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Spinacia oleracea - L.                
Common Name Spinach
Family Chenopodiaceae
Synonyms Chenopodium oleraceum. Obione stocksii. Spinacia spinosa. Moench.
Known Hazards The leaves of most varieties of spinach are high in oxalic acid[218]. Although not toxic, this substance does lock up certain minerals in a meal, especially calcium, making them unavailable to the body. Therefore mineral deficiencies can result from eating too much of any leaf that contains oxalic acid. However, the mineral content of spinach leaves is quite high so the disbenifits are to a large extent outweighed by the benefits. There are also special low-oxalic varieties of spinach that have been developed. Cooking the leaves will also reduce the 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[238]. Possible methaemoglobinaemia from nitrates in children under 4 months. Anticoagulant patients should avoid excessive intake due to vitamin K content [301].
Habitats Not known in the wild.
Range The origin of this plant is uncertain, it probably arose in S.W. Asia.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Spinacia oleracea is a ANNUAL growing to 0.3 m (1ft) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone 5 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Jun to September. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required) and are pollinated by Wind.The plant is not self-fertile.

USDA hardiness zone : Coming soon

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Spinacia oleracea Spinach

Spinacia oleracea Spinach
 Cultivated Beds;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Leaves;  Seed.
Edible Uses: Colouring.

Leaves - raw or cooked[1, 2, 16, 37, 132]. Tender young leaves can be added to salads, older leaves are used as greens or added to soups etc[183, 201]. The leaves contain oxalic acid (6 - 8% in young leaves, 23 - 27% in the cotyledons)[218], see the notes above on toxicity. A nutritional analysis of the leaves is available[218]. Seeds - raw or cooked. It can be sprouted and added to salads[183]. Chlorophyll extracted from the leaves is used as an edible green dye[142].
Figures in grams (g) or miligrams (mg) per 100g of food.
Leaves (Dry weight)
  • 285 Calories per 100g
  • Water : 0%
  • Protein: 28g; Fat: 5.5g; Carbohydrate: 40g; Fibre: 8g; Ash: 23g;
  • Minerals - Calcium: 800mg; Phosphorus: 415mg; Iron: 80mg; Magnesium: 0mg; Sodium: 650mg; Potassium: 4500mg; Zinc: 0mg;
  • Vitamins - A: 50mg; Thiamine (B1): 0.7mg; Riboflavin (B2): 2mg; Niacin: 8mg; B6: 0mg; C: 600mg;
  • Reference: [ 218]
  • Notes: The values here are based on the median figures of those quoted in the report. Vitamin A figures are in milligrammes.
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Appetizer;  Carminative;  Febrifuge;  Hypoglycaemic;  Laxative.

The plant is carminative and laxative[218]. In experiments it has been shown to have hypoglycaemic properties[218]. It has been used in the treatment of urinary calculi[240]. The leaves have been used in the treatment of febrile conditions, inflammation of the lungs and the bowels[240]. The seeds are laxative and cooling[240]. They have been used in the treatment of difficult breathing, inflammation of the liver and jaundice[240].
Other Uses

A yellow dye is obtained from the leaves[100].
Cultivation details                                         
Plants grow best and produce their heaviest crop of leaves on a nitrogen-rich soil[16, 37, 200]. They dislike very heavy or very light soils[37]. They also dislike acid soils, preferring a neutral to slightly alkaline soil[200]. Plants require plenty of moisture in the growing season, dry summers causing the plants to quickly run to seed[27]. Summer crops do best in light shade to encourage more leaf production before the plant goes to seed[27], winter crops require a warm dry sunny position[1, 27]. Young plants are hardy to about -9°c[200]. Spinach is often cultivated for its edible leaves, there are some named varieties[132, 183]. These varieties can be grouped into two main types as detailed below:- Forms with prickly seeds. These are the more primitive forms. Their leaves are more lobed and they are in general more cold tolerant and also more resistant of summer heat[264]. They were more often used to produce a crop in the winter[200, 264]. Forms with round seeds have been developed in cultivation, These have broader leaves, tend to be less cold hardy and were also more prone to bolt in hot weather[264]. They were used mainly for the summer crop[200]. Most new cultivars are of the round seeded variety and these have been developed to be more resistant to bolting in hot weather, more cold tolerant, to produce more leaves and also to be lower in calcium oxalate which causes bitterness and also has negative nutritional effects upon the body[264]. Some modern varieties have been developed that are low in oxalic acid. Edible leaves can be obtained all year round from successional sowings[200]. The summer varieties tend to run to seed fairly quickly, especially in hot dry summers and so you need to make successional sowings every few weeks if a constant supply is required. Winter varieties provide leaves for a longer period, though they soon run to seed when the weather warms up. Spinach grows well with strawberries[18, 20]. It also grows well with cabbages, onions, peas and celery[201]. A fast-growing plant, the summer crop can be interplanted between rows of slower growing plants such as Brussels sprouts. The spinach would have been harvested before the other crop needs the extra space[200]. Spinach is a bad companion for grapes and hyssop[201].
Seed - sow in situ from March to June for a summer crop. Make successional sowings, perhaps once a month, to ensure a continuity of supply. The seed germinates within about 2 weeks and the first leaves can be harvested about 6 weeks later. Seed is sown in situ during August and September for a winter crop.
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[16]Simons. New Vegetable Growers Handbook.
A good guide to growing vegetables in temperate areas, not entirely organic.
[18]Philbrick H. and Gregg R. B. Companion Plants.
Details of beneficial and antagonistic relationships between neighbouring plants.
[20]Riotte. L. Companion Planting for Successful Gardening.
Fairly good.
[27]Vilmorin. A. The Vegetable Garden.
A reprint of a nineteenth century classic, giving details of vegetable varieties. Not really that informative though.
[37]Thompson. B. The Gardener's Assistant.
Excellent general but extensive guide to gardening practices in the 19th century. A very good section on fruits and vegetables with many little known species.
[100]Polunin. O. Flowers of Europe - A Field Guide.
An excellent and well illustrated pocket guide for those with very large pockets. Also gives some details on plant uses.
[132]Bianchini. F., Corbetta. F. and Pistoia. M. Fruits of the Earth.
Lovely pictures, a very readable book.
[142]Brouk. B. Plants Consumed by Man.
Readable but not very comprehensive.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[201]Allardice.P. A - Z of Companion Planting.
A well produced and very readable book.
[218]Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China
Details of over 1,200 medicinal plants of China and brief details of their uses. Often includes an analysis, or at least a list of constituents. Heavy going if you are not into the subject.
[240]Chopra. R. N., Nayar. S. L. and Chopra. I. C. Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants (Including the Supplement).
Very terse details of medicinal uses of plants with a wide range of references and details of research into the plants chemistry. Not for the casual reader.
[264]Phillips. R. & Rix. M. Vegetables
Excellent and easily read book with good information and an excellent collection of photos of vegetables from around the world, including many unusual species.
[301]Karalliedde. L. and Gawarammana. I. Traditional Herbal Medicines
A guide to the safer use of herbal medicines.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Klaus Dichtel Fri Jan 24 13:56:40 2003
Last june I cooked besides the leaves of "Monopa" & "Matador" the flowers and flowerstems. This meal gave an unpleasant burning in the mouth and had to be quit.
Elizabeth H.
Erin Shearer Tue Sep 23 14:10:35 2003
I was just wondering if anyone knows the reason of why spinach is green. If someone could e-mail me with the answer that would be great.
Elizabeth H.
dukeatradies Thu Jun 9 17:23:13 2005
it can have male and female on one plant
Alan R.
Jul 19 2011 12:00AM
I sow the variety Medania in late summer. It survives the harshest Danish winters, and by April provides a fine crop of large, round leaves. If left in the ground, seed can be harvested in July. The seed is smooth, and as it forms on all the plants I must assume they are NOT dioecious as described in the article.
Alan R.
Jul 28 2012 12:00AM
Spinach can be grown as an annual, but sown in spring, the plant bolts very quickly and the result is questionable. Here in Denmark I grow spinach as a biannual. Sow in the first half of August; in the shortening daylength the plants develop at a gentle pace, and by November are the size of a fully grown Lamb's lettuce plant. My variety is Medania, which survives sustained temperatures of -15 degrees C, and lives quite happily under a deep layer of snow for several months. Do not cover or mulch. In March the plants wake up, and by late April there is a fine harvest of large, succulent leaves, which far surpasses anything sown that spring. In warm, sunny conditions, the plants reach waist-height by June, when seed can be collected.
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Subject : Spinacia oleracea  

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