What’s Fresh in December? Eat your spinach

You don’t have to be a muscular sailor man to enjoy the flavor and reap the health benefits of this leafy green. 

Story By Bailey Gilliam

Everyone knows that spinach is a nutritious superfood. From the moment Popeye the Sailor Man appeared in 1929, it became clear that spinach had magical properties. Little did we know that it had more than just strength-boosting powers. It has a myriad of health benefits and can be eaten in many ways. Its versatility makes it easy to incorporate into your regular diet. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of spinach, how to grow it, where to buy it and how to cook it up into something a bit more delicious than glugging it down from a can.

Health benefits

Spinach truly is a superfood packed with nutrients. It is higher in iron, calcium and vitamins than most cultivated greens and one of the best sources of vitamins A, B and C. This leafy green contains 250 milligrams of calcium per cup, making it beneficial for bone and teeth health. Spinach also has magnesium, which can increase metabolism, regulate heart rhythm and maintain blood pressure. Iron is also considerably present in spinach; iron is needed to regulate energy. Spinach may have cancer-prevention properties due to its high source of zeaxanthin and carotenoids that flush out the free radicals from your body. The high potassium content in spinach can help to reduce blood pressure. The antioxidants in spinach support eye health, while the vitamin A in spinach helps maintain mucus membranes essential for normal eyesight. The nutrients in spinach have anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce hypertension. Spinach promotes good heart, brain and skin health and a strong immune system. Spinach is low in calories and high in fiber, making it a healthy food choice that promotes good digestion, regulates low blood sugar and prevents constipation. 

How to grow it

Sandy soils are preferred when planting spinach because it drains early and warms quicker (that’s good news for us). Spinach grows best in cooler temperatures above 40 degrees. Sow the seeds 1/2-inch deep and 2 inches apart in your garden and cover them with 1/2-inch soil. Constantly water your plants to keep them moist. When plants reach one-third of their growth, side-dress with a high-nitrogen fertilizer as needed. Harvest a few outer leaves from each plant so that inner leaves can develop when leaves reach the desired size, or harvest the entire plant, cutting the stem at the base. Be careful not to wait too long to harvest or wait for larger leaves. Bitterness will set in quickly after maturity. 

How to store it

Fresh spinach leaves are good for up to a week. By the eighth day after harvest, the crop loses half of its major nutrients. Too much moisture hastens its demise, so avoid washing it until ready to use. Pat fresh spinach dry with a paper towel, and put it in a freezer bag with the towel to absorb moisture. Given its short shelf life, spinach is perfect for freezing. If freezing, wash, trim off ends and yellowing leaves, blanch and pack into freezer bags. 

Types of spinach

Baby-leaf: Baby-leaf style spinach is tender and has small leaves. The variety Baby’s Leaf grows well in containers, and the variety Catalina is heat-tolerant and resistant to downy mildew.

Savoy: This type of spinach has curly, crinkled, dark leaves. The variety Winter Bloomsdale does best in the fall and is tolerant to mosaic viruses.

Semi-savoy: This spinach plant has slightly crinkled leaves and can be difficult to seed. The variety Melody is resistant to cucumber mosaic virus and downy mildew, the variety Remington is mildew-resistant and will grow in any season, and the variety Tyee can be planted in spring or fall and is resistant to downy mildew.

Smooth or flat-leaf: Also called plain leaf varieties, this type of spinach has spade-shaped leaves. Giant Nobel is an heirloom that is slow to bolt, and Nordic IV is bolt-resistant.

Malabar Spinach and New Zealand Spinach: These are two heat-tolerant leafy greens that resemble ordinary spinach. They can be grown in the summer when common spinach can’t take the heat.

Where to buy

Farmers Market of Bluffton: Purchase locally grown spinach from noon to 5 p.m. Thursdays in Old Town Bluffton. 

Roadside markets: Certified roadside markets such as Pasture Shed Farms on St. Helena Island are great places to find fresh spinach. Find a listing of certified markets at agriculture.sc.gov. 

Supermarkets: Our favorite spots for spinach are Publix, Whole Foods and Lowcountry Fresh. 

Cooking tips 

  • A pinch of baking soda in the cooking water keeps the spinach greener.
  • Refresh wilted spinach by placing it in a bowl of iced water for a few minutes before using it.
  • Raw, young spinach is best in salads and smoothies.
  • More mature spinach is excellent sautéed in heated olive oil.

Fun facts

  • During medieval times, the green pigment extracted from spinach was used as ink.
  • The average American eats 1 1/2 pounds of spinach a year.
  • Florentine is a standard part of the names of recipes where spinach is a significant ingredient. Florence, Italy, was the birthplace of Catherine de Medici, a spinach lover who married the King of France in the16th century.
  • In the 1930s U.S. spinach growers credited Popeye with a 33 percent increase in domestic spinach consumption. 
  • The spinach-growing town of Crystal City, Texas, erected a statue of Popeye in 1937.
  • Birds Eye was the first company to advertise frozen spinach in 1949.


This delicious, savory Greek pie comprises crispy layers of phyllo dough and a comforting filling of spinach and feta cheese. Impress your guests and taste buds with ease.


2 small red onions, halved and sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

18 ounces spinach, washed and roughly chopped

A pinch of grated nutmeg

7 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

2 eggs, beaten

1–2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

1 (14-ounce) pack of phyllo pastry (pie-shaped)


Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions [1] Completely thaw your phyllo dough by putting it in the fridge the day before. [2] Heat the oven to 400 degrees. [3] To prepare the filling, sauté the onions in butter until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the spinach in batches and cook until wilted. Cool, then transfer to a bowl, leaving behind any excess liquid from the spinach, and mix in the nutmeg, feta, eggs, dill, salt and pepper. [4] In a nonstick pie pan, spread out the first sheet of phyllo dough and brush with butter, letting the excess hang over the sides. Keep going with the rest of the sheets. When you’ve used all of the dough, pour in the spanakopita filling and fold over the excess pastry to cover. Butter the top of the pie with melted butter and score with a sharp knife. [5] Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until crisp and golden. [6] Leave the spanakopita to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Mandarin orange salad

Combine spinach and oranges to boost the health benefits of the superfood and send your tastebuds on a journey. Make it as a side, or add some simple grilled chicken to turn this salad into a meal. 

Ingredients (salad)

3 cups baby spinach

3 cups arugula 

1 (11-ounce) can of mandarin oranges, drained

1 cup toasted walnuts

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup shaved Parmesan

Pinch of sea salt

Ingredients (dressing)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons poppy seeds

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Directions [1] Toss together spinach, arugula, mandarins, walnuts and cranberries in a large bowl. [2] Whisk together red wine vinegar, orange juice, honey, poppy seeds and mustard in a medium bowl. Slowly pour in oil while whisking until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper. [3] Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine. Top with Parmesan and a pinch of sea salt. 

Sautéed spinach 

This easy spinach recipe is one of the best ways to cook spinach. Sauté your spinach in olive oil and garlic for a nutritious and delicious side in just minutes. Popeye would approve!


2 large bunches of spinach, about 1 pound

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, sliced

Salt to taste

Directions [1] Clean and prep the spinach: Cut off the thick stems of the spinach and discard. Clean the spinach by filling up your sink with water and soaking the spinach to loosen any sand or dirt. Drain the spinach and then repeat, soaking and draining. Put the spinach in a salad spinner to remove any excess moisture. [2] Sauté the garlic: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, until the garlic begins to brown. [3] Add the spinach to the pan and cook, packing it down a bit if you need to with your hand. Use a couple of spatulas (or tongs) to lift the spinach and turn it over in the pan, so you coat more of it with olive oil and garlic. Do this a couple of times. Cover the pan and cook for 1 minute. Uncover and turn the spinach over again. Cover the pan and cook for an additional minute. [4] Remove from heat and drain the excess liquid: After 2 minutes of covered cooking, the spinach should be completely wilted. Remove from heat. Drain any excess liquid from the pan. Add a little more olive oil if you wish. Then, sprinkle with salt to taste. Serve immediately.


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