Spinach (Spinacea Aleracea)

Despite being known as English Spinach, this plant is thought to have originated in the Middle East. Spinach appeared in China during the 7th century and was taken to Europe around 400 years later. By the 16th century spinach was entrenched in European cuisine and was the favorite vegetable of Catherine de Medici. When Catherine left her home of Florence, Italy, to marry the king of France, she brought along her own cooks, who could prepare spinach the ways that she preferred it. Since this time, dishes prepared on a bed of spinach are referred to as “a la Florentine”.
Your healing spinach
Check out the section on silverbeet for a comparison between these two vegetables to get a detailed breakdown of the nutrients contained in spinach. Briefly, you get fiber, protein, vitamin K, vitamin C. iron, beta-carotene and a lot more in the beautiful plant that is spinach. Maybe the most Famous ingredient in spinach is iron and it does have levels around double that of other plants. This may be why across the centuries it has had a reputation for building energy and strength. In recent times spinach has received a lot of research attention and that research has revealed some impressive healing properties beyond its high nutritional value alone.

Seeing green
Retinitis pigmentosa is a condition that usually begins in the teenage years and slowly progresses during adulthood resulting in either partial vision loss or blindness. In one study (Archives of Opthalmology) a group of people who did not smoke but who were already suffering retinitis pigmentosa were assigned to receive 12mg of a nutrient called lutein per day ora placebo. Lutein is richly supplied in spinach and it can reduce the risk of cataracts and of age-related macular degeneration (another disease of the retina) and so it was hoped that lutein may also be of assistance in treating retinitis pigmentosa. The subjects in the study also took 15,000 IU of vitamin A daily (another nutrient well supplied in spinach) and were asked to have two serves of oily Fish per week (as the omega-3 fatty acid is also good for the retina). The researchers followed the people for four years taking annual eye examinations and monitoring blood levels of lutein. In the end, those who took lutein experienced slower peripheral vision loss than those who did not and vision loss was significantly slower amongst those with the highest blood lutein levels. While lutein did not significantly reduce central vision loss it offers some protection. So spinach is doing good things for your eyes.
Muscle strength
The cartoon character Popeye used spinach to give him strength, and it seems Popeye knew what he was doing. Spinach, like its vegetable cousin beetroot, is a very good source of nitrate. Researchers from the Karolinska Institute suspected that nitrate may increase muscle strength and so they placed nitrate into the drinking water of a group of mice for seven days and compared their muscle strength to mice in a control group. The amount of nitrate given to the mice was equivalent to a human eating 200-300g of fresh spinach or two to three beetroots daily. After the seven days the mice who had been given nitrate were significantly stronger than the control group. Analysis also showed that the nitrate group had higher concentrations of two different proteins, CASQ1 and DHPR which are used for storing and releasing calcium, a mineral that is necessary for muscles to contract. So the nitrate, at levels equivalent to 200-300g of spinach daily, really was making muscles stronger.

Storing spinach
Supermarkets are not renowned for their healthy practices when it comes to fruit and vegetables but it does seem that they might be doing something right. Spinach, and other produce, are kept in supermarkets at cool temperatures under fluorescent lights 24 hours a day. To test what this did to the spinach leaves researchers kept fresh spinach leaves under continuous light or darkness for between three and nine days.
The results were published in the Journal of  Agricultural and Food Chemistry and showed that spinach kept under lights for as little as three days had significantly higher levels of vitamins C, E, K, folate, lutein, and zeaxanthm. Leaves stored in darkness lost nutrients so photosynthesis must continue after picking as long as there is air, moisture in the leaves, and light. Harvesting from your garden direct to your plate is still the best option but should you want to keep your spinach for a few days, don't leave it in the dark
When to plant: For better germination soak seeds before sowing from late autumn to spring in cooler areas; and winter in the subtropics. Although seeds will germinate in temperatures from near freezing to 30°C, avoid summer’s long daylight hours and hot weather or plants bolt to flower and seed.

 Climate: Grows best in cooler climates; doesn’t suit the tropics.
Aspect/placement: Full sun or part shade.
Specific needs: Likes well-drained soil. Prepare ground with compost, well-rotted manure or blood and bone. Apply liquid seaweed fertilizer. Mulch to keep roots cool and retain moisture. Try growing in pots.

Companion planting: Strawberries.
Harvesting: Grow quickly for tender leaves, which should be ready in about 6-8 weeks. Cut the outside leaves as needed or harvest the entire plant when mature.

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