The use of greens as a general term for the green parts of a plant (now obsolete) dates from the seventeenth century, but its application to otherwise unspecified leafy vegetables is an eighteenth-century development (‘fresh provisions … such as roots, greens, hogs, and fowls,’ Daniel Defoe, A New Voyage Round the World, 1725). A number of plants have hidden behind the name over the centuries. In southern England, at any rate, it has traditionally been applied to various manifestations of the cabbage family—the upper leaves of the Brussels sprout (Brussel tops) and young cabbages which have failed to form a heart (spring greens)—but there are many regional variations, and in America the term usually refers to such items as spinach and beet leaves. Whatever the word stands for, however, greens have the reputation of being good for you but unpalatable, of being par excellence the foodstuff with which mothers cajole and threaten their offspring: ‘If you don't eat up your greens, you won't get any pudding!’ There are signs of rehabilitation, though: with the vastly increasing range of leafy salad vegetables over the past couple of decades, greens is being more and more pressed into service as a cover term for them.
Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.