September in the forest with Chris Horne and Barbara Mitcalfe
Great to eat but hard to pronounce take it syllable by syllable, just as you would take the leaves off, one by one, to eat raw in salads or barely cooked.
Tetragonia tetragonioides, Kōkihi, NZ native spinach
We are writing about two species of native spinach here, both of them edible, but this one, (Tet tet for short), although a very uncommon, threatened plant in the wild, is readily available in plant shops, and is often grown as a vegetable.
As well as being a native NZ plant, it is also native to Australia, Asia and parts of the Pacific. It's a fast-growing scrambler, with sappy stems as thick as your little finger. Its succulent, shovel-shaped dark green leaves about 10 cm by 6 cm make very attractive ground cover all year round - see image. Like non-native spinach, it likes and deserves good soil. Its tiny, bright-yellow flowers are followed by small, woody, horned capsules containing the seeds. These usually self-sow, so you can be sure of a constant supply of this useful stand-by vegetable, handy for any purposes for which you might use non-native spinach soups, quiches, omelettes, stirfry, salads, etc. If/when the plants get straggly, compost them and they will break down rapidly, while their seedlings are growing to a useable size in the garden. Packets of NZ native spinach seeds and punnets of 6 young plants are available in the garden department of at least one Wellington city supermarket, and at garden centres, for about $3.50, this month.
High in vitamin C, in 1769 Tet tet was used extensively and successfully by both Cook and de Surville, who realised its antiscorbutic value. Their crews, desperately weak from scurvy after months at sea, swiftly recovered when plentiful helpings of these greens were added to their daily diet. It is not recorded whether the officers stood over the sailors, saying, Now you make sure you eat all your greens, sailor .....
Trampers are sure to have noticed this other NZ spinach species - Tet imp for short - on coastal tramps, so it is not pictured here. Commonly occurring in coastal ecosystems, it is not a threatened plant. Its thin, wiry, reddish stems scramble over coastal shrubs such as pōhuehue. The leaves are smaller and paler green than Tet tet, broadly diamond-shaped, and fleshy. They usually have a pleasantly salty taste - green chips anyone? Little yellow flowers are followed by small, bright red, succulent fruit, a contrast to Tet tet's woody capsules.