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Tetragonia tetragonioides
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This article was published in  the Titirangi Tatler, October 2012

An Edible Native Plant

You could be forgiven for thinking there is nothing to eat amongst all the native plants in the forest and around our coasts. Certainly they are not obvious, but they are there, and many are virtually unknown in cultivation.

One of the better known is NZ Spinach - but ironically NOT well known in New Zealand. How many Kiwis dine on it? Yet it is commonly grown in Europe and the UK. To prove the point I googled "NZ Spinach" and got this very topical response urging Britons to grow NZ Spinach:

From "The Guardian" - 1 hour ago:

Gardens: unusual edibles

New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides)

This leafy green grows like a jungle vine and won't wilt when cooked. (A.k.a. warrigal greens, kokihi, Botany Bay spinach, Cook's cabbage.)

Growing: Once all risk of frost has passed, start off by soaking the large, knobbly seeds overnight in a glass of water. Sow directly outdoors in full sun to light shade - two to three seeds in each hole, 30cm apart. After a fortnight, thin out the weakest seedlings. Apart from a frequent trim, the plants need little maintenance. Treat as an annual, because the first hard frost will turn the leaves to mush.

Harvesting and eating: Snip off young tips to encourage bushy growth. Harvest once a week in high summer - these plants are thuggish.

I had to wonder how many articles are being written about NZ Spinach at any one time!

Apparently, NZ Spinach (kookihi) is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and supplies you with folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, potassium, thiamin and zinc, plus it is high in calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, riboflavin, vitamin A, vitamin B6 and vitamin C.

No wonder the Europeans are keen on it.

Kookihi has a trailing habit, and will form a thick carpet on the ground with leaves 3-15 cm long, triangular in shape and bright green. The leaves are thick, and covered with tiny papillae that look like waterdrops on the top and bottom of the leaves. The flowers of the plant are yellow, and the fruit is a small, hard pod covered with small horns. Kookihi is a halophyte, meaning it grows well in saline ground.

The leaves are a lot smaller than regular spinach leaves, and slightly salty. You can certainly eat New Zealand spinach raw, but it is a bit acidic so stir fry for 30 seconds in a pan or blanch in boiling water for a few seconds. Remove before it wilts.

There are many recipes available on Google, including New Zealand spinach smoothie and Sichuan Wild Mushroom Sauté with New Zealand spinach.

While NZ Spinach occurs around the Pacific and is the most commonly eaten species, there is another very similar species that is confined to NZ and Australia. The main difference is that Tetragonia implexicoma has red fleshy fruit instead of a woody nut. It grows abundantly and is a common sight around the coast at Piha. It is reputed to have a 'soapy' rather than salty taste.

NZ Spinach grows easily and forms an attractive ground-cover. Every home should have some whether you want to eat it or not.



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