Chenopodium capitatum, most commonly known as 'Strawberry Spinach' or 'Strawberry Sticks' is a curious plant. Native to northern states of the US, the plant has been cultivated at various times, but has never been very widely grown. It’s now enjoying something of a resurgence as it is easy to grow and attractive. The berries make a colourful and edible accent in the garden and in salads and the greens are deliciously edible in salads or as a pot herb.
As an ornamental, this plant is ideal for the border or patio containers. It prefers a sunny position in any fertile, well drained garden soil in full sun and will flower from June to August. The red berries are cheerful as well as edible.
If you think that Strawberry Spinach is going to be a vegetable your kids will love, you are probably in for a disappointment. The name is somewhat unfortunate as it really has no connection to strawberries at all, unless you include the rather tenuous one that it produces red berries, which actually look a little more like red raspberries or mulberries. The strawberry-like fruit grows on leafy stems above the rosette of leaves and although the berries add more visual appeal than taste, you can eat the berries in salads, they can also be used as red food colouring.
When approaching this plant as an edible, it is best to ignore the strawberry and concentrate on the spinach, the plant is a relative of spinach and the soft young leaves, which have a nutty flavour can be eaten raw in a mesclun type salad mix or cooked, and are an excellent spinach substitute.
Strawberry Spinach is more heat tolerant than spinach, but it is an annual and will eventually bolt. Unlike with spinach this isn’t a bad thing, as it then produces those attractive red berries.
Sowing: Late February to April.
This hardy annual may also be grown in containers on the patio for an attractive edible crop. The plant prefers full sun to part shade and regular garden soils. Try growing some in groups in patio pots or the garden border for an unusual yet attractive display.
To get an early start, sow in early spring in pots or trays, in a cold greenhouse or sheltered position. Use a good seed compost and ensure that you keep the soil moist. Germination will usually take around 14 days. Transplant when they are large enough to handle after all risk of frosts, 20 to 40cm (8 to 16in) apart.
Once established the plants do not respond well to transplantation, so transplant seedlings while still quite small, once they have grown their first two true leaves into individual pots, and plant out into their permanent positions after the last expected frosts.
Sow directly where they are to grow, in good garden soil once the soil has warmed in spring. Sow in 12mm (½in) deep drills, in rows 45cm (18in) apart. Ensure they have some sunlight though do not plant in full sun. When seedlings appear, thin to 20 to 40cm (8 to 16in) apart.
This easily grown plant tolerates considerable neglect and succeeds in most soils and situations. Simply keep the plants regularly hoed and well watered.
Harvesting: 45 to 60 days
Harvest just a few leaves from each plant for cooking until the plant is established. Pick and use straight away, it doesn’t store well in the fridge.
The parsnip-like roots are crispy, sweet, and delicious, white but marbled with beet red, with just a hint of beetiness to the taste, and may be consumed fresh or cooked in soups.
The seed is small but is easily harvested. It should be soaked in water overnight and thoroughly rinsed and dried. It can then be stored in a cool dry place ready for next year.
Chenopodium capitatum is native to most of North America throughout the United States and Canada, including northern areas where it grows in open or disturbed areas in foothills, montane and subalpine regions. It is considered to be endangered in some states of the USA. It is also found in parts of Europe and New Zealand.
Strawberry Spinach is an annual herb in the family Chenopodiaceae, the beet family, the same as some familiar vegetables (including beetroot and chard) and some other useful but more unusual plants including Good King Henry, Quinoa and Tree Spinach.
Native Americans used the berries to dye skin, clothes and basket material.
Chenopodium capitatum used to be commonly referred to as Strawberry Blite as it was formerly of the genus Blitum. A very unfortunate name as it sounds like a disease, but thankfully it has now been moved to the family Chenopodiaceae.
More attractive names include the common name Strawberry Sticks, Strawberry Spinach or Beetberry, which is somewhat more logical as it’s in the beet family and produces berries.
It is also known as Strawberry Goosefoot, and Indian Ink.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 250mg Average Seed Count 320 Seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 5,500 seeds per gram Common Name Strawberry Sticks, Beetberry, Strawbini Other Common Names Raspberry chenopodium, Strawberry Blite Other Language Names Arroche Fraise Family Chenopodiaceae Genus Chenopodium Species capitatum Synonym Blitum capitatum Hardiness Hardy Annual Natural Flower Time May till August Height 60cm (24in) Spread 60cm (24in) Position Full sun or part shade Soil Fertile, Moist, Well-drained