Chenopodium giganteum, known as Mexican Tree Spinach is the latest ‘new’ arrival on the veg-growing scene. Of course it is only really new if you happen not to be from Mexico, where it’s been grown for hundreds of years, or indeed India, where it originally comes from.
Mexican Tree Spinach is a very rapid growing architectural curiosity. It is a beautiful plant to have in the garden or allotment. Vivid pink tinged triangular bright green leaves with each new set of leaves blushed a shocking magenta. Although it is often grown as an attractive 'spot plant', it is more usually grown as a fresh vegetable.
The shoot tips are the only bit of the plant you actually eat, so although growing it tall provides you with a pretty eye-catching focal point in the garden, it’s more productive to grow them sown close together in a container, as a cut-and-come-again vegetable so you only get the shoot tips coming through.
Much like cut-and-come-again baby salad leaves, snip away the shoots once they get to around 20cm (8in) high, leaving the lowest few centimetres to grow on. It can be eaten very young raw in salads and is fantastic melted in butter, it keeps its magenta when steamed for three minutes and is a good spinach substitute.
Mexican Tree Spinach is frost-hardy annual, so you can start early in the year and sow successionally through to autumn for a constant supply. the seed germinates like mustard and cress. So despite the vaguely exotic name, it’s a truly easy veg to grow if you want something different to add to your repertoire. And yes, it really is that colour.
Sowing: March to July
Seeds can be sown directly outdoors, otherwise to control this plants exuberance, consider sowing it in modules or seed trays and planting it out, rather than sowing directly outdoors, as this will give you more control as to where to grow it. The plants grow to around 120cm (4ft) tall, if you want full-height plants, it needs to go at the back of the border.
Seed can be sown early in the year and grown on the kitchen windowsill or in a cold conservatory or greenhouse. At other times of year simply place in a cold frame or in a protected area.
Sow into pots or trays of moist seed compost covered with a very fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. After sowing, do not exclude light as this helps germination. Keep at temperatures of around 15 to 20°C (60 to 68°F). Keep the surface of the compost moist but not waterlogged. Germination will usually take 21 to 30 days.
When large enough to handle, transplant seedlings into 7cm (3in) pots or trays and plant in final position when the plants are established, after all risk of frost.
The best growing technique for spring and summer crops is to sow direct into prepared seed beds in the kitchen garden or greenhouse border. Grow at closer density for baby leaf. Tip a small amount of seed into your hand, take a pinch and spread thinly along the trench. Cover with soil, label and water. Sow every two weeks for a continual supply of tender young leaf.
Harvest for baby leaf using scissors, snip away the shoots once they get to around 20cm (8in) high, leaving the lowest few centimetres to grow on. Although re-growth can be harvested, it is better to sow little and often for continual supply. Left to grow, the mature plants grow to a height of around 120cm (4ft).
Older leaves lose the flavour and become tough, but taste rather good steamed for a couple of minutes and served with butter.
Chenopodium giganteum is an unfussy plant, succeeding in most soils it prefers sun, but will appear in shady corners with less of a magenta bloom. It doesn't mind dry, infertile conditions, but give it fertile, moist soil and it will go like the clappers.
Like all of Chenopodium genus, the plants can accumulate too much nitrogen, which is not good for you to eat too much of, so it is wise not to grow it on recently manured soils and don't feed it manufactured plant food.
If left to grow to maturity, Mexican Tree Spinach will flower and produce seeds. The mature plants are in flower from July to September, and the seeds ripen from August to October.
The seeds can easily be collected and stored for use the following year. Store the seeds in a cool dry place.
The seed can also be cooked, the plant is related to quinoa. Ground into a powder and used with wheat or other cereals in making bread etc. The seed is small and fiddly, about 1.5mm in diameter. It should be soaked in water overnight and thoroughly rinsed before it is used in order to remove any saponins.
Let it go to seed and you will be rewarded with pretty little seedlings popping up everywhere. It is not exactly a thug, but if you're not prepared to eat it all, that's an awful lot of weeding. If you do want to keep in under control, simply chop the flowers off when they appear.
To control this plants exuberance, consider sowing it in modules or seed trays and planting it out, rather than sowing directly outdoors, as this will give you more control as to where to grow it. If you want full-height plants, it needs to go at the back of the border.
Chenopodium Giganteum, the Mexican Tree Spinach is a plant originally found in Northern and Eastern India. Although a cultivated plant in the UK it is found growing in the wild in other countries and has been naturalised in France.
Although formerly in the family Chenopodiaceae, it has recently been moved to the Amaranthaceae.
Chenopodium Giganteum is also called Tree Spinach. Its historic names are Purple Goosefoot and Giant Lambsquarters. There are some named varieties like ‘Magenta Spree’, which is a more vigorous plant growing 1.5 metres tall.
Do not confuse this plant with Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius), which is also called Tree Spinach.
The genus Chenopodium contains several plants of minor to moderate importance as food crops as leaf vegetables, used like the closely related spinach (Spinacia oleracea) and similar plants called quelite in Mexico and pseudocereals. These include white goosefoot (C. album), kañiwa (C. pallidicaule) and quinoa (C. quinoa).
The plants contain some oxalic acid, so leaves should only be cooked in a stainless steel saucepan. Oxalic acid, in large quantities can lock up some of the nutrients in the food. However, even considering this, they are very nutritious vegetables in reasonable quantities. It’s best not to eat the leaves more than a couple of times a week. Cooking the plants will reduce their content of oxalic acid.
People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 500mg Average Seed Count 900 seeds Common Name Baby Leaf, Micro Leaf Other Common Names Purple Goosefoot, Giant Lambsquarters Family Amaranthaceae Genus Chenopodium Species giganteum Hardiness Hardy Annual Height 120cm (4ft) Spread 30cm (12in) Position Full sun to partial shade.