Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is thought to have originated in ancient Persia, or modern-day Iran and its neighboring countries. From Persia, spinach was brought to India, then China, where its cultivation was first recorded in the seventh century. In the ninth century it was introduced in Italy and quickly became a staple in Italian and Mediterranean dishes. Over the next six centuries, spinach spread across Europe and eventually to the United States.
The leaves of spinach vary in size from 1 to 12 inches long and up to 6 inches in diameter. Baby spinach—which is commonly found in bags at the grocery store—is just that: spinach leaves harvested when they’re young. There are three types of leaves: savoy, which has dark green, bumpy textured leaves, flat/smooth-leaf, which is as its name describes, and semi-savoy, which is a hybrid of the two.
Spinach is an annual plant that grows best in cool, damp weather and rich, moist soil. Plants thrive between 60 and 65 degrees. In Yavapai County, spinach should be planted between August and October and again in late February through April. Spinach can withstand light frosts, making it ideal for lightly protected winter gardens. Spinach does not tolerate heat and will bolt (go to seed) as soon as summer arrives.
Spinach is an extremely nutritious food and is often referred to as a “super food” because of its high amounts of vitamins A, C, thiamin, potassium and folic acid. It is also rich in iron and has a moderate amount of calcium. Spinach is a popular and versatile green that can be used in nearly everything due to its mild flavor. It can be eaten raw in salads, added to omelets, steamed as a side, or blended into a smoothie. Taste tests of local spinach in Prescott school cafeterias last month reinforce its popularity: 605 of 787 kids liked or loved it.