The good king has gone to seed. Good King Henry, that is. A plant. But no matter about that going to seed. The leaves still taste good, steamed or boiled just like spinach.
The taste similarity with spinach isn’t surprising because both plants are in the same botanical family, the Chenopodiaceae, or, more recently, the Amaranthaceae. Spinach and Good King Henry didn’t change families; their family was just taken in by, and made into a subfamily of, the Amaranthaceae.
Whatever its name — and it’s also paraded under such common names as poor man’s asparagus and Lincolnshire spinach — Good King Henry is a vegetable that’s been eaten for hundreds of years, except hardly ever nowadays. While spinach, beet, and some of its other kin have been improved by breeding and selection over the years, Good King Henry was neglected.
The season’s first peas and potatoes are such a taste treat, radishes are fun, and everyone pines for the first tomatoes. But kale, I think, is the vegetable most worthy of praise. Here I am in the greenhouse, watering kale transplants for the garden even as, right behind me, kale in beds planted last August are still yielding mature leaves for salads and cooking.
Kale is one of the few vegetables that tolerates heat in summer, cold in winter, and every temperature in between. You can just keep picking the lower leaves as new ones keep growing up top. Neither broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, nor other members of kale’s family can keep up production like that. And other greens, like lettuce, arugula, and mustard, send up seed-stalks and lose their flavor when days get long or hot. The kale in my greenhouse is now sending up seedstalks but the leaves …
I’m often questioned, “So what are you growing that’s particularly interesting this year.” It’s a tough question to answer because following the growth of even common plants is interesting year after year, watching how they respond to the vagaries of each year’s weather and pests, changing growing techniques, and other influences. Still, a few plants always elicit a, “You’re growing what?”
Such as, for instance, three edibles: seakale, chufa, and oca. Let’s start with the seakale (Crambe maritima). This plant had been growing at the edge of one of my flower beds for many years but died last year. I never did try eating the plant but had earned a permanent place in the flower bed for its gray-green leaves and attractive sprays of 4-petalled white flowers. Those two characteristics would also rightly land the plant in the cabbage family.