthus Powellii and Amaranthus interruptus
  4. Red Amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor).
Caution: Oxalates in Red Amaranth
Red amaranth and perhaps other amaranths have some level of oxalates.
Blanch the leaves in boiling water for 15 seconds of so, then rinse with cold water to remove the oxalates.
Amount of iron in common green amaranth:
Wild Amaranth
2.26mg / 100gm. (13% DV).(3)
  • Raw Amaranth is also very high in Vitamin K: 1140 mcg / 100gm (950% DV).(3)
Cooking tip: Don’t cook amaranth a lot. I like to wash, chop, then add to the finished cooked hot dish and mix in. This way the hot dish gently cooks the leaves. If using red amaranth be sure to blanch. 

#3 Dandelion Leaves Greens (Cooked)

Dandelion has got to be one of my favourite edible and medicinal weeds, as it is for other foragers.
It is commonly one of the first plants one learns about when learning to forage wild foods.
Dandelion Leaves
The whole plant can be used - root (yum starchy bitterness), flower, and leaves. The bitter taste of this vegetable supports liver health, pitta doṣa and it is impressively high in:
  • Vitamin K: 812 mcg / 100gm (677% DV)
  • Vitamin A: 514 mcg / 100gm (57% DV)
  • Vitamin C: 25.5 mg / 100gm (28% DV).(3)
Amount of iron in dandelion leaves (cooked):
3.23mg / 100gm (18% DV).(3)
Cooking tip: Don’t cook dandelion leaves a lot. Wash, chop, then add to the finished cooked hot dish and mix in. The roots and thick part of the stem you can cook for longer. Root taste like a bitter potato (and feels so much more nutritious)!

#2 English Spinach

Dandelion has got to be one of my favourite edible and medicinal weeds, as it is for other foragers.
It is commonly one of the first plants one learns about when learning to forage wild foods.
It may be a little surprising that this common conventional leafy green vegetable is higher in iron than the other leafy greens mentioned that are much less domesticated and hybridised.
Well, you just can’t beat the iron content of your common English spinach…
Actually you can, see #1.
Remember Iron Variation According to Growing Conditions:
But do keep in mind the consideration of domesticated, non-organic vegetables vs. wild-organic vegetables.
For example, wild foraged amaranth leaves harvested and eaten in the same day could contain significantly more iron than conventional english spinach harvested one week and kept in the fridge before eating it.
English Spinach
Caution: Oxalates
Ensure to blanch spinach in boiling water for 20 seconds of so, then rinse with cold water or (even better) put straight into a bowl of cold water,  wash to remove the oxalates.
Spinach has a higher level of oxalic compared to most vegetables with an approximate concentration of 1000mg/100g [5][7] .This is significantly higher than other vegetable such as kale (20mg/100g) [6], carrot (49mg/100g) [5], beetroot (67mg/100g)[5] and soybean (497mg/100g) [5].
Amount of iron in english spinach:
  • cooked: 3.57mg / 100 gms (26%RDA)
  • raw: 2.71mg / 100 gms (19%RDA)
  • canned, regular pack, drained solids: 2.3mg / 100 gms (16%RDA)
  • frozen, chopped or leaf, cooked, boiled, drained: 1.96mg / 100 gms (14%RDA)
Cooking tip: Don’t cook spinach a lot. Just blanching to remove oxalates is enough.

#1 Moringa (Drumstick) Leaves

Moringa is one of the most nutritious plants on earth.
Known as “śigru” and “śobhāñjana” in Ayurveda, this tree is native to the Indian subcontinent and has a variety of benefits.
Moringa is an Ayurvedic superfood and important therapeutic herb.
The whole part of the tree is used, but the leaves (and less commonly available outside of Asia and the Middle East) the fruit pods, are the parts high in iron.
Moringa is said to have 25x more iron than spinach! (8,9)
Comparing Iron Content of Moringa Leaves and Beef
  • 100 grams of beef has only 2 mg of iron
  • while 100 grams of moringa leaves contain 7mg of iron
  • and 100 grams moringa leaf powder has 28 mg of iron. (10)
Amount of iron in moringa leaves:
  1. raw: 4-7mg / 100gm (22-38% DV)
  2. cooked: 2.3mg / 100gm. (13% DV)
Moringa is also high in Vitamin C, which supports the absorption of iron.
Cooking Tip + How to Eat Moringa Leaves: Moringa is better raw. So just garnish washed fresh leaves over your hot dish of food.
Moringa leaves
Fresh leaves are hard to come across if you live outside of sub-tropical warm climates. So you can purchase and use dried leaves or leaf powder and gently mix it into the food after it is served on your plate.
If using dried leaves with stems still intact, it is better to mix the dried moringa into the hot pot of food after turning the flame off. Then serve onto plates.

To learn more about Moringa and it’s impressive feats and uses, check out the full article: "Moringa: One of the Most Nutritious Plants on Earth - Ayurvedic Superfood and Potent Herb"


References

  1. https://www.webmd.com/diet/iron-rich-foods#1
  2. https://www.scu.edu.au/engage/news/latest-news/2015/research-holds-the-key-to-more-native-spinach-on-our-dinner-plates.php
  3. Nutritics Research Edition v4.097 
  4. "Diego Bonetto - Get Ready for Amaranth: The Summer Green" 
  5. Muhammad Shoaib Akhtar , Beenish Israr , Nighat Bhatty & Amanat Ali (2011) Effect of Cooking on Soluble and Insoluble Oxalate Contents in Selected Pakistani Vegetables and Beans, International Journal of Food Properties, 14:1, 241-249 
  6. Shimada, Y (2014). The Effect of Soaking on the Soluble Oxalic Acid Content of Spinach. Chugokugakuen J. Vol 13, pp27-31 
  7. Chai,W. Liebman, M. (2005), Effect of different cooking methods on vegetable oxalate content. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 53, 3027–3030. 
  8. J.L. Rockwood, B.G. Anderson, D.A. Casamatta
    Potential uses of Moringa oleifera and an examination of antibiotic efficacy conferred by M. oleifera seed and leaf extracts using crude extraction techniques available to underserved indigenous populations
    Int. J. Phytothearpy Res., 3 (2013), pp. 61-71
  9. L.J. Fuglie The Moringa Tree: A local solution to malnutrition Church World Service in Senegal (2005)
  10. The Moringa Tree, A local solution to malnutrition? Lowell J. Fuglie B.P. 5338 Dakar, Senegal
  11. European Commission (2015). Nutrition Claims. [ONLINE] Available at: ec.europa.eu [Accessed 28 January 16] /  Nutrient data was provided by USDA SR-21. 
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279618/
  13. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1103341/nutrients

Moringa: One of the Most Nutritious Plants on Earth – Ayurvedic Superfood and Potent Herb

Moringa leaves on a plate
We get excited when an Ayurvedic herb becomes popular in the western marketplace.
And Moringa is probably the hottest Ayurvedic herb or “superfood” in the health scene right now.
Moringa is even spreading beyond natural health modalities into western medicine due to the incredibly high nutrient value of its small green leaves.
But Ayurveda utilises the whole tree for medicinal and culinary use. Known as “śigru” and “śobhāñjana” in Ayurveda, this tree native to the Indian subcontinent has a variety of benefits.

Health Benefits of Moringa

Nutrient Powerhouse

These tiny leaves have enormous benefits.
A variety of essential phytochemicals present in its leaves, pods and seeds enable Moringa to be an effective remedy for malnutrition.
In fact, Moringa is known as “The Miracle Tree” for many reasons, one being it is easily cultivable to provide for malnourished children from third world countries and children deprived of breast milk.(1,2)
Moringa is said to have:
  • 7x more vitamin C than oranges
  • 10x more vitamin A than carrots
  • 17x more calcium than milk
  • 9x more protein than yoghurt
  • 15x more potassium of bananas
  • 25x more iron than spinach (3, 4)
  • high amounts of zinc (5)
Calcium:
(An important mineral for tissue growth & repair)
  • While just under 1 cup (236ml / 8 ounces) of milk or yoghurt can contain 300–400 mg of calcium
  • 236ml / 8 ounces of moringa leaves can provide 1000 mg
  • 236ml / 8 ounces of moringa leaf powder can provide more than 4000 mg of calcium. (19) 
Protein:
Moringa is considered to have the highest protein ratio of any plant so far studied on earth!
Moringa leaves are about 40% protein, having all of the 9 essential amino acids present in various amounts, which makes moringa a complete protein (rare for a plant to have this feat). (19)
Iron:
(Essential for oxygenating our body):
  • 100 grams of beef has only 2 mg of iron
  • while 100 grams of moringa leaves contain 7mg of iron
  • 100 grams of moringa leaf powder has 28 mg of iron. (19)
It has been reported that moringa contains more iron than spinach. (19)
Furthermore, iron needs Vitamin C to be effectively absorbed in the body (the inability to absorb iron is contributing to the iron deficiency epidemic), and since Moringa has high Vitamin C, it is an extra bonus to enhance iron levels!
Moringa leaf
Vitamin C:
While 100 grams of orange juice has only 40mg of Vitamin C, 100 grams of moringa leaves contain more than 200mg of Vitamin C.(19)
Zinc:
A good dietary intake of zinc is essential for the proper growth of sperm cells and is also necessary for the synthesis of DNA and RNA. M. oleifera leaves show around 25.5–31.03 mg of zinc/kg, which is the daily requirement of zinc in the diet. (5)
Moringa also has health-promoting amounts of:
  • Copper - 100 grams of leaves has about 1mg copper. This is the daily allowance for an adult. (19)
  • Manganese - 100 grams of leaves has 5mg manganese, (daily intake is 2-5mg for adults), so has a high amount of manganese. (19)
  • Good fats - Moringa seeds contain 30-42% oil. Even the leaves and seeds contain 1-2% fat. (19) Oleifera is the Latin term for “oil containing.”
  • much more!

Premium Provision for Pregnancy

Moringa is like a boon for pregnant women.
About 6 spoonfuls of moringa leaf powder can meet a pregnant woman's daily iron and calcium requirements(6) (remember that pregnant women require a lot more nutrients than non-pregnant women).
Moringa leaves are best added to the diet of the pregnant woman, such as adding to a soup with other spices.
*CAUTION: The Moringa root & bark prevent pregnancy and have a rough impact on the female reproductive system. But the leaves and flowers are nectar for pregnancy! So potent yet so gentle!
We also greatly advise ingesting the whole herb instead of extracts. 
Moringa Flowers

Breast Milk Booster (Galactagogue)

Moringa is rich in phytosterols (phyto-steroids, structural component of biological membranes of plants) like stigmasterol (anti-inflammatory), sitosterol (metabolic enhancer) and kampesterol which are precursors for hormones required for lactation and reproductive growth.
These compounds increase estrogen production, which in turn stimulates the proliferation of the mammary gland ducts to produce milk. (6)
Note: if you are taking moringa in an intelligent herbal formula, the formula may not increase estrogen levels, but in fact, adapt to if your body needs more or less estrogen.
Moringa was utilised by the ancient Indians, Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. It was known as a “motherly herb” (“Dūrga”), because like a mother, it has the ability to support and generate homeostasis.

Anti-Cancer

Śigru (sanskrit name for Moringa) has low calorific, anti-oxidant rich leaves that with its pungent and bitter taste (katu and tikta rasa), heating potency (usna vīrya) and light, sharp and drying qualities (laghu, tiksna and rukṣa guna), it reduces kapha, tumours(18) and excess fat tissue(12) which can contribute to cancer.
There is strong evidence to suggest that moringa helps fight cancer directly.
A 2015 Study showed how Moringa leaves, bark and seeds increased the number of apoptotic cancer cells (i.e. cancer cells which have regained their ability to self-destruct like healthy cells) in both breast and colon cancer.(17)
Quercetin, found in moringa, is a powerful antioxidant that has been specifically shown to protect against cancer.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Cell Biochemistry found that even low doses of quercetin had the ability to inhibit cancer cell progression.(13)
Moringa leaf is such a powerful antioxidant, that the leaf extract can be used to preserve meat!(15)
Moringa helps prevent the risk of reproductive cancer for menopausal women.
One 2014 investigation published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology found that when menopausal women took 1.5 teaspoons of moringa leaf powder every day for three months, antioxidant levels increased significantly.(14)
Menopausal women are at higher risk of reproductive cancer(15) partly due to a significant drop in estrogen and antioxidant levels.
Moringa contains anti-cancerous agents like glucosinolates (sulfur- and nitrogen-containing compound), isothiocyanates (anti-inflammatory agent that also works to reverse carcinogenic epigenetic landscapes), glycoside (glucose entity) compounds and glycerol-1-9-octadecanoate.(7, 9)
The paste of moringa leaves influences the carcinogen detoxifying glutathione-s-transferase (GST). It increased GST activity by more than 78% in the stomach, liver and oesophagus and show protective activity against carcinogenesis.(8)
Another study in Israel showed Moringa in conjunction with radiation therapy significantly decreased pancreatic cancer cell survival, metastasis and tumour growth.(18)

Anti-Inflammatory

The anti-inflammatory effects (sophahara) of Moringa, AKA “The Wonder Tree”, helps in many diseases including cancer and acute inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and bronchitis. (10)
The heating energy and light, dry and sharp qualities of śigru helps reduce ulcers (vraṇahara), abscess, and swelling (12) and reduces oedema (śvayathy).
The aqueous and ethanol extract of the stem bark showed significant reduction in oedema. (11)

Aphrodisiac

The drumstick vegetable is known as vajikarana (aphrodisiac) in Ayurveda. The seeds also increase the reproductive tissue (śukra vardhaka). Sukrala karma means “builds reproductive fluids.(12)

Other Benefits and Actions (Karmas) of Śigru:

  • Eye health - this is one of the main benefits of moringa (Chakshushya) (12)
  • Enhances energy levels.
  • Boosts immunity.
  • Antipyretic (prevent or reduce fever)
  • Anti-epileptic (to treat epilepsy)
Moringa Drumstick Fruit
  • Anti-spasmodic
  • Anti-hypertensive
  • Anti-diabetic and reduces fat tissue (Medohara) (12)
  • Krimihara - reduces parasite (12)
  • Diuretic
  • Cholesterol balancing
  • Hepatoprotective - prevents damage to the liver
  • Antibacterial
  • Anti-fungal.
  • Works at the level of the bone marrow, which makes it an invaluable tool in both the prevention and treatment of autoimmune diseases and cancer (20)
  • Great for the health of the urinary tract. Intake of the paste of the root of śobhāñjana along with cold water is useful in curing aśmarī (calculus) and śarkarā (gravels) in the urinary tract. (22)
  • Rasāyana - Has the ability to spread the essence of the biology (“rasa”) which enhances longevity.
  • Kapha-vatahara - reduces Kapha and Vata doṣa (12)
  • Dīpana - enkindles the digestive fire (12)
  • Rochana - increases appetite (12)
  • Hṛdaya - promote heart health (12)
  • Viṣahara - reduces poison and toxicity in the body. (12)

Water Purification

Powdered seeds of moringa flocculates contaminants and purifies water.

How to Consume Moringa?

Leaves

You can eat the fresh leaves if you have access to the tree. Just wash them well and add to your food.
Unlike most leafy greens, don’t cook moringa leaves as you will lose a lot of the nutrients. I like to mix them in with an already cooked hot dish to warm them up.
Dried leaves can also be found. Same way to add to food as fresh leaves.
Leaf powder is the third stage in the leaf preservation process. This is easily available. Same way to add to food as fresh leaves, just use less as it is concentrated.
Leaves are great from pregnancy, nutrient body as well many of the other benefits stated above.
Leaves are also great to feed cows.
Adding a lot leaves to soup along with turmeric is a wonderful tasty medicinal dish.
Moringa powder

Pod / Drumstick Vegetable

The pod / fruit is actually the main medicinal part used. This is what is very effective for eye health and eye disorders plus most of the benefits of moringa.
This is the common vegetable that is used in Indian dishes like Sambar. Just suck out the flesh from the fibrous skin. 
Moringa Pods inside the fruit

Seeds

The seeds are great aphrodisiacs. They help purify water and the fluids in the human body & are known as sveta marica or madhuśigru in Ayurveda.

Herbal Formulations with Moringa:

It is always beneficial to combine therapeutic herbs into an intelligent formula for a balanced and effective therapeutic dose.
Anand Sid Yog (“Nutritious Immune Boosting Bliss”)
This rasāyana (longevity elixir) is high in Vitamin C with Amālakī as the main ingredient. The high Vitamin C boosts the iron offerings from Moringa. Plus there are so many other benefits of this superior formula.
Varanadi Kashayam
A classical Ayurvedic decoction that is great to reduce fat tissue, kapha, growths like cysts, fibroids and tumours and help with low thyroid (hypothyroidism).
Murivenna Oil
A classical Ayurvedic medicated oil formula that is for the musculoskeletal structure like fractures and sprains. Also helpful in healing wounds. (21)

Ayurvedic Properties / Energetics of Śigru

Rasa (taste): Katu (Pungent), Tikta (Bitter)
Virya (potency): Uṣṇa (Hot)
Vipaka (post-digestive effect): Katu (Pungent)
Guna (qualities): Laghu (Light), Rūkṣa (Dry) Tīkṣṇa (Sharp)
(12)

Names for Moringa Oleifera

Sanskrit Synonyms for Śigru:
  • śobhāñjana = “Glorious for the eyes“. Śobha =“glory”. Añjana = “collyrium.”
  • tīkṣṇagañdha = “sharp smell“
  • akṣīva - akṣī = “eye.”
  • mocaka - mocana = “releases.” Which releases. Moringa releases one from disease and low energy.
Botanical name: Moringa Oleifera
  • English names:
    • Drumstick tree (the long pods used a vegetable)
    • Horse radish tree (the roots may be used to make a spice resembling horseradish)
    • Wonder tree
    • Divine tree
    • Miracle tree
  • Hindi: Sahjan
  • Malayalam: Muringa
  • Tamil: Murunga
According to Bhavamira there are 3 varieties of śigru:
  1. Black
  2. White (Sveta)
  3. Red (Rakta) flowers. (12)
Parts used: Root bark, stem bark, leaf, fruit, flower and seed.
Note, the Moringaceae family contains 14 species of Moringa trees.
Dylan Smith holding a Moringa branch

References

  1. T. Mutiara Titi, E.S.W. Estiasih - Effect lactagogue moringa leaves (Moringa oleifera Lam) powder in rats - J. Basic Appl. Sci. Res., 3 (2013), pp. 430-4343
  2. J.N. Kasolo, G.S. Bimenya, L. Ojok, J. Ochieng, J.W. Ogwal-okeng
    Phytochemicals and uses of Moringa oleifera leaves in Ugandan rural communities
    J. Med. Plants Res., 4 (2010), pp. 753-757
  3. J.L. Rockwood, B.G. Anderson, D.A. Casamatta
    Potential uses of Moringa oleifera and an examination of antibiotic efficacy conferred by M. oleifera seed and leaf extracts using crude extraction techniques available to underserved indigenous populations Int. J. Phytothearpy Res., 3 (2013), pp. 61-71
  4. L.J. Fuglie The Moringa Tree: A local solution to malnutrition Church World Service in Senegal (2005)
  5. J.T. Barminas, M. Charles, D. Emmanuel
    Mineral composition of non-conventional leafy vegetables
    Plant Foods Hum. Nutr., 53 (1998), pp. 29-36
  6. Moringa oleifera: A review on nutritive importance and its medicinal application 
  7. L. Berkovich, G. Earon, I. Ron, A. Rimmon, A. Vexler, S. Lev-Ari
    Moringa oleifera aqueous leaf extract down-regulates nuclear factor-kappaB and increases cytotoxic effect of chemotherapy in pancreatic cancer cells
    BMC Complement. Altern. Med., 13 (2013), pp. 212-219
  8. Mutt res.1999 apr 6;440(2):181-8.
  9. Oduro, W.O. Ellis, D. Owusu - Nutritional potential of two leafy vegetables: Moringa oleifera and Ipomoea batatas leaves - Sci. Res. Essays, 3 (2008), pp. 57-60
  10. Contribution to the study of the anti-inflammatory activity of Moringa oleifera (moringaceae)
  11. Volume at a dose of 300 mg/kg body weight. J.chem. pharm. res., 2010, 2(3):179-181.
  12. Bhavaprakash
  13. Effects of low dose quercetin: Cancer cell-specific inhibition of cell cycle progression
  14. Effect of supplementation of drumstick (Moringa oleifera) and amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor) leaves powder on antioxidant profile and oxidative status among postmenopausal women
  15. How does menopause affect cancer risk?
  16. Effect of Moringa oleifera leaf extract on the physicochemical properties of modified atmosphere packaged raw beef
  17. Moringa oleifera as an Anti-Cancer Agent against Breast and Colorectal Cancer Cell Lines
  18. Combined Effect of Moringa oleifera and Ionizing Radiation on Survival and Metastatic Activity of Pancreatic Cancer Cells 
  19. The Moringa Tree, A local solution to malnutrition? Lowell J. Fuglie B.P. 5338 Dakar, Senegal
  20. Healing the Thyroid with Ayurveda, Dr. Marianne Teitelbaum 
  21. Yogarantham.
  22. Caraka samhita, cikitsāsthāna, ch 26, 59-68