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Friday, March 31, 2017

Foraging Wild Swiss Chard or Sea Beet in my Backyard!


I love Swiss chard but it's not so cheap to buy locally. I mean it's not a fortune but it's more than I'd like to pay for a leafy green. In my home growing up we grew Swiss chard in our garden and enjoyed it. When married and in our first home, the one with a garden and chickens, my mom gave me some Swiss chard to transplant into my yard and it grew wonderfully giving us a regular supply of yummy greens. But then we moved and the Swiss chard was no more as we has no yard.

Image my excitement when I found out that there is a wild Swiss chard relative, the ancestor of beets and chard, called sea beet, growing locally! It pretty much looks identical to store bought Swiss chard, only growing in the wild. Though native to the coasts of Europe, Northern Africa, and Southern Asia, it now grows in many other parts of the world. It's scientific name, beta vulgaris maritima, meaning common beet sea references the fact that it's originally a coastal plant.

Unfortunately though, while it grows in other parts of my country in large quantities, in my city, I guess because we're not near the sea, I've only ever seen it in two different places. One of those places is near my husband's work, in the part of the  city that is nearest to my town... and that same plant has been growing there for years. But just one plant. I would go back and pick some and then come another time to pick some more. But that was the only place I could forage it. I wouldn't even tell anyone about that plant because I was afraid that  someone else would get there first and there's be nothing for me... I thought of it as 'my Swiss chard plant'.


Last summer I saw my plant go to seed and attempted to collect some but they were really weird looking seeds and I'm not sure if what I collected actually were viable seeds...

Then one day I went there and saw that they were starting a construction project near there and was afraid that they'd develop the area with my plant, so I dug up some of it and attempted to transplant it into my yard... But it didn't seem to work. The plant looked dead...
Last time I went to the city I saw my prediction was correct. The construction area now includes where my plant is, and it is covered by the fences around the construction site.


Disappointing but predicted...
And then yesterday I got an amazing surprise!


I looked in my backyard and saw two different newly sprouted plants... Both sea beet! I'm not sure how those got there because I am pretty sure I didn't scatter the seeds there yet!

And then I looked in my front yard, at the sea beet I'd transplanted and thought was dead, and discovered among the dead looking parts a whole bunch of new growth! Small leaves but definitely alive!

And on a patch of dirt about 200 feet from my front door i discovered not one but 5!!! small sea beet plants! I'm not sure how they got there at all because this is the first time I've ever seen that plant in my town and now it's near my front yard where I transplanted a plant... But I'm not going to question it too hard.

 What I am going to do is transplant those into my yard so that we can enjoy it and it doesn't get killed by the municipality's gardener as is likely to happen if I leave it there.

You might wonder why I care so much about this plant wild if I can just plant regular chard in my garden but the reason is that I am really not good at gardening. I regularly kill plants, though it looks like my luck may be turning but more on that in another post. But point is, wild versions of the same plant are much hardier and don't need human intervention the way cultivated plants do. So if I forget to water or do something se that can kill plants the wild chard is likely to survive anyhow because it is used to surviving without the aid of humans...
I'm just so excited!



In terms of identification, I don't know of any official poisonous look alikes, but some members of the  dandelion and dock families can look a little similar, but dandelion family members usually have serrated edges and dock family members usually have slimy stems.
The biggest thing I've noticed about sea beet that helps me tell it apart from the others is the thickness of the leaves. They are quite thick and substantial.
Some might say mandrake leaves look similar to sea beet, so make sure you know what mandrake looks like because that one can kill you. Mandrake has bumpier leaves, almost like dinosaur skin, whereas sea beet is smooth. Mandrake has flowers and fruit but sea beet has none.


Are you a fan of Swiss chard? What is your favorite way to prepare it? Did you know there was wild Swiss chard? Ever seen it growing near you?
 

2 comments:

  1. I'm a fan! Like to chop up the stalk and braise it first with some garlic in butter or oil, then add the leaves and stir fry. Have not seen the wild one.

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  2. Perhaps some of your seeds blew around. Nature has some wonderful ways of surviving and thriving! We over-pruned a plum tree in our yard by accident last year, and this year there are about a million baby plum trees sprouting up all over the yard. Apparently when the tree feels threatened it goes into maximum procreation mode! Perhaps that's what your transplanted sea beet did.

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