From contributor Sara Jane Crane–Kale, one of the most powerful superfoods on the planet, has been making a big appearance in donations to our area’s food kitchens and pantries.

Area farmers have been very generous in providing fields of greens for gleaning this Spring. After the Harvest and its volunteers have succeeded in gleaning 583 pounds of kale and picking up 391 pounds of already harvested kale in 2016, already topping the 941 pounds delivered last year .

After the Harvest’s tagline, “Healthy food for hungry people” says is all when it comes to kale.  Kale is simply loaded with all sorts of beneficial compounds with powerful medicinal properties. Some of the health benefits supported by scientific research include the ability to lower cholesterol (which may reduce the risk of heart disease), prevent cancer (bladder, breast, colon, ovary and prostate), provide support for the body’s detoxification system, and serve as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory tool to reduce chronic inflammation.

There are many different types of kale. The leaves can be green or purple in color, and have either a smooth or curly shape. The most common type of kale is called curly kale or Scots kale, which has green and curly leaves and a hard, fibrous stem.

Given the incredibly low calorie content, kale is among the most nutrient dense foods in existence. Eating more kale is a great way to dramatically increase the total nutrient content of your diet. Dieticians recommend that we include kale as part of our diet at least 2-3 times per week.

If you receive a bundle (or several) of kale and wonder what on earth you are going to do with it, take heart. Below you will find some quick instructions for storing and cooking your superfood kale.

Try to use the fresh leaves of kale immediately for maximum nutritional benefit. If you cannot use them right away, you can store them in your fridge for up to 3 weeks and in your freezer for up to 10 months. Store in a Ziploc bag or sealed container in the refrigerator but do not wash until ready for use. Kale is past it’s prime when leaves become wilted or faded (they will look yellow).

To freeze: 1) Wash kale thoroughly and cut off woody steams. 2) Blanch (plunge into boiling water) for two minutes and chill quickly in cold water. 3) Drain off excess moisture, package in airtight container or freezer bags and freeze immediately.

There are some really quick ways to use Kale in your weekly menus. One of the easiest and most nutritional ways is to “healthy steam” kale for 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt, pepper, hot sauce and a squeeze of lemon to really give it some zing.

A popular snack is kale chips, where you drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on your kale, add some salt and then bake in an oven until dry. This tastes absolutely delicious and is a great, crunchy and super healthy snack.

It is super easy to throw some chopped kale into your smoothies, soups, stews and stir-fry dishes.

If you’d like some slightly more creative recipes for your kale, you might try these Mexican-Style Sautéed Greens , or Black Bean and Kale Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce  or even Martha Stewart’s own recipe for Japanese Miso Soup with Tofu and Kale.

So dig in, take heart, and enjoy this season’s bounty of one of nature’s most nutrient rich superfoods. You’ll be feeling the benefits soon!