Lagos Spinach is an edible ornamental plant with the botanical name of celosia argentea. It has been a tremendous friend in my garden and kitchen.
- FAMILY: Amaranthaceae (Amaranth)
- GENUS: Celosia
- SPECIES: Celosia argentea
- TYPE: Annual Herb
- NATIVE: West Africa
- DISTRIBUTION: Pantropical
- ENGLISH – Lagos spinach, Nigerian spinach, African spinach, quailgrass, feathered celosia, flamingo feather, wheatstraw celosia, silver cockscomb, lady’s finger
- INTERNATIONAL – sokyokoto, efo soko, mfungu, qing xiang, crete de coq, cresta de gallo, mamoe, repe moa, lisi, kadayohan, no-geito
Easy to grow
What do I love about Lagos spinach? Well, for one thing, it seems to be entirely impervious to bugs. I find that a considerable help in managing an organic plot. I have never seen any form of fungus, wilt, or bacterial disease on my Nigerian spinach plants.
Do you know what else is incredible? I never planted it myself. Instead, I watched it pop up spontaneously, a complete gift. Since then, it continues to reseed all on its own, season after season. Thus, it’s effortless to cultivate.
Even though it’s classified as an annual and I grow it that way for its young and tender leaves, I think of it as perennial. It grows year-round without any seeding or planting on my part.
Well, now that I think about it I have moved young plants from one part of the garden to another. It’s not fussy and is tolerant of many growing conditions in the warm climate of Hawaii. Indeed, it will grow as high as six feet if left unchecked.
Here’s a young plant that’s just sprouted up growing happily amongst the oregano and turmeric in the garden.
Not only does our celosia argentea handle clay soil, but it even survives drought when our water supply is compromised. It’s true the leaves become smaller and more scraggly under such conditions. But, you can’t believe how lush it grows with a little love and attention.
What does Lagos spinach look like?
I agree with those that call it one of the prettiest vegetables you can grow. Indeed, this herbaceous annual is flush with beautiful silver and fuchsia flower stalks when it matures at full height.
Even the leaves themselves are painted with beautiful maroon swatches in red varieties. This is the type that grows in my garden and graces our kitchen.
In other areas, the leaves of celosia argentea can be wide and pointed or elongated and torpedo-like depending on the cultivar and growing stage of the plant. For the same reasons, the green color can be solid or mottled with deep red to purple hues.
It’s easy to see looking at these leaves why the Lagos plant is sometimes called purple amaranth. I always pick the greens when they are young and fat before the plant is prolific with flowers. At that stage, the leaves tend to thin and aren’t as tender or succulent.
The flowers of celosia argentea are showy and make gorgeous additions to flower bouquets. The name argentea means silvery which aptly describes the velvety tips that develop at the top of vivid pink spikes.
Not only do the spiky flowers with their sturdy stems make beautiful fresh-cut arrangements, but they have a bonus attribute. Mature flowers can be air-dried and enjoyed as long-lasting blooms or potpourri.
The seeds of this variety of amaranth are technically edible like their cousins. However, they are incredibly tiny.
Thus, I don’t bother to collect them to eat and don’t worry about harvesting my plants before they have gone fully to seed.
Fortunately, enough seed from the plants always makes it into the garden soil to start the new round of tasty spinach.
If you want to grow your own first plants from seed, Sow Exotic sells the same variety of celosia argentea that grows like a weed here on Maui.
The funny thing is, most of my garden neighbors do think of our ubiquitous purple amaranth as a weed and are forever yanking it up and throwing it away. Elsewhere in the world, Lagos spinach is highly valued for its edibility. It’s even grown as commercial food in Nigeria.
Interestingly, Nigerian spinach has charming terms all over tropical Africa that tout its attributes. You can find translations like “makes your husband fat and happy”, “makes your husband’s cheeks rosy”, and “eaten by lazy ones.”
Well, nutritional data supports the folklore touting the health benefits of African spinach. It has significant amounts of vitamin A and C as well as protein. But even more, it outperforms other highly nutritious leafy greens.
Studies cited by ECHOCommunity.org rank Lagos spinach as having up to ten times the iron of ordinary spinach and second only to moringa in antioxidants when compared to twenty indigenous leafy vegetables.
How to cook African spinach
So what’s it like to cook Lagos spinach? Well, it’s just as easy to cook as it is to grow. You can use it in any recipe that calls for cooked spinach.
However, in my opinion, it’s heads above standard spinach in flavor and texture. Lovely Lagos spinach is mild without bitterness or metallic, earthy flavor. In addition, the bite is clean, with no trace of the slimness found in many other nutritious greens.
Like ordinary spinach, it wilts instantly in a pot of boiling water and becomes tender in minutes. The red-stained cooking water is almost too pretty to toss out.
If you would like a starting place, Chana Dal With Lagos Spinach is one of my absolute favorite recipes.
As time goes by look for more recipes on the blog like spanakopita, pizza, noodle dishes, stuffed bread, and dips that include my prize wild spinach.
Always be one hundred percent sure of your plant identification if consuming foraged or wild plants. Finally, follow your Dr.’s advice when eating new or unfamiliar plants, especially if you are pregnant or taking any medications.
You know that pink-stained cooking water I mentioned? There is good reason to toss it out if you have a concern about foods high in oxalic acid. Along with the list that includes chocolate, beans, swiss chard, beets, and nuts, Lagos spinach is a plant you want to limit if you have any kidney disease or health conditions.
Personally, I feel safe eating moderate cooked amounts without blanching and discarding the water. I trust you will let your own taste and judgment guide you.
Whether you find celosia argentea in your own tropical climate or order seed to plant, I encourage you to give this undervalued beauty a try. If you have a husband whose cheeks grow fat and rosy, that will be the extra ribbon on your trophy!