What Is Strawberry Spinach?
Strawberry spinach (Symphoricarpos italicum) is a member of the nightshade family. It belongs to the same genus as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes. Its scientific name is Sympatico maritima or “maritime purple” because it grows wild along coastlines and rivers in Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey.
The leaves are small, oval shaped and greenish yellow. They have five leaflets with three pairs of petioles (leaf stems). The flowers are white to pinkish red. It produces up to 100 seeds per flower which fall from the plant’s leaves after flowering ends.
Seeds germinate in 3 days and take 6 weeks before they sprout into plants.
How To Grow Strawberry Spinach?
Growing strawberry spinach is easy. You need to keep soil moist but not soggy. Watering once a week during dry periods will do the job. Keep the soil evenly moist at all times so that it doesn’t rot easily due to lack of moisture. When growing strawberries, you may want to use organic fertilizer instead of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Organic fertilizers work better than synthetic ones because they don’t contain harmful chemicals like herbicides and fungicides used in conventional farming methods. It is best to use a slow release organic fertilizer so that you don’t over-fertilize your soil.
The plant grows well in small spaces such as pots and containers but grows taller than most weeds. It can grow up to 2 feet tall. It can reach its mature height within a month of planting. You can stop the plant from growing by pruning the top before it reaches 2 feet.
This will encourage branching out and bushiness. It produces small white flowers during summer or whenever there is enough sunlight.
Strawberry spinach leaves taste a little sour. It has small seeds inside small capsules that ripen with the flower and fall off during the ripening process. You can collect the seeds and plant them right away or dry them first before storing for longer periods.
It is a good idea to intercrop your strawberry patch with other plants. This will attract insects to your garden which are natural predators of garden pests. This will also ensure that your plants have enough pollinators to encourage growth and fruiting. It is better to grow small amounts of several different kinds of plants rather than large amounts of just one kind of plant.
Pests and diseases often attack single crop gardens more easily than they attack diverse gardens.
After a few years, the plants will self-seed. They will grow wherever their seeds fall during windy weather. In wild conditions, strawberry spinach usually grows as a weed which means it prefers poor soil and full sunlight. Once grown as an edible crop, it is no longer classified as a weed.
How To Eat Strawberry Spinach?
It is good to pick strawberry spinach early in the morning after the dew has dried up. This prevents the leaves from getting wet because it rots easily if its outer layer gets damp. Clean the leaves and cut off their stems. You can then cook them using any of these cooking methods:
Blanching This is a process of dipping the leaves in boiling water for a few seconds and then shocking them in an ice bath. This process helps retain their vibrant green colour and makes them more appealing to the eyes.
Stir-frying This is a quick cooking process. It only involves sautéing the leaves over a hot pan with a little bit of oil for a few minutes.
Sautéing This is also a quick cooking process. You will need a hot pan, a small amount of oil and a few cups of water. First, fry the leaves until they are half cooked. Add water and continue to cook until all the water has evaporated.
Steaming You will need to prepare your steamer before you can steam the leaves. To do this, fill your pot with water and bring it to a rolling boil. Place a steaming rack inside the pot and prop up the spinach leaves above the water line. Cover the steamer and let the spinach cook until it is soft, usually takes about 2-3 minutes.
Tips & Warnings
It can be eaten as a cooked vegetable or as a raw salad vegetable. You can also add it to your morning juice for a fresh taste.
If you are planning to use strawberry spinach to make baby food, boil the spinach briefly before pureeing it. This will help retain its nutrients.
Make sure to pick the plants daily or at least twice a day to prevent pests from destroying the leaves.
Strawberry spinach leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid. This can be harmful if consumed in large amounts over a long period of time. It may also prevent the body from absorbing vital nutrients such as calcium and iron. These substances can bind with the oxalic acid and get eliminated from the body before you can digest and use them.
It is therefore not recommended to include it as a major part of your daily food intake.
Do not assume that if a little bit is good, then a lot must be better. In some rare cases, eating excessive amounts of strawberry spinach can lead to electrolyte imbalances, nerve damage and even death in the most severe cases. Children should always seek medical attention if they eat more than a few leaves. Adults should not eat more than a handful of leaves per day.
In addition, pregnant women and people with a history of heart disease or kidney problems should not consume strawberry spinach in any amount.
Sources & references used in this article:
Population analyses of the vascular plant pathogen Verticillium dahliae detect recombination and transcontinental gene flow by ZK Atallah, K Maruthachalam, L Du Toit… – Fungal Genetics and …, 2010 – Elsevier
Antioxidant capacity and phenolic content of spinach as affected by genetics and growing season by LR Howard, N Pandjaitan, T Morelock… – Journal of agricultural …, 2002 – ACS Publications
A microbiological survey of selected Alberta-grown fresh produce from farmers’ markets in Alberta, Canada by VM Bohaychuk, RW Bradbury… – Journal of food …, 2009 – meridian.allenpress.com
Bioactive substances and health benefits of strawberries by R Törrönen, K Määttä – IV International Strawberry Symposium 567, 2000 – actahort.org
Thermal conductivity of unfrozen and frozen strawberry and spinach by AE Delgado, A Gallo, D De Piante, A Rubiolo – Journal of Food Engineering, 1997 – Elsevier
Verticillium dahliae Race 2-Specific PCR Reveals a High Frequency of Race 2 Strains in Commercial Spinach Seed Lots and Delineates Race Structure by DPG Short, S Gurung, K Maruthachalam… – …, 2014 – Am Phytopath Society
Plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) increase yield, growth and nutrition of strawberry under high-calcareous soil conditions by M Ipek, L Pirlak, A Esitken, M Figen Dönmez… – Journal of plant …, 2014 – Taylor & Francis