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Spinach – The Good Leaves – The Myth of Popeye

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Spinach has not left our plates since the reign of Catherine de Medici, fond of “Persian herb”. The varieties of spinach grown today in our latitudes all descend from the “big spinach”, obtained by plant selection in the middle of the 17th century.

The “spinach” plant was named in 1753 by the inescapable Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné. The latter was probably based on the thorny nature of the fruits of the wild form, which came from the mountainous regions of Iran, the Caucasus and Afghanistan, which sometimes earned it the name “Persian herb”. For botanists, spinach is Spinacia oleracea which has long been part of the Chenopodiaceae family , but which phylogenetic classification now places in the cosmopolitan family of Amaranthaceae .

Spinach cultivation began in the Middle East, probably from the 4th century. The Arabs introduced spinach to Seville in Andalusia around the year 1000, but it did not reach France until the very beginning of the 13th century, probably due to the Crusaders. The agglutinated fruits in balls would have hung on the clothes or the hairs of the horses, thus traveling incognito, to Europe. The seeds, finding a soil and a favorable climate in our latitudes, would have germinated.

One of the favorite vegetables of the Renaissance

The spinach has gradually replaced the arroche ( Atriplex hortensis ) on the plates , whose taste is more rustic. At that time, fresh or cooked pressed spinach balls were consumed under the name “espinoches”. But it was not until the 16th century and Catherine de Medici that spinach became really popular and that its culture intensified.

In the kitchen, a “Florentine” recipe is a gratin of meat or fish made from spinach with a Mornay sauce. This name evokes the city of Florence, which Catherine de Médicis left in 1533 to marry the king of France Henri II. Note that at the beginning of the 17th century the French were crazy about spinach cooked … with sugar!

The evolution of the plant over the centuries

As a general rule, spinach is, like carrots, a plant with biennial development. So you have to wait two years to harvest your seeds. Furthermore, spinach has a dioecious behavior. Dioecious plants require a male and a female foot to reproduce. However, there is a trend towards hermaphroditism, which was gradually obtained during the selection.

The tuft of acaoli leaves, that is to say without visible stem, develops from a fairly large taproot, hence the need for deep soil. The dark green leaves, spearhead-shaped in wild spinach, are oblong and wavy in cultivated varieties . These all derive from “Holland spinach” or “large spinach”, obtained around the middle of the 17th century and whose fruits have no thorns.

The myth of Popeye

Popeye, this angry sailor with prodigious strength, was created in 1929 by Elzie Crisler Segar. The character is anchored in popular belief that spinach provides energy thanks to its richness in iron. Now with 2 mg per 100 g, it comes well after seaweed, vegetables dry and even cereals to prevent anemia! In terms of iron intake, the champions are red meats, shellfish and dark chocolate.

Spinach, on the other hand, is a good source of vegetable fiber, vitamins C and E, but especially provitamin A (carotene) and folic acid (vitamin B9). It is ideal for weight loss diets; consisting of more than 90% water, it provides only 18 to 25 Kcal / 100 g. As spinach has real laxative properties, it is sometimes called the “broom of the stomach”.

Easy cultivation

The spinach is sown in place from March 1 to April 15 and from August 15 to September 30, at a rate of 2.5 g of seeds per square meter ( germination capacity 4 years). The staggering of the seedlings spreads out the harvest period. After emergence, the plants are thinned, 20 cm apart. Soft, well-drained soil rich in humus (spinach consumes a lot of nitrogen) is recommended, as well as abundant and regular watering. Indeed, the plant must not lack water to develop leaves of good taste quality. A semi-shaded exposure is appreciated especially in the hottest hours of summer, in order to avoid too rapid a seed rise. Harvesting is carried out as needed, approximately 40 to 50 days after sowing.

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