Today March 26, is officially National Spinach Day in America.
You may well think it is daft to proclaim a national day to honour and celebrate a humble vegetable, yet for many centuries spinach has been valued for its incredible nutritional values; rich in iron, magnesium, vitamins, fiber, phosphorus and thiamine.
Spinach is is thought to have originated in ancient Persia (modern Iran and neighbouring countries). It is not known by whom, or when, spinach was introduced to India, but the plant was subsequently introduced to ancient China, where it was known as “Persian vegetable. The earliest available record of the spinach plant was recorded in Chinese, stating it was introduced into China via Nepal (probably in 647 AD).
In AD 827, the Saracens introduced spinach to Sicily. The first written evidence of spinach in the Mediterranean was recorded in three 10th-century works: the medical work by al-Rāzī (known as Rhazes in the West) and in two agricultural treatises, one by Ibn Waḥshīyah and the other by Qusṭus al-Rūmī. Spinach became a popular vegetable in the Arab Mediterranean and arrived in Spain by the latter part of the 12th century. The prickly-seeded form of spinach was known in Germany by no later than the 13th century, though the smooth-seeded form was not described until 1552. (The smooth-seeded form is used in modern commercial production.)
Spinach first appeared in England and France in the 14th century, probably via Spain, and it gained quick popularity because it appeared in early spring, when other vegetables were scarce and when Lenten dietary restrictions discouraged consumption of other foods. Spinach is mentioned in the first known English cookbook, the Forme of Cury (1390), where it is referred to as ‘spinnedge’ and/or ‘spynoches’. Smooth-seeded spinach was described in 1552.
Spinach was supposedly the favourite vegetable of Catherine de’Medici. Dishes served on a bed of spinach are known as “Florentine”, reflecting Catherine’s birth in Florence. Spinach came with the first European settlers to America. The first description of a smooth-seeded variety was recorded in 1552. By 1806, spinach was listed in American seed catalogues. Today the largest producers of spinach are America and China.
Culinary: Spinach is absolutely wonderful when freshly picked and eaten raw or quickly steamed. It can also be dried, crushed and used similar to other dried herbs.
Dark leafy greens like spinach are important for skin and hair, bone health, and provide protein, iron, vitamins, and minerals.
The possible health benefits of consuming spinach include improving blood glucose control in diabetics, lowering the risk of cancer, lowering blood, improving bone health, lowering the risk of developing asthma and more.
Spinach has twice as much iron, calcium, potassium and protein as other leafy greens. It is an excellent source of the antioxidants vitamins A and C, as well as the B vitamins thiamin, niacin and folic acid. It also contains the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. (Good for those aging eyes!)
Spinach contains oxalic acid, which can interfere with the absorption of calcium and magnesium. In addition, if grown with large amounts of ammonia fertilizers, nitrate concentrations may reach near-toxic level.