Spinach

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Spinach originated in Persia, and was introduced to India and through Nepal to China. A few centuries later, the Saracens introduced it to Europe. Since then it has made its way into countless cultures and cuisines.

The American cartoon Popeye the Sailor Man – first aired in January 1929 – played a significant role in popularising the vegetable among its viewers in the USA and across the globe. Always getting into fights, the protagonist Popeye would pop open his ever-handy can of spinach which instantly gave him his infamous super strength.

Not just that, it was also among the first food items to be commercially marketed as a frozen food back in the early 1930s, giving rise to the frozen food industry.

This versatile vegetable is easy and quick to grow; healthy and delicious to eat.

Benefits

“Superfoods” are food items that have many different nutrients in high concentrations and hence provide countless health benefits. Spinach provides Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, Potassium; vitamins A, C and K; fibre, antioxidants, folate, nitrates and carotenoids. Consuming spinach has benefits for upkeep and healing of heart, bones, skin, eyes and women’s reproductive health. It is also a good source of energy.

Things to know

There are a few things you’d like to know with respect to planning your garden and looking after the plant.

Spinach is a fast low-growing annual that one can start harvesting periodically, once it reaches 4-6 inches in height. Its leaves are usually medium to dark green in colour and smooth to touch. The plant grows tiny yellow green flowers just before seeding. Germination of spinach seeds takes about 10-14 days and should be done while the weather is cool.

As the roots of this plant grow neither too firm nor deep, a 10-12 inch container with holes for drainage works beautifully. Use loamy, well draining soil kept moist for the plant.

The plant requires just 3-4 hours of sunlight regularly. Strong afternoon sun and hot weather can cause the leaves to turn bitter though this can be mitigated with soil moisture and air flow around the plant. Mulch if necessary.

Nitrogen supplements, though not necessary, allow the plant to grow healthier dense leaves.

Harvesting

There are two methods by which to harvest spinach. You may harvest the whole plant or cut only the outer-older leaves, allowing the younger leaves within to continue growing for a later harvest.

While it helps to use gardening shears to cut outer leaves of the plant, when harvesting the whole plant, we can alternatively use our hands.

Care

Like many other plants, pruning is an important part of plant care for spinach as well. If you decide to harvest its leaves throughout the growing season, that is essentially the required level of pruning.

Aphids, blue mold and some other fungal diseases are common for spinach plants. It is better to uproot a diseased or damaged plant to prevent it from affecting others around it.

Consumption and storage

Spinach can be stored in different forms, effecting its shelf-life, permutations for use and taste.

Fresh/raw spinach leaves can be stored in damp paper towels or airtight containers and are good for about a week or two. The leaves retain some of the crunch and the smell is mild. Fresh spinach stored for more than a few days loses much of its nutritional value.

Possible preparations include making salads, smoothies or boiling/cooking it.

For longer storage, spinach can be canned, or blanched or cooked and frozen. Frozen spinach leaves are good for use for up to 6 months from the time of harvest. Thawing and then cooking makes the process a little more time-consuming.

Spinach can also be dehydrated to be stored as spinach flakes or powder. Once powdered, it can be used for years to come and can be added as an herb to just about anything being prepared, adding colour and nutrients to all.