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Spinach like trees

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In the summer of 2010, not long after purchasing our house in Oxford, I came across an intriguing plant called Chenopodium giganteum (also known as Tree Spinach or Magenta Spreen). I can’t recall how I heard of it but I found a source of seed somewhere and, by early the following summer, I was trying my first harvest.

Chenopodium giganteum
Chenopodium giganteum

The photo above was taken a week or so later. It is a striking plant, which can grow to about 6-8′ tall on a striped central stem. The heart of leaf clusters is decorated with a bright purple dust, which comes off during cooking but makes them unmistakable even when the seedlings are small.

Candidly, it isn’t my favourite leafy green but it is very easy to grow. You can tell that because there are some years when I haven’t even bothered to pick any and yet, if you visited my allotment, it is the most prolific crop up there at the moment, from a few volunteer seedlings that I transplanted from my back garden last year. It grows like a weed but is easy to identify and remove where you don’t want it (today’s contribution to a church lunch mainly came from one that I decided to take out of my polytunnel). It manages to be both beautiful and edible – not such a star on the plate as in the garden but a good green to back up things up. Equally importantly, it is hardly touched by pests and diseases in the UK climates I have tried it (unlike regular spinach or many other greens).

Looking back down the years, that was a good bit of research from 13-year younger me, wherever it was I discovered this fascinating food crop.

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