'Magenta Spreen' Tree Spinach (or Giant Goosefoot)
Origin: Unknown, via France, via Corvallis, Oregon
Improvement status: Cultivar
Seeds per packet: ~500
Germination tested 12/2022: 75%
Life cycle: Annual
This is hands-down the most beautiful lamb's quarters (or goosefoot) adapted to North America. Sure, the closely related quinoas and kañiwas of South America come in a range of neon colors, but most of them are poorly adapted to most of North America. Magenta spreen, on the other hand, has such vivid neon magenta-pink coloration it almost looks fake. The naturally powdered surface of the leaves also lends an iridescence that makes it even more magical.
This species of goosefoot, which can grow to almost ten feet tall, comes from Asia, but it has naturalized in many other countries including France and the US. It was introduced to commerce here in the US by Dr. Alan "Mushroom" Kapuler through his Peace Seeds around 1983. It's said coined the word "spreen" as an alternative to the gun-invoking "shoot"!
The shoots and leaves of this plant are as delicious as spinach, and with a very similar flavor. But unlike spinach, it thrives in hot weather, so will produce greens for you all summer long. Like its relatives, it does contain oxalic acid and saponins, but these break down in cooking, so it's safe to eat plenty of it cooked. It should only be eaten raw in moderation.
The seeds are also edible, like a tinier form of quinoa. Like quinoa, they are coated in bitter saponins so should be washed (or soaked and washed) repeatedly before cooking.
This plant will naturalize if given half a chance, but as weeds go it's a pretty good one to have around. We got these seeds from Wild Garden Seeds, but it's already an occasional weed at the EFN farm in Elmer because we once transplanted a few plants from Roughwood (William Woys Weaver's house). I always let them grow when I see them (or I transplant them to a part of the farm where they won't mess with another crop). I love having plants around that produce heaps of delicious food without my needing to do anything!
RECIPE: My favorite way to prepare this plant and its close cousins is by harvesting as many leaves as I can, then boiling them in milk (seasoned and thickened by first sauteeing some garlic and/or shallots in butter, and adding a tablespoon of flour toward the end before pouring in the milk). Season with salt and pepper, maybe a little honey. And voila! Just about the best soup there is.