Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is a leafy green flowering plant native to central and western Asia. It is of the order Caryophyllales, family Amaranthaceae, subfamily Chenopodioideae. Its leaves are a common edible vegetable consumed either fresh, or after storage using preservation techniques by canning, freezing, or dehydration. It may be eaten cooked or raw, and the taste differs considerably; the high oxalate content may be reduced by steaming.
It is an annual plant (rarely biennial), growing as tall as 30 cm (1 ft). Spinach may overwinter in temperate regions. The leaves are alternate, simple, ovate to triangular, and very variable in size: 2–30 cm (1–12 in) long and 1–15 cm (0.4–5.9 in) broad, with larger leaves at the base of the plant and small leaves higher on the flowering stem. The flowers are inconspicuous, yellow-green, 3–4 mm (0.1–0.2 in) in diameter, and mature into a small, hard, dry, lumpy fruit cluster 5–10 mm (0.2–0.4 in) across containing several seeds.
In 2018, world production of spinach was 26.3 million tonnes, with China alone accounting for 90% of the total.
Spinach is thought to have originated about 2,000 years ago in ancient Persia from which it was introduced to India and ancient China via Nepal in 647 AD as the “Persian vegetable”. In AD 827, the Saracens introduced spinach to Sicily. The first written evidence of spinach in the Mediterranean was recorded in three 10th-century works: a medical work by al-Rāzī (known as Rhazes in the West) and in two agricultural treatises, one by Ibn Waḥshīyah and the other by Qusṭus al-Rūmī. Spinach became a popular vegetable in the Arab Mediterranean and arrived in Spain by the latter part of the 12th century, where Ibn al-ʻAwwām called it raʼīs al-buqūl, ‘the chieftain of leafy greens’. Spinach was also the subject of a special treatise in the 11th century by Ibn Ḥajjāj.
Spinach first appeared in England and France in the 14th century, probably via Spain, and gained common use because it appeared in early spring when fresh local vegetables were not available. Spinach is mentioned in the first known English cookbook, the Forme of Cury (1390), where it is referred to as ‘spinnedge’ and ‘spynoches’. During World War I, wine fortified with spinach juice was given to injured French soldiers with the intent to curtail their bleeding.