Strawberry Spinach

If you think that strawberry spinach (Chenopodium capitatum) is going to be a vegetable your kids will love, you are probably in for a disappointment. The name is somewhat unfortunate as it really has no connection to strawberries at all (unless you include the rather tenuous one that it produces red berries). Another name for it is Beetberry, which is somewhat more logical as it’s in the beet family and produces berries. It’s also known as Strawberry Blite, Strawberry Goosefoot, and Indian Ink.

When approaching this plant it’s best to ignore the strawberry and concentrate on the spinach, as the young leaves are a good substitute for that plant (it is actually a relative), either cooked or raw. You can eat the sweetish berries in salads, but I find they add more visual appeal than taste. Native Americans used them to dye skin, clothes and basket material and apparently they can also be used as red food coloring, though I haven’t tried this. Like spinach it contains oxalic acid and so should be eaten in moderation, or it can interfere with the absorption of calcium.

Strawberry spinach is native to North America and grows wild across all of the northern part of the continent. The cultivated plant is essentially the same as the wild one and so needs little care (it often self-sows and grows itself). It is more heat tolerant than spinach, but it is an annual and will eventually bolt. Unlike with spinach this isn’t a bad thing, as it then produces the edible red berries.

This plant has been cultivated at various times, but has never been very widely grown. It’s now enjoying something of a resurgence, as it is easy to grow and quite ornamental when in full growth (but becomes less so when you’re eating it). It grows best in moist soil with full sun and reaches a height of 1 to 3 feet. In mild winter areas you will get a longer harvest season by planting it in fall — it will grow right through the winter. If you try it be aware that some people complain that it self-sows too freely and becomes a serious pest.