What would you think if a drug company announced a new product that has all of the following health benefits: helps prevent skin cancer, stomach cancer, cataracts, macular degeneration, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and stroke; boosts immunity; supports healthy brain function; lowers blood pressure; is an anti-inflammatory; and aids healthy digestion, clear healthy skin, curbs appetite, and lowers blood sugar? I bet you’d think they were trying to sell you some snake oil! *
Here’s the kicker, you can get all of these health benefits by eating raw spinach regularly. Spinach is one of the powerhouses of the vegetable world. It is chock full of antioxidants and beta-carotene. Use it in your salad, layer it on a sandwich, sprinkle it in your omelet in the morning, or toss it in the blender when you make a smoothie. If you’re not a spinach lover, try working smaller amounts into your meals here and there. Soon you’ll grow to love spinach.
During the winter I buy organic spinach from the grocery store because it’s too cold to grow it in my area. But during spring, early summer, and fall I grow my own in a neutral pH soil rich in humus. You can grow your own too! Plant it as early as the soil can be worked in the spring, or grow it in containers on a deck or balcony. Keep the soil cool and moist to prevent early bolting (when the spinach starts to flower it becomes tough and bitter, but may still be used in cooking). To further extend your harvest, plant rows of spinach in the shade of taller plants and choose slow bolting varieties. In southern areas, gardeners begin successive plantings in late fall and continue through the winter.
There are many different varieties of spinach to choose from. Heirloom seeds are great for gardeners who want to save seeds for planting the next year. There are also hybrid varieties that withstand heat better than old fashioned varieties. In addition, you may choose between savoy (crinkly leaves), semi-savoy, flat leaf, or baby spinach. The only down side I have found to savoy leaf spinach is the extra hiding places for dirt and slugs. Other than that, these types of spinach have the same health benefits and your choice will depend on your preference.
A few pests and diseases might affect your spinach harvest. Slugs, snails, rabbits, woodchucks, and deer will be more than happy to relieve you of your spinach if they get the chance. Sand, diatomaceous earth, beer traps, and copper strips will help repel the snails and slugs. The bigger critters may be deterred by the judicious use of fencing. To prevent diseases such as downy mildew and blue mold, be sure to water your spinach in the morning to prevent the leaves from staying wet overnight. Remember to rotate your crops each year to prevent the buildup of disease organisms in the soil.
Once you have a nice harvest of spinach, what should you do with it? Eat it, of course! Be sure to wash it thoroughly and check for slugs and other pests that may have hitched a ride into the house before you munch away. There are a million recipes out there for delicious dishes made with spinach. Just be sure to eat a handful or two each day as fresh, raw spinach for the highest concentration of nutrients. If you have more spinach than you can possibly use fresh, why not freeze it? Frozen spinach makes a great addition to omelets, soups, and stir fry dishes. To freeze your own spinach, just rinse thoroughly, shake dry, and freeze on trays. Put your frozen spinach in freezer bags or use a vacuum sealer to remove the air and prevent freezer burn. Use your frozen spinach up in 3 or 4 months for best nutritional value and flavor.
So, you want a simple recipe you can whip up in just a few minutes and customize to your own tastes? I’m glad you asked! Here are my instructions for making a raw spinach quesadilla that’s great for lunch or dinner.
Easy, huh?! You can use any kind of cheese (or dairy free substitute) you want, including cream cheese (pictured) or a combination of cheeses. I like to use organic ingredients, but use what you have on hand. Mix it up with the addition of fruit instead of salsa, or add a spoonful of cooked black beans and sweet corn. The choices are only limited by your imagination.