In 2010 there was a Garden Organic Members’ Experiment to grow Tree Spinach, Chenopodium giganteum ‘Magenta Spreen’ and I volunteered to take part and grow this striking edible plant and report back on how easy it is to grow and what it tastes like.
I raised my first plants in modules in an unheated greenhouse and planted them out at the allotment in late spring. The plants grew very well and were about two metres tall by the end of summer.
I left some seedheads for the birds to feed on, but they didn’t seem particularly interested. The result of this was a forest of young seedlings in spring 2011, which came up within about two to three metres of the original plants. I should have known this would happen – Tree Spinach is a close relative of Fat Hen, Chenopodium album, which does very well on the allotment and on disturbed ground almost everywhere.
However, the advantage of a plant that self seeds is that you can dig up seedlings that are in the wrong place and move them or give them away. So I kept some and moved three plants to the Grapes Hill Community Garden. All the seedlings did very well, though it was noticeable that the Grapes Hill plants were even bigger, in clay loam, than in the sandy soil of the allotment.
Tree Spinach looks like a giant Fat Hen but the young shoots are a very attractive bright pink.The specimens in the Grapes Hill garden caused much comment and we sold some seedlings at our stall at the St. Benedict’s Street Fair in July 2011. That same day an article by Alys Fowler about Tree Spinach appeared in The Guardian.
Tree Spinach is edible and the young shoots are a little like spinach. You can eat them raw in salads. Older leaves lose the flavour and become tough, but taste rather good steamed for a couple of minutes and served with butter. Yields are high and the plants aren’t particularly fussy, though they’re prettiest in a sunny spot. Like Fat Hen, it’s best not to eat the leaves more than a couple of times a week and to avoid plants growing on recently manured or fertilised soils, as plants accumulate high levels of nitrates, which can be harmful.
At the end of the summer the plants become a duller green. We removed the Grapes Hill Community Garden plants to prevent them from self-seeding, but I left the allotment plants to seed and will transplant some spare seedlings to Grapes Hill when they appear in spring.