Salad greens come in a wide variety of flavors, colors, and textures. The greens you choose will form the foundation of your salad. Therefore, selecting the right salad greens for your meal is one of the most important lessons of Salad School. You can choose a simple salad based on a single green, like a tender, crisp, and nutty oak leaf lettuce. Or you can pair two contrasting flavors, such as the sweet and bitter of the classic spinach and arugula salad.

Salad mixes are widely available, and offer a quick way to get a variety of colors, flavors, and textures within a salad. Indeed, we offer several mixes in our online store. But I usually prefer to make my own mix right when I’m building the salad. I’ll think of the flavor, color, and texture any featured ingredient I’m using in the salad. Or, if it is a side salad, appetizer, or one course in a formal meal, I consider the other dishes it will be served with. Choose greens that either complement or contrast with the other foods being served with them, rather than using nondescript, forgettable greens.

Salad greens come in a dizzying variety. But I generally like to group them into seven families:

  1. Lettuces
  2. Mild greens
  3. Bitter greens
  4. Spicy greens
  5. Microgreens
  6. Traditional mixes of greens
  7. Herbs and edible flowers

Check back frequently for added detail about the different types of salad greens as the growing season progresses!


Bowl of Flashy Green Butteroak Lettuce

The largest and most popular categories of salad greens are lettuces and mild greens. Many people consider lettuces and mild greens together, and they are largely used in the same ways. However, lettuce is so popular, and comes in such a wide variety of flavors, shapes, sizes, and colors that it deserves its own category.

Mild Greens

Mild greens are some of our favorites. They tend to be either fairly sweet, like spinach, or mild baby versions of spicy greens, which tend to be mild when young.

Bitter Greens

Many of the bitter greens are also popular as cooked greens, whether braised, steamed, grilled, or sauteed. Some people love bitter greens. We have some (single) customers who will order as much as eight ounces of arugula ever week! Others find bitter flavors off-putting in large amounts. But even those who do not like bitter find small amounts of bitter greens mixed into their salads a bonus. Even small quantities of bitter stimulate salivation, improving both our ability to taste and digestion.

Many bitter greens are also spicy, and can be found in both families.

Spicy Greens

Spicy greens have distinct flavors, often peppery or cabbage-y. These under-sung heroes of salad are sadly underrepresented in the grocery store, but can elevate a salad in unexpected and exciting ways. Some of the spicy greens, such as mizuna, are mild and mouthwatering. Others, like many of the mustards, are very assertive, certain to wake up those expecting “another boring salad.”

Many spicy greens are also bitter, and can be found in both families.


Several different microgreens, including micro radishes, micro leeks, pea shoots, micro buckwheat, micro amaranth, sunflower shoots, micro cilantro, micro swiss chard, micro kale, micro borage
Microgreens, clockwise from top: micro radish, micro leeks, pea shoots, micro buckwheat, micro amaranth, sunflower shoots, micro cilantro, micro Swiss chard, micro kale. Micro borage in center.

Microgreens are very young seedlings, most harvested before they grow any true leaves. They are extremely nutrient-dense. For example, micro-kale has been tested to have 40 times the nutrient density of mature kale! They also come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. Some have flavors you could not otherwise get in a leafy green – micro borage tastes similar to cucumber, and shungiku microgreens taste something like carrot.

While microgreens have long been a favorite of chefs at high-end restaurants, they have only recently come down in price to something reasonable for use at home. Most microgreens are, well, micro. They are great in a small side salad of all microgreens, or as an accent on a salad made up mostly of other greens. However, some of the most popular – especially sunflower shoots, pea shoots, radish micgrogreens, and borage microgreens, are substantial enough to form the basis of a hearty dinner salad.

TypeDescriptionCommon Uses
Sunflower Shoots (aka Sunshoots)Crunchy, nutty flavor and spinach-like texture.

Medium green leaves, stems light brown or maroon fading to light green. Avoid any true leaves – there should only be two cotyledon leaves. Larger than most microgreens.
Foundation for microgreens salads.
Accent in traditional salads.
Wraps, sandwiches, smoothies.
Pea ShootsVery sweet flavor, much like a sugar snap pea, but more intense.

Light green shoot with deeper green leaves. Different varieties have more or fewer tendrils. Larger than most microgreens.
Foundation for microgreens salads.
Accent in traditional salads.
Wraps, sandwiches, smoothies.
Micro RadishPeppery flavor similar to familiar radishes.

Different varieties have different stem and leaf colors. Stems may be white, red, or purple. Leaves green, red, or purple. Larger than most microgreens.
Foundation for microgreens salads.
Accent in traditional salads.
Wraps, sandwiches, smoothies.

Great on burgers, brats, and other rich meaty sandwiches.
Micro KaleSweeter, bolder kale flavor. Tested to be 40x more nutrient dense than mature kale.

Deep green with white stems
Microgreens salads.
Accent in traditional salads.
Micro BuckwheatFresh, crisp flavored leaves with a tangy, citrusy stem.

Long, squiggly stems, brownish-red, topped with flat leaves that are green on top, pale white to tan on bottom

Note: buckwheat microgreens are very nutrient dense and healthy, they do contain fagopyrin, which can cause phototoxicity if consumed in large quantities. But, that would take a lot of microgreens…
Accent in traditional salads.
Micro LeeksIntriguing onion/leek flavor, with appealingly crunchy seeds usually still attached.

Narrow green blades, often fading to white or yellow at tips, with small black seeds often attached
Accent in microgreens salads.
(keeping Chad happy when it’s slow at market)
Micro AmaranthA controversial flavor. Some can barely taste it. Others find it irresistible. I think it may be genetic, like tasting extreme bitter in cole crops. I’m in the barely taste it group, but those who love it describe the flavor a similar to beets and spinach.

Extremely tiny, striking fuchsia color. One disappears, but in a pinch will draw people from across the room.
Accent in microgreens salads.
Micro BorageStrikingly similar to cucumber. A great way to get the flavor of cucumber without the added water.

Looks like tiny, fuzzy, green bunny ears.
Favorite in smoothies.
Accent in traditional salads.
Microgreens salads.
Micro Swiss ChardSweet, earthy, spinachy flavor

Striking iridescent red stems with deep green leaves. One of the most beautiful foods around!
Microgreens salads.
Accent in traditional salads.
Wraps and Sandwiches.
Micro ArugulaSharp, bitter, nutty, spicy flavor.

Tiny and green
Microgreens salads.

Traditional greens mixes

There are a number of greens mixes available. Some of them have become ubiquitous and overused. “Spring Mix,” for example, has become so commonplace that it is not even noticed. And it has lost all sense of its own name. No longer a baby mesclun mix made up of a wide variety of baby lettuces, chicories, mustards, maybe some spinach carefully selected to highlight the new growth of spring, it has become an indeterminate mix of whatever the produce wholesaler has excess of, regardless of season. While it does provide a quick and easy, somewhat attractive, instant salad option, it also “dumbs down” the salad. Everything ends up looking and tasting the same, with no character of its own. (Granted, I don’t hate it as much as Rebecca Orchant does. But it is rather devoid of character.)

There are a variety of greens mixes that have stood the test of time, that are worth considering for your salad adventures. I’ll list both “industry standard” mixes, as well as some of the mixes we sell in our online store and at farmers’ markets.

Herbs and Edible Flowers

Finally, some true excitement for your salad: herbs and edible flowers.

Herbs are generally used in relatively small amounts to add flavor to foods. They are usually used the same way in salads, in small quantities to seriously boost the flavor profile of the dish. However, it is worth experimenting with herbs, particularly more mild ones such as parsley, tarragon, basil, and arugula, as the foundation of a green salad. You generally want to stick to herbs that have softer, more tender textures. Woodier herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano are better reserved for use in a dressing or to flavor a cooked salad.

Edible flowers are a great way to transform a humdrum salad into something truly extraordinary. Some flowers have a very delicate flavor and are eaten whole. Others are pungent, and you may eat a few petals. It is critical that you choose flowers that were intended for human consumption: not all flowers are edible (some are poisonous), and many intended for decorative use are treated with toxic chemicals. Edible flowers typically have a very short shelf life and high cost, so they are often best used when the opportunity arises, or should be ordered in advance to be delivered right before you use them for an important meal or event.