Spinach: Easy to grow, nutritious in many ways

At this time of year, a drive through farming areas of the Rio Grande Valley offers proof that greens are important crops to area farmers. Most members of the cabbage family, Swiss chard and spinach are grown in abundance.

Timing is everything in growing these crops, as all are cool season vegetables.

Spinach is an easy crop to grow in a home garden, and is one that can be planted every two to three weeks to extend the growing season. In the Valley, it is best to plant spinach between October and mid-February.

However, if the weather is cool, planting may be extended into March. Heat will cause spinach to bolt and set seed, changing the taste and nutrient quality.

Spinach is an ancient crop that originates from the Middle East.

Traders moved this crop to Asia, Spain and Europe where it was appreciated as an early spring crop. By the 11th century it was not only recognized as a medicinal crop, helping to build blood and useful in treating wounds, but it became popular as a culinary crop, especially in Spain and France.

Dishes highlighting spinach became popular for religious holidays and special occasions, including the development of dishes, like spinach quiche during Lent.

Spinach has many health benefits and it is the subject of ongoing research. Spinach contains several anti-inflammatory nutrients that work in the digestive tract, protecting the body over-all and, especially, the heart. Some of these nutrients also act to protect our bodies from cancer. Spinach is a source of omega-3 fats which also serve as an anti-inflammatory nutrient, important to heart and brain health.

One cup of spinach is only 41 calories, making it a good choice at the salad bar. Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin A, C and K, which helps blood clot — especially important in recovering from injuries. It also has manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper and vitamin E, along with vitamins B2 and vitamin B6, calcium and potassium.

Spinach has a high oxalate content which ties up calcium and iron. To overcome this, add another source of calcium, like cheese, to your salad.

Cooking by sautéing or boiling, for about three minutes, has shown to be the best ways to reduce oxalates and maintain nutrients. Anyone who is prone to kidney stones should consult their doctor about consuming spinach.

The antioxidant, lutein, in spinach protects our eyesight and vitamins A and C supports the health of hair and nails.

The potassium protects and builds bone health and supports muscular function. These health benefits and low calorie content, coupled with ease of growing, make spinach a deserving member of our diet and gardens.

Today, several producers at the Growing Growers Farmers Market have locally grown spinach, along with other fall vegetables and herbs.

This market is located in Firemen’s Park, on the corner of First Street and Business 83, in McAllen and is open from 9a.m. to noon, every Saturday, year-round.

For information on the market, call (956) 330-6410 and for growing information on Spinach, stop by the market Welcome Desk, or visit: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.

Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. Email her at barbarastorz@hotmail.com.