Sea Beet or Wild Spinach
Updated: May 2, 2019
This is a UK coastal plant that I think you should become very familiar with as it is simply delicious. The Sea Beet or Wild Spinach also known as the Sea Spinach is a distant relative of the many foods that are cultivated today including Chard, Beetroot and Sugar Beet. The Sea Beet (Beta Vulgaris Maritima) is a very common species of plant that lives around our coasts. It can be found all around the UK coastline and can be found living on the upper beach, shingle beaches or waste land close to the sea.
Near me, you can find it both sides of the sea wall, happily growing in grassland, in the range of winter storm spray. The plant is extremely common and it amazes me why it isn’t used more often in the kitchen, it grows profusely, sometimes the plants or areas covered by Sea Spinach are something to behold as it quilts whole areas of ground. The plant isn’t a relative of the Spinach that we consume so readily today but in my eyes it is a far superior alternative that offers everything that cultivated Spinach does not.
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Maybe this is just me but when I eat Spinach I am always under whelmed with its texture especially that of cooked Spinach, the leaves of the Sea Beet are large and thick with a good stem running up the centre of the leaf. The thick leaves make the leaves feel more satisfying and filling and due to the robustness of the leaf they are more generous with their taste. If you like Spinach you will love Sea Beet!!
How to identify Wild Spinach or Sea Beet?
The plant is easy to identify, there are not many plants like it on the UK coastline. The plants thick and succulent leaves make it look like very little else on the shoreline. Its leaves are brilliant green and the newest leaves triangular to spoon shaped with a thick stem running up the middle of the leaf. As the leaves get bigger (up to 40cm) they begin to look more distorted or crooked, deepening in colour and becoming a much darker green.. The leaves are available all year although in some areas although their official season is April to October with the young leaves being best in April and May. The plant sends up a flowering stem between July and September that can be laden with very small green flowers.
The whole plant is edible including the flower spikes - considered by some to be the best part of the plant. It can be found and harvested all year around, but in the deepest Winter months it is best left, wait for new leaves in early Spring. The roots which are bulbous have a mild Beetroot flavour - One little warning about the root though, you are not allowed to remove the roots of plants without the landowners permission, as most of the seashore is owned you will have to find out who owns it prior to digging up anything,. Why not leave the roots though and just pick the delicious young leaves!
Sea Beet Recipes and what to do with it!
Now my favourite bit.. The cooking! Sea Beet can be treated the same as Spinach except with a little extension to the cooking time. Simply wilted with some seasoning and butter it makes an excellent side to most meals or the young washed leaves can be added as an extra addition to salads. You need to get your hands on some and start using it as there are so many ways to use it!! I have chopped the leaves and added them to stir fry’s and even made a Sea Spinach Soufflé recipe including them.. Most recently I used them as a brilliant and flavoursome addition to a fisherman’s pie – made from fish caught from the river just metres away, simply stunning! This sea vegetable has become such the norm in our house that we simply use it in everything. Buttered leaves with Lamb or obviously fish. I have used it to line my Beef Wellingtons (make sure you cook it down and get a lot of that water out of it though). Sea Spinach and Asparagus Risotto, Stir Frys, cooked alongside Halloumi in an excellent warm salad.. Chick Pea, Tomato and Sea Spinach Curry. Wilted with crispy Pancetta as a side too. The amount of ways that you can use this fantastic plant are endless.
I could keep on writing about this much underrated plant and shouting its benefits or talking about its superior spinach’y flavour however if you live near the coast or are planning to visit it why not look out for this tasty little plant and gather some for yourself!! It even keeps better in the fridge than any other green!
Here's some more Sea Beet or Sea Spinach recipes for you to try:
Forage it, cook it and let us know what tasty Sea Beet recipes you have created!!