(English version, for the dutch version see here)
I do have some self-grown tree spinach seed packs left, and I’m willing to trade them for other seed, or you can come get them in Antwerp and buy me a beer for it in a local pub, or I send them and you pay back the cost of shipping!! Contact me at Brambonius [at] gmail [dot] com
Tree Spinach (Chenopodium giganteum ‘magentaspreen’) is one of the easiest plants found in the category of ‘unusual vegetables’, and one that can be satisfying to grow without much problems. The name already suggest that the plant is related to spinach, and can be eaten as such, but unlike you might think it isn’t a tree at all. It is just an annual herb, though one that can grow up to about 3 meter in one summer when the circumstances are right.
Tree spinach is just one name on the list of goosefoot-like plants that can be eaten as a vegetable, a list which also contains names like real spinach (Spinacia oleracea), strawberry blite(Chenopodium capitatum) ,orache (Atriplex hortensis) and the beautifully named plant called good king henry(Chenopodium bonus-henricus). It also is closely related to Quinoa (C. Quinoa) of which the seeds are used but which has also edible leaves. Even closer is it to the white goosefoot or fat hen (C. Album), which is one of the most common weeds on the planet, and also an edible green that can be used in the same way.,. The tree spinach is more robust than his relatives, and also more aesthetically interesting: the young tops are powdered with fluorescent violet, which makes the plant very decorative in both the garden and in a salad. The color will disappear when cooked though.
The use is quite simple: the young leaves and growing tops are edible when cooked or used raw in a salad, and the older leaves can be used cooked. Young flowering tops should be edible also, but I don’t have much experience with them. So as a rule of thumb you can use the tree spinach for everything you’d use the real spinach for, and for any kind of salad
The seed can be used also, but it’s quite hard to collect in a pure form. The seeds are much smaller than those of quinoa, and more like those of fat hen, a plant which isn’t used as a grain plant anymore although in prehistoric times it has been used that way here in Europe. Since the plant does produce plenty of seeds it’s probably something to experiment with for more adventurous gardeners….
Growing tree spinach:
Tree spinach is extremely simple to sow, and survives on most soils (in a temperate climate) but with the right amount of water and sun it’s grown really fast. You can seed them inside in little pots and later plant the seedlings out, or you can sow them outside on the spot, like you want. The only rule is to not cover the seeds with sand, because they need light to germinate. It’s important to remember that the plants grow te be real big though, so don’t plant them too close to each other. When the plants are 20 cm ofr so you can start using the young leaves and tops, which will grow back. The plant can be harvested until it starts to blossom and form seeds after the summer.
Tree spinach is an annual plant, but if makes plenty of seeds that are easy to collect. Just don’t let too many plants make seeds and spread them, the plant is self-sowing and forms a seed bank, out of which new seedlings will appear whenever the seeds come to the light…
!!Warning: Like other leafy vegetables including real spinach you have to watch out for nitrates. If the plant is grown somewhere where there’s too much nitrogen in the ground (chemical fertilisers!!) the leaves can contain a lot of nitrates, so it’s better then to boil the leaves for a short time and throw the boiling water away before using them in your recipe!