All hail the magnificent Sea Beet! So green, so succulent, so big and bright in the bareness and bleakness of winter!
Where would we be without Sea Beet? Just look how rich and luscious these leaves are even now, slap bang in the middle of January. A lot of the literature on foraging will tell you that Sea Beet is only available from spring through to about the end of November – but I know of a good few plants that are just as productive all year round (there was even some fresh young growth coming through on this one (right)). And this is just as well, for at this time of year the forager’s vegetable rack can be starting to look a bit bare.
Meet the Beets
But it isn’t just us foragers who would be feeling a bit hungry and hard done by at the moment if it wasn’t for this most fecund of plants. Without the incredibly versatile genetic properties of Sea Beet, plenty of domestic store cupboards and veg plots might too be feeling a little empty…
Over the centuries Wild Sea Beet has been cultivated into a multitude of domestic forms, some of which are the very staples of kitchen gardens and cupboards. This very plant is the common ancestor of no less than:
- Perpetual Garden Spinach
- Sugar Beet (from which we farm sugar)
- The Chards (Swiss, Rainbow, etc.)
- And even good old Mangel Wurzel
What a very proud parent Sea Beet must be.
See my Edible Greens A-Z page for full pictures and description.
All parts of Sea Beet are edible, including the summer flowers and roots (the roots can often be quite swollen and look very tempting, but please be aware that it is illegal to dig up any wild plant without the landowner’s permission). The flowers are perhaps the sweetest part of the plant, but the real abundance comes from the leaves. These taste and behave (when cooked) so much like Garden Spinach, that you’ll wonder why you ever parted with your hard earned cash for something that is so similar and can be had for free. The flavour of Sea Beet is most definately stronger than cultivated Spinach, however, and, especially with the big fat older leaves, can sometimes be quite bitter when eaten raw. But the bitterness is invariably mellowed with cooking, and you can use Sea Beet in any recipe that calls for Spinach or Chard. Try out some of fellow blogger Chica Andaluza’s Spinach and Chard recipes using Sea Beet – you won’t be disapointed. I made a Sea Beet, Smoked Bacon and Potato Tart with what I collected – and very nice it was, too.