Guest Post: "The Spinach that Traveled Across the World and Stayed"

This is our first in a series of guest posts by our great new intern Sophie Silverstein. Enjoy! One might assume that New Zealand spinach is around a fourteen-hour plane ride away. Fortunately, ForageSF is here to tell you how accessible the spinach from down under really is (along with its history and a slew of other fascinating information). We hope and assume that if you’ve been poking around our website you have some interest in where your food comes from, and perhaps how you can minimize the intermediaries between you and the delicious treats you put in your mouth. If that’s the case, then take this opportunity to learn about your local landscape, which happens to include (drum roll, please) New Zealand spinach.

The story goes that Captain Cook, an explorer from Britain popularized New Zealand spinach when he documented its existence and used it (cooked and pickled) to fight scurvy on his ship. Prior to Cook, the indigenous people of New Zealand rarely used the spinach as a leaf vegetable. New Zealand spinach made its way to the United States in the second half of the eighteenth century when Joseph Banks, botanist and explorer, brought the seeds of the plant back to Kew Gardens in Queens, New York. For two whole centuries this species of spinach remained the only naturalized vegetable hailing from New Zealand and Australia. This spinach is not only extraordinary in its history; it also trumps similar veggies and plants in its durability.

New Zealand spinach, also known as Tetragonia tetragonioides and “everbearing spinach,” will survive what most plants will not; be it draught, bugs, salt or unruly soil, this succulent plant is a forager’s dream. While it is a durable plant, it prefers warm regions and well-drained, sandy soils that are rich in organic matter. You can spot this species of spinach by its triangular leaves, vibrant green color, lengthy stalks and its tendency to grow low to the ground. The tops and bottoms of the succulent leaves are covered in what resembles tiny water droplets. You can also look out for its yellow flowers and small, horny, pod-like fruits. While the spinach we are looking for is wild, “Cook’s cabbage” is also commonly used as a decorative plant for ground cover. No matter how you’re getting a hold of your spinach, there are many ways to enjoy it. Try this recipe.

New Zealand spinach’s shoots and leaves can be foraged and enjoyed cooked or raw, just like the spinach (Spinacia oleracea) we all know and love. We must forewarn you that New Zealand spinach is high in oxalic acid, making its raw consumption a bit of a prickly, acidic challenge. Another option is sautéing or blanching the leaves, creating a taste that may be more tame and familiar. This robust plant has made its way to North America and thrived here; some might even say it has become an invasive bugger. Those who have discovered it recognize how delicious and versatile those pretty diamond leaves are. If you’re interested in encountering some wild New Zealand spinach as well as an unimagined world of foraged flavor, join ForageSF for one of our walking tours around the bay area. So who’s ready to dive in and take a bite?