The leaf that heals | Daily News

The leaf that heals


As children, we first got acquainted with Spinach by watching Popeye the Sailor man who saved the day by eating spinach which gave him super strength! Over the years, as we got older our mothers taught us the value of eating our vegetables and today Green Thumbs speaks to Director of the Institute of Indigenous Medicine Dr. Swarna Hapuarachchi, on Spinach, a vegetable with a rich history offering plenty of nutritional benefits. A vegetable, the Great Arab agronomist Ibn al-ʻawwām, called in his texts - the chieftain of leafy greens.

Spinach is thought to have originated about 2000 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.

“Spinach's place of origin is ancient Persia or today's Iran and surrounding countries. From there it crossed into India. Ancient Chinese got it from India and gave it a name -Persian vegetable. It came to China via Nepal somewhere around the year 647. Saracens (which was how Europeans called Muslims during the later medieval era) brought spinach to Sicily in the year 827,” said Hapuarachchi.

In fact, When Catherine de' Medici became queen of France in 1533, spinach again gained in popularity. She liked it so much that she ordered it prepared for every meal. During the First World War, French soldiers that suffered from hemorrhage were given wine mixed with juices from spinach.

It had arrived in China by the seventh century and reached Europe in the mid-13th century. For some time, the English referred to it as the ‘Spanish vegetable’, because it came through Spain via the Moors.

“Spinach grows most quickly in well-drained soil rich in organic matter such as compost or composted manure and with a pH of 6.5 to 7. Spinach is a vegetable which can normally be found in down country in Sri Lanka. It is called ‘Nivithi’ in Sinhala. Normally this is mixed with dhal or potato when preparing a curry. Nivithi is said to have lot of nutrition in it including iron,” stated Hapuarachchi.

Hapuarachchi also added that there is always the threat of pests. Pests that enjoy spinach include flea beetles, spider mites, and aphids, which feed on the leaves. Diseases that attack plants are downy mildew (a mildew that may appear during cool, moist weather) and white rust (which causes white spots on the leaves). “The three basic variants of modern spinach are Savoy which has dark green, crinkly and curly leaves. Semi-savoy, a hybrid variety which has slightly crinkled leaves and is much easier to clean than standard Savoy and Flat- or smooth-leaf spinach which is, even more, easier to clean because of its smooth leaves,” added Hapuarachchi.

There are many reasons why spinach is popular. Primarily the fact that it is rich in iron. Spinach is also an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate as well as being a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron and vitamin B2.

“Spinach is also a very good source of zinc, dietary fiber, phosphorus, vitamin B1 and choline. It contains a unique and beneficial mixture of phytonutrients, as well as anti-oxidants, flavonoids and carotenoids. Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), manganese, folate, copper, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium and vitamin C. Spinach may also help with several health conditions. Eating spinach is beneficial for maintaining healthy skin, hair and strong bones, as well as helping with digestion, lowering the risk for heart disease and improving blood glucose control in diabetics,” explained Hapuarachchi.


Five amazing health benefits of eating spinach regularly as a part of your daily diet

Strengthens your bones

Spinach is a rich source of Vitamin K which helps in promoting the production of a protein called Osteocalc in that is responsible for stabilizing calcium in the bones. In addition to being rich in vitamin K, spinach is also a great source of calcium and vitamin D, dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C, all of which are important nutrients that are good for bone health.

Strengthens your eyesight and immune system

Spinach contains beta carotene, zeaxanthin, lutein and chlorophyll - all of which are responsible for improving your eyesight and boosting your immune system. Lutein and zeaxanthin are stored in the macula, which is a part of the retina that acts as a natural sunblock, shielding your eye from damaging light. This will also help lower the risk of macular degeneration, which is why most people are advised to eat more and more greens.

Repels bacteria and viruses

Spinach is high in vitamin A which helps our skin and mucous membranes to repel various kinds of bacteria and viruses effectively. Moreover, this vitamin is necessary for sebum production to keep hair moisturized. Vitamin A is good for the growth of all bodily tissues, including skin and hair.

Promotes heart health

Vitamin C in spinach is known to have the ability to prevent wrinkles and protect us from eye diseases, prenatal health problems and cardiovascular diseases. It is also the presence of lutein content that prevents thickening of walls of arteries, thus reducing the risk of heart attacks. Moreover, it contains nitrite that not only helps in preventing the occurrence of heart attack but also cures the heart diseases associated with fat deposition.

Keeps you energized

Spinach provides you with the required levels of magnesium in your body which helps you to generate energy for your day to day chores. Spinach is also a great source of folate, a nutrient that helps your body turn food into usable energy. Moreover, making your body more alkalized can help you keep energized through the day and spinach is one veggie that is alkaline in nature.


Spinach is a green, leafy vegetable that is high in nutrients and low in calories. One cup of raw spinach contains

7 calories0.86 grams (g) of protein30 milligrams (mg) of calcium0.81 g of iron24 mg of magnesium167 mg of potassium2,813 international units (IU) of Vitamin A58 micrograms of folate. Spinach also contains vitamin K, fiber, phosphorus, and thiamine. Most of the calories in spinach come from protein and carbohydrates.