Hablitzia: What a Name!
At last night’s appropriately social distanced “zoom” dinner with my daughter, she commented on how tasty my salad looked. “All home grown,” I replied, and held up to the computer screen a leaf of one of the major contributors to my bowl of greenery, Caucasian mountain spinach (Hablitzia tamnoides). “Looks like some leaf you just plucked off a tree,” says she. Yes, it did, but it was as tasty and as tender as any leaf of regular garden spinach.
It’s with good reason that the two “spinaches” are so similar: They’re both in the same family, Amaranthacea, also kin to beets, chard, quinoa, lamb’s quarters, and pigweed.
Caucasian mountain spinach has it over conventional garden spinach in a number of ways, most significantly its being a perennial. I planted it last spring and don’t plan on doing so ever again. Not that making new plants would be difficult. They were easy from seed, and cuttings are also said to root easily. The quickest way to have larger new plants would be to divide the clump sometime after the tops have died back for winter or before new sprouts appear.
Being a perennial, Caucasian mountain spinach won’t lose quality as it goes to seed during the warmer, longer days of late spring and summer. White flowers, with a faint aroma of cilantro, appear in June and July, but the leaves still make tasty additions to salads or cooked dishes.
Right now, plants are starting to stretch their leafy stems skyward. Making use of the third dimension in gardening — up — makes for efficient use of garden space, a plus for any plant in an intensive garden. They’d like something on which to climb, which they do by pulling themselves upward in the same way as do clematis vines, twisting their leaf stalks around whatever they can. I’ll be providing a ladder for them made from posts and chicken wire.
Now that I think of it, Caucasian mountain spinach also makes use of the fourth dimension in gardening — time — since it can make its way into the kitchen from when my plum trees bloom until I harvest the last of my apples.
The Good King, and Others
The bed that’s home to Caucasian mountain spinach is also home to another perennial bit of edible greenery, Good King Henry (Blitum bonus-henricus), also sharing the Amaranthacea family. That bed gets some shade in the afternoon, which is all to the liking of Caucasian mountain spinach, not so much to Good King Henry.
No matter, because Good King Henry is not, in my opinion, nearly as tasty as its Caucasian cousin. The King’s leaves are good cooked, but not great, and not very good raw in salads. One reason I like it so much is for its name, both the common name and the botanical name.
I had hoped the bed would also be home to the perennial leek and perennial onion (Welsh onion) that I sowed and grew last season. But there’s not a sign of either plant this season. I guess they’re not all that perennial, odd since last winter was downright tropical (for here), the thermometer hardly dipping below zero degrees Fahrenheit.
If I wanted early onions, as greens, some kinds are reliably hardy. An interesting one that I grew decades ago is Egyptian Onion, also known as Walking Onion. They “walk” because the cluster of small bulbs atop the green stalks weight the stalks down till they eventually bow to the ground, depositing the cluster a few inches from the plant. The bulbs take root, grow, bow, and deposit the bulbs another few inches away, so, unfettered, the plant spreads by “walking” around the garden. I stopped growing it because the flavor was too sharp for me.
One More, This One Well-Known
One more perennial vegetable, this one familiar to everyone, is asparagus. I don’t understand why anyone who has a garden doesn’t grow asparagus. Even a flower garden, to which asparagus can offer a soft, green ferny backdrop. A bed offers two months of almost daily harvest. Rabbits and deer don’t eat it, so fencing isn’t needed (except in my garden, where my dogs have developed a taste for it).
And pests are rarely a problem. Except for weeds.
Perhaps you’ve been put off by the heroic measures for planting it suggested in older gardening books. That is, digging a deep trench, planting the roots in the bottom of the trench, and then gradually filling it in as the plants grow. Not necessary!
The deep planting suggested was to keep the plants’ crowns beyond the reach of tractors’ cultivator blades. But there’s no reason to cultivate an asparagus bed, and most home gardeners don’t anyway, so make holes just deep and wide enough to cover the roots when planting.
So there you have it, for easy gardening and tasty meals: Plant Caucasian mountain spinach and asparagus, and perhaps, especially if you like the name, Good King Henry.