Sea Beet or Wild Sea Spinach
Updated: Jul 15
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.
This is a UK coastal plant that I think you should become very familiar with as it is simply delicious. The sea beet or 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.
What does Sea Beet taste like?
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!!
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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 or try growing your own!
Sea Beet identification checklist:
Erect perennial plant
Up to 60 cm (2 ft) high
Dark green, leathery, untoothed, shiny leaves
Lower leaves are wavy and roughly triangular
Upper leaves are narrow and oval
Flowers are green and tiny
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Growing and propogating Sea Beet
Sea beet prefers a sunny spot and well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter added to it. Collect the clusters of seeds from the plant in late summer and sow in spring, it can be a little fickle to germinate, but you'll only need a few plants to keep you in leaves all spring and summer long.
Sea Beet Look-alikes
Dock and horseradish leaves are similar, but sea beetroot leaves are smoother, glossier and diamond or heart-shaped.
Is Sea Spinach good for you?
Nutritionally speaking, Sea Spinach is also a superfood. It is loaded with Vitamin A, C and Vitamin K. It contains nutrients and is a great source of Calcium, Zinc and Iron and is a also loaded with fibre too. It is also consumed for medicinal purposes in Europe, as stomachic, anti-inflammatory, laxative, and to relieve dyspepsia.
What is Sea Beet used for?
Culinary Purposes: Sea beet is highly regarded for its culinary potential. The tender leaves can be used raw in salads, adding a slightly salty and earthy flavour. It can also be sautéed, steamed, or boiled as a delicious side dish or incorporated into various recipes. Sea beet can be a great substitute for spinach or chard in any dish, offering a unique twist.
Nutritional Benefits: Sea beet is a nutrient powerhouse. It is rich in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium. It also contains antioxidants and dietary fibre, making it a valuable addition to a healthy diet. Consuming sea beet can support immune function, bone health, and overall well-being.
Medicinal Properties: Traditionally, sea beet has been used for its medicinal properties. It is believed to have diuretic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects. The leaves have been used to treat various ailments, including digestive disorders and skin conditions. However, it is important to consult a healthcare professional before using sea beet for medicinal purposes.
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Cooking with Sea Beet
When preparing sea beet, it is crucial to harvest young and tender leaves for the best flavour and texture. Here are a few ideas for incorporating sea beet into your cooking:
Salads: Add raw sea beet leaves to salads for a refreshing and nutritious twist. Combine them with other greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and a light dressing.
Sautéed or Steamed: Sauté sea beet with garlic and olive oil for a quick and flavoursome side dish. Alternatively, steam the leaves until tender and serve as a nutritious accompaniment to fish or grilled meats.
Quiches and Frittatas: Use sea beet as a filling in quiches or frittatas. Sauté the leaves with onions, garlic, and your choice of cheese, then mix into the egg mixture before baking.
Stir-Fries and Pasta: Add sea beet to stir-fries or pasta dishes for added texture and flavour. Blanch the leaves before incorporating them into your chosen recipe.
Sea Beet Recipes
Now my favourite bit.. The cooking! Can you eat Sea Spinach? Oh yes you can! 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 eaten raw and added as an extra addition to salads.
Sea Beet alla Romana
2 handfuls of sea beet leaves washed
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 tbsps raisins
Tbsp toasted pine nuts
Sea Salt and Black Pepper
Simply blanche the leaves in salted water for a minute, remove and place on a clean tea towel to dry out a little.
In a frying pan, gently cook the garlic in a little olive oil and with a small pinch of salt. Add the chilli flakes and raisins when the garlic is nearly done. Then simply add the sea beet leaves back to the pan, toss and coat the leaves in the garlic and chilli oil, season then serve. Think about this side with some crispy potatoes and some pan fried mackerel. So delicious.
More Sea Spinach recipe ideas..
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!!
Sea beet, with its distinct flavour, versatility, and nutritional benefits, is a plant that deserves attention in the culinary world. Whether used in salads, frying, or other dishes, sea beet provides a delightful addition to meals, especially for those looking to explore wild edibles and expand their culinary repertoire. So, next time you spot this leafy green near the coast, don't hesitate to give sea beet a try and discover the delights it has to offer. Its uses in salads, frying with garlic and olive oil, as a filling in quiches or frittatas, or added to stir-fries and pasta dishes provide a range of possibilities for culinary experimentation. Embracing the natural bounty of sea beet allows us to connect with the coastal environment and savour the unique flavours and health benefits it provides.
So, go ahead and indulge in the culinary delights of sea beet while enjoying the rich heritage and nourishing qualities of this remarkable wild plant.
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