Lagos Spinach – Celosia Argentea


FAMILY: Amaranth

BOTANICAL NAME: Celosia Argentea var. Spicata


OTHER COMMON NAMES: Lagos Spinach, Quail Grass, Wool Flower, Spiked Cockscomb, Mfungu, Soko

PLANT RELATIVES: Foxtail Amaranth, Cockscomb

EDIBLE PARTS: Leaves, Young Stems and Flowers

Lagos Spinach is a tremendous friend in my garden. For one thing, it seems to be entirely impervious to bugs. I find that a considerable help in managing an organic plot. Moreover, I have never seen any form of fungus, wilt, or bacterial disease on my sturdy Lagos spinach plants.

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. Not only does it handle clay soil, but it even survives drought when our water supply is compromised. Now 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.

The funny thing is, most of my garden neighbors think of it as a weed and are forever yanking it up and throwing it away. At the same time, Lagos spinach is highly valued for its edibility in other parts of the world. Undoubtedly it gets its name from the city in Nigeria where it is grown commercially for food. Interestingly, celosia argentea 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.

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 heights up to 5 feet. For this reason, the plant provides lasting flower bouquets as well as highly nutritious greens. 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.

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. 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.

In my opinion, it’s heads above standard spinach in flavor and texture. Lovely Lagos spinach is mild without any bitterness or metallic, earthy flavor. In addition, the bite is clean, with no trace of the slimness found in many other nutritious greens.

Whether you find celosia argentea growing wild in your tropical climate or order seed to plant, I encourage you to give this undervalued beauty a try. I know I will never go back to plain spinach as a staple again. I am set with my abundant volunteer. If my husband’s cheeks grow extra rosy, that will be one more ribbon on a prized plant.

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