The Backyard Larder

A place to explore and buy perennial vegetables and other food plants.

Caucasian Spinach

Caucasian Spinach

Caucasian spinach is the common name for Hablitzia tamnoides, an extremely useful perennial vegetable being a shade-loving climber that tastes similar to spinach (Spinacia oleracea) but with a milder flavour.

History

Hablitzia tamnoides is native to the Caucasus, a region between the Black and Caspian Seas and a region of great biodiversity. It grows here in caves and wooded ravines and along river banks running through beech and spruce forests. It is named after a German born Russian botanist, Carl Ludwig von Hablitz (1752–1821), also known as Karl Ivanovich Gablits.

Although it doesn’t seem to be well known as an edible in its native region it was introduced to Scandinavia in the mid-nineteenth century and began to be eaten by a few people.

Early this century the plant came to the notice of Stephen Barstow, author of “Around the World In Eighty Plants”, via Lena Israelsson’s book, “Köksträdgården: Det Gröna Arvet” (The Kitchen Garden: our green heritage) and is now becoming known to a wider range of gardeners. Both ‘wild-type’ and Scandinavian varieties are being grown, the former tending to have redder stems.

Hardiness

Tolerates temperatures down to about -30°C.

Soil conditions and location

Hablitzia grows best in a shaded or semi-shaded position in a moisture retentive but not boggy soil. It likes a neutral or slightly alkaline soil and dislikes a more acid one. It is a climber that needs a support such as bean poles, strong netting, a trellis or a shrub or tree, to which it will cling by twisting its leaf stems around the trellis, small branches etcetera.

Spacing

Space plants about 60cm apart.

Pests and diseases

Slugs and snails may attack young plants. No other problems have been confirmed (but I suspected an incidence of beet curly top virus (spread by thrips) on one of my plants one year).

Harvesting and yield

Leaf buds appear early in spring. On well-established plants some of these can be harvested when about 10cm long. Later the tips of the leafy young shoots can be picked. Use these raw or cooked and pick larger individual leaves for cooking in late spring to mid-summer. There may still be some fresh looking leaves to collect after this time. Young flower clusters are also reported to be very tasty! For frequent harvests grow about one plant per person.

How to propagate Caucasian spinach.

Sow fresh seed in autumn and leave the pot outside over the winter in a sheltered spot. When germination occurs protect the young seedlings from frost.

Alternatively stratify the seed (however fresh) by putting it on moist kitchen paper in a polythene bag or container (or sowing in a pot and putting this in a polythene bag) and placing in a fridge (not freezer) for two weeks. If it fails to germinate in this time take the container out of the fridge and keep it at room temperature for a week and then return to the fridge for an additional two weeks. Transfer germinated seed to a pot of compost to grow on in a light frost-free place.

Cuttings can be taken from a large Hablitzia clump. Remove a portion of stem with some root attached and pot up in a general purpose compost.