"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Strawberry Spinach


One of the more interesting plants we grow, or should I say, grows itself is strawberry spinach, also called strawberry blite, beet berry, Indian paint, and a number of other names. The plant is very cold hardy but will thrive in the hottest weather. With a long taproot it can get by on very little water, of course the more water it gets the larger the fruit.


Our strawberry spinach (Chenopodium capitatum) grows two-three feet in both height and width. The serrated triangular leaves are a great substitute for spinach when young but become somewhat tough as they mature. The mature plants develop brilliant red thimble sized berries that when really ripe taste, to me, just like Malt-O-Meal cereal... kind of sweet and nutty. How great is that, not only do you get to eat the greens but little fruit as well. Technically, I think the berry is considered a flower, I'm not really sure.


This plant can also be used to create pink and red dye by simmering the berries in water until the desired color is achieved, though I have never tried this. The seeds germinate rather sporadically but if allowed to reseed, and we allow it, they will come up on their own all over the garden. I have introduced this plant to the the wooded areas of our property and it seems to be taking hold, another great "permaculture" plant for the food forest.

I have no doubt that strawberry spinach has many healthy attributes, but do not know what they might be. I have read that they are possibly high in vitamin A and C. There seems to be very little information regarding this lesser known member of the goosefoot family. As always, I love plants that only need be planted once and then simply tended for many years thereafter.

29 comments:

Stefaneener said...

Hey! That was a plant I was considering for next year. Good to see someone is enjoying it now.

Scarecrow said...

Hi Mr H
This link has some info on this plant and a bit of a caution too.
It's a pitty the fruit doesn't taste more like strawberries though but it grows well in our heat over here.

Accidental Huswife said...

I hesitate to hope, but I've got to find out if it will grow in our area!

el said...

Okay, add that one to my seed-trade list because it didn't grow for me at all (2 years trying) and I blame the lame seed company for sending me bum seeds as opposed to my ever-magnificent gardening skillz. It's sure a pretty plant when fruiting!

Frugilegus said...

I'm so excited to see these pictures! I planted some seeds recently because spinach and strawberries on one plant sounded intriguing. Now I know what to expect (or at least, what to hope for). My seeds were called "strawbini".

Mr. H said...

Stefaneener,

You have got to try this strange little plant, for the point of interest alone. It's different, that's for sure.

Mr. H said...

Scarecrow,

Thanks for the information, we mostly like them for the little berries. I think that they are pretty safe as long as they are included as an addition to an occasional salad and not the main course.I have found that if you wait until they are very ripe, the flavor is much improved, especially the ones growing in the full sun.

Mr. H said...

Accidental Huswife,

I bet they would do really well in Texas, they seem to thrive in the heat and need very little water once established. It would definitely be worth a try.

Mr. H said...

El,

They do seem to germinate very sporadically and seem to self seed much better on their own. Of course, I also have very little confidence in the seed from certain seed companies. Surly it's not your ever-magnificent gardening skillz.:)

I will happily add it to your seed list.

Mr. H said...

Frugilegus,

They are worth growing for the looks alone. I think you will really enjoy them. Remember, they taste best when fall off the vine ripe. I hope they do well for you. Keep them well watered for a fat berry.

Silke said...

It seems I am the only one (well, Daniel, too) who has never heard of this plant. It is so interesting looking! And to be able to eat the greens and the fruit is great! I'll have to find out more about it... :) Silke

Mr. H said...

Silke,

Erdbeerspinat was grown by German monks over 400 years ago. It is possible that this plant is a native of Germany? Hard to say for sure.

SuburbanGardener said...

I don't remember ever seeing this. Great info. Sounds like a Plan B for times when strawberries don't grow right. Seems much hardier.
SG

Silke said...

Wouldn't you know it, I'm learning something new about my country. Yes, seems like Erdbeerspinat was cultivated until about the mid 19th century. I've checked on the German Wikipedia and it is thought that the plant originated in southern Europe or the Middle East. I'll have to ask my family if they've heard of it! A fascinating plant! :) Silke

howlingduckranch said...

Nice to hear about this plant. I have passed it over in the seed store because I'd not heard any reports about it. thanks for the info!

Mr. H said...

SuburbanGardener,

They are very hardy but can't come close to replacing a real strawberry as far as flavor goes. They actually look more like a little mulberry.

Mr. H said...

Silke,

That is very interesting. Let me know if you find out anything else. You can see why German vegetable gardens interest me, so very much in common. I wonder how much of the American population is of German decent... I bet it is a large percentage

Mr. H said...

HDR,

It is supposed to grow wild in parts of Canada. So I would imagine that it is a plant that could handle your slightly harsher climate. If you ever grow some I would be curious to know how it does.

LynnS said...

Loved this post -- there isn't enough info on this plant. Really appreciated all of the photos. As always, your posts are never disappointing.

I've been on a search to locate seeds or starts and have had no luck. Any guidance where I might go? I'm in VA, Zone 6B/7A with a bunch of little ecosystems on our property.
Thanks,
Lynn
http://woodridge.wordpress.com

Mr. H said...

Hello Lynn,

If you want to get some seeds for this season try:

http://www.wildgardenseed.com/index.php

or

http://www.bountifulgardens.org/

I have had luck getting various seeds from both companies in the past.

If you like, I could send a sample your way this fall when my seeds are harvested and dried. Let me know.:)

I was just looking at your blog, very nice. I am going to go read about how you process peas right now. Thanks for visiting.

Mike

Lynn said...

Mike, Okay, I have checked out both sites and will order some seed. Thanks so much for the referral. And for stopping by my blog. Read away!
Til next time....

Troy said...

I have grown the strawbini this year from 2 different sources, one from a friend, and the other from a package. One plant came out with red fruit, one with orange fruit, I am in Ontario and we have received a crazy amount of rain, the berries have limited small black spots, I think from the cool wet temperatures and the rail fall. I have kept a photo diary of the plant the whole way up until now, the date now being August 19th, 2009. I am wondering when these little fruit should be ready? How do I harvest the seed? The fruit is not sweet yet, how long do I let them go for?

Anonymous said...

My email is troyisaac@shaw.ca, any info you have would be great.

Annie Rose said...

Thank your for an excellent blog on this plant. Just picked up the seeds this week was wondering whether to plant a trial plant or more. Looks like a most useful plant, so thanks to your article, I'll do the row thing.

Annie Rose

Mr. H. said...

Annie Rose - I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I have noticed that if these plants are spaced apart from each other and given enough water that they will become quite large and bush like. Now they don't need lots of water to thrive and survive but you will get a bigger plant and berries if they do. You might want to try just a couple plants to see if you like them, but keep in mind that they do not have the highest germination rate so you may wish to plant a bunch and then thin them out. Hope you like them.:)

chris said...

I was given a tiny pot of this by a friend who didn't know what it was and i've got it in a greenhouse and it's growing really well and i noticed these small red sort of flowers coming and am now looking forward to trying them and will plant it outside to see if it'll survive here,i live near lands end so it is very windy!!

Mr. H. said...

Chris - I think you will find it to be a most hardy plant and one that easily reproduces if allowed to form seeds. They do not really like to be potted or transplanted so be gentle when transplanting. Good luck with your strawberry spinach plant...let me know how it does.:)

Anonymous said...

i hate them i growed em and they didn meet my expectations

Anonymous said...

I planted some five years ago (I'm in hardy zone 2) and the first year the plants grew only about 6 inches tall. But they did flower and fruit and so I've been getting large plants self-sowing every year. They crop up between rows of other plants, suppressing weeds and producing great greens and fruit without impeding the neighbouring crops.

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