Fascinating Facts And Figures About Spinach

Spinach seedlings

Generations of children will remember  the cartoon character Popeye the sailor man and his large, muscular arms which he fortified by eating tins of spinach. This gave rise to the belief that spinach was a ‘superfood’ because the very high levels of iron it contained helped make the body stronger. While spinach does have a good level of iron, its reputation is based on a mistake made accidentally by a German chemist in 1870. Erich von Wolff analysed spinach, but put his decimal point in the wrong place. He noted spinach contained 35mg of iron per 100gm serving, whereas it was later found to contain just 3.5mg per 100gm serving. More recently, some opinion believes von Wolff did not make such a mistake, but it all still makes for an entertaining story.

We still believe spinach helps to increase our vitality and boost the quality of our blood thanks to its good level of iron. Spinach is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, K and folic acid, plus a good source of manganese, magnesium and vitamin B2. Vitamin K is important for maintaining bone health, and few vegetables are richer in this than spinach is.

We cannot be sure of it’s origins, but it is highly likely it is a native of Persia – modern day Iran and its neighbours. From there it spread to India and China, where it became known as ‘Persian vegetable’ or ‘Persian green’, by which name it is still known today. It also spread westward to Europe, developing a reputation for promoting good health as it did so.

When spinach reached Provence, it became a very popular, widely used vegetable. In the 17th century the English philosopher John Locke reported having eaten spinach and herb soup in his travels in south west France.

Dishes including spinach and a creamy sauce are often referred to as ‘Florentine’. Catherine of Medici, who married King Henri II of France, is said to have introduced spinach to the French court and named dishes containing spinach ‘à la Florentine’ in honour of her Italian heritage.

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea), an annual grown for its edible leaves, is a member of the Amaranthaceae family. The English word ‘spinach’ dates from the 14th century. It does best in fertile soil which is both free-draining and moisture-retentive. Light, dry soils are best avoided, as these are likely to result in premature flowering and running to seed (bolting). Spinach needs plenty of nitrogen, responding well to top-dressings of a general purpose fertiliser or sulphate of ammonia. It tolerates light shade and because of its often-rapid growth it is suitable for catch-cropping and intercropping.

The sprawling perennial Tetragonia tetragonioides is known as New Zealand spinach, where it was found growing wild by Captain James Cook in 1770. It is also found in Tasmania and coastal areas of Australia.  Grown for its young shoots and leaves, it is drought-resistant and heat-tolerant . New Zealand spinach is an acceptable substitute for true spinach in hot dry conditions, where bolting is likely.

To browse all the spinach we have on offer at Mr Fothergill’s just follow these links to the spinach seeds section of our website


Royal Horticultural Society


This article was first published on the RHS website June 2016. 

Read more on the RHS website about growing spinach successfully.

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