Beetberry (Chenopodium capitatum) is a delightfully strange little plant. It has edible leaves which can be eaten raw in salads -or cooked like spinach, root, which is similar to parsnip, and fruits, which look very much like raspberries. It was discovered around 1600 in an overgrown, deserted monastery garden, holding its own against the weeds.
It only grows about a foot tall, so there isn’t much fear of it shading out other plants. Although the weight of all the fruit it makes around August sends it flopping over the plants next to it, or spilling into nearby pathways, which it did here. Very pretty to look at though.
The flavor of the fruit is slightly sweet, although fairly bland. If you really stretch your imagination you could call it a raspberry flavor – a very vegetable kind of raspberry: fairly watery really. Perhaps I could compare it to a quart of water flavored with a single raspberry? When combined with the texture, which is crunchy because of the seeds, the experience isn’t far off from munching a fruity stick of celery. I don’t like eating them straight, but they can really add body, and juicy crunch to salads.
The leaves are like lambsquarter leaves (Chenopodium album), to which it is very closely related. Both species’ leaves can be cooked like spinach, or used raw in salads. Beetberry leaves are more smooth than lambsquarter leaves though, so I would use them in salads and lambsquarter for cooking.
He roots are said to be parsnip flavored. My plants have never produced I root large enough I thought to be worth eating. In more fertile soils than mine, perhaps they would bulk up a bit more. This, and the flavor of the fruit are both points I think beetberry could be improved.
It’s that beetberry is so easily grown that I like it so much. Because if it is anything like its near cousin lambsquarter (Chenopodium album), then it will generously self seed. If it goes through the trouble of propagating itself, I will be happy to taste some berries, leaves, and the small edible root, and select for more desirable size and flavor: turning to mulch the inferior, making room for the superior.
Starting beetberry myself wasn’t hard either: I read that it needs a short time of cool temperatures to sprout, but mine sprouted very well in the same unheated greenhouse we had our tomato starts in. It gets cool, but not cold; perhaps temperature is something to play with if yours aren’t sprouting.
Of course, looking at its history, beetberry proven it can take care of itself in an overgrown garden in Europe. So unless I purposefully eradicate it (which I won’t) I think this happy little plant is here to stay. Here’s a source for the seeds