Sea beet: properties, where to find it and how to use it 


sea beet served with a slice of lemon

Sea beet: All you need to know

Historical background and origin

The ancestor of swiss chard, spinach, beetroot and sugar beet[1], sea beet is a perennial, wild plant that is well established in human history.
Thanks to the findings of dried stem fragments, charred seeds and root fragments at archaeological sites in Denmark, we have certainty of its use as far back as the Mesolithic period (the era from 10,000 to 8,000 B.C.)[2]; and we have further written evidence of it dating back to Roman times.
Although it is native to European countries, from the coastal areas of the Atlantic to the Mediterranean basin, sea beet is now widespread in several continents, including India and Australia, albeit with some genetic differences, just like another wild specimen: sea beans.

To learn more about sea beans, click here.

Properties of Sea beet

On the other hand, its spread was inevitable because it is a plant with very few requirements; in fact, it should be emphasized that it is a true superpower of survival. Stressful conditions that are lethal for other plants are no problem for the fearless sea beet.
In other words, it is not afraid of drought, nor is it afraid of poor soil, so much so that, as its name suggests, it is often found a few dozen meters from the sea, on sandy or clay soils with high salinity.
These characteristics place it in a prominent position for the uncertain future of humanity[3,4]; just like the millet, explained in this article.

The fact that our planet is getting hotter and hotter is not science fiction, nor is the fact that much of the southern part of the Old Continent is at imminent risk of drought; therefore, knowing plants that are capable of coping even under extreme conditions can undoubtedly prove to be providential for future generations.

The sea beet is so extraordinary that its genes are being studied in various researches in order to better understand its weapons[1,5,6]; among them, how it is able to be productive without water, in soils without noble nutrients and with high salinity, whatever the temperature and the weather: it can even withstand the strong winds of the Atlantic Ocean! In fact, the term “withstand” is a misnomer, since it seems to prefer areas exposed to the wind, so much so that the most numerous colonies are often found not in sheltered areas, but stoically, directly on the front line.

There is no doubt that sea beet is one of the rare candidates for saving the future of humanity.
Still, I think it’s silly to wait for nefarious times to make its acquaintance: sea beet is delicious, pesticide-free (organic, of course), has no negative impact on the environment, and is still for free. What’s more, it turns out to be much more prolific than its domesticated cousin (the classic chard we buy): instead of twice a year, sea beet manages to provide edible leaves all the time, even reaching 1 meter in height! If I had a vegetable garden, I would definitely prefer it to the domesticated beets.


Nutritional profile of sea beet

Sea beet continues to impress from a nutritional standpoint.
It boasts excellent levels of fiber (5.27g/100g), excellent amounts of iron (5mg/100g), good amounts of vitamin C (18mg/100g), and honest doses of protein (2.5g/100g).
With these nutrients, this unassuming plant certainly deserves a place of honor among the many vegetables and herbs that are specially cultivated with lots of irrigation, too many pesticides and fertilizers.



Contraindications of sea beet

Like all Amaranthaceae vegetables, wild sea beet is rich in oxalates, which can cause hypocalcemia, kidney damage, or oxalate poisoning if consumed in excessive amounts.
People with kidney disease should not eat it raw, but only cooked and in moderate amounts.

How many names does sea beet have

Wild chard; wild beet; country chard (especially in Apulia, Italy); sea spinach or wild spinach (especially in Anglo-Saxon countries); sea spinach; and the list goes on.
As the title of this article suggests, I personally prefer the name “sea beet”: I cannot betray my affinity and passion for the blue water world; and then, all things considered, I think it is the most appropriate, since its scientific name is indeed “Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima”.


How to recognize sea beet

If you are familiar with cultivated swiss chard, you will have no trouble identifying it.
Contrary to what the name may suggest, wild sea beet does not look “wild” or “untidy” in any way; on the contrary, it resembles a beautiful, refined bouquet: the leaves arranged in a radial pattern, the longer stems at the edges, the lower ones in the middle.
Try not to confuse it with mandrake, a well-known poisonous plant, or with sorrel, which, although much less dangerous, can still cause discomfort if consumed in excessive quantities.
The leaves of chard are shiny, fleshy, dark green, in the shape of an elongated rhomboid, in some varieties with a lanceolate flap, with a light underside; sometimes the leaves have nodules and veins of a lighter green, clearly visible in the lower part of the leaves; the stems sometimes have reddish tones, thanks to the presence of betacyanin, so much so as to confirm the relationship with the beetroots[7].


Where to find sea beet

All coastal areas are ideal places to look for it. It loves the sun and, as mentioned before, dry, clayey and even rocky soils. As long as it is not cultivated, even the countryside not very distant from the sea is an ideal place to find sea beet, or in this case bietola di campagna, how they call it in Apulia region, Italy.


How to use sea beet in the kitchen

What sea beet tastes like

It tastes the same as cultivated chard, although I can say that it is definitely more flavorful and spicy than its famous grandsons (swiss chard and spinach) .
However, during the flowering period, from the end of May to the end of August, the leaves change their taste a little, becoming more bitter, but still edible.


How to eat sea beet

After washing it several times with plenty of water to remove the soil, it can be eaten either raw in salads, or cooked in soups, omelettes, farinata, risottos, or to make my famous meatballs with spinach and cottage cheese, substituting spinach.
In short, they should be used without hesitation where you would normally use store-bought chard or spinach.


Useful tips for inexperienced foragers

Never overpick; even though it is not yet a protected plant in many countries, sea beets should never be eradicated.
Never uproot the roots; cut the stems with a knife about 1 cm from the ground; leave isolated groups alone and harvest chard where it is densely planted.
Finally, if you are not sure about what you are harvesting, do not attempt to forage; always ask an expert in the field.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the very kind and generous “Antonio Rizzo” for pointing out and allowing me to harvest a beautiful bunch of sea beet from the terraces of his splendid camping resort near Capo Colonna in Crotone, South Italy.

Başak and Antonio after harvesting sea beet
Enjoy sea beets and good revolution to all


1) Skorupa, Monika et al. “Characteristic of the Ascorbate Oxidase Gene Family in Beta vulgaris and Analysis of the Role of AAO in Response to Salinity and Drought in Beet.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 23,21 12773. 23 Oct. 2022, doi:10.3390/ijms232112773
2) Bailey, G., Andersen, S.H., Maarleveld, T.J. (2020). Denmark: Mesolithic Coastal Landscapes Submerged. In: Bailey, G., Galanidou, N., Peeters, H., Jöns, H., Mennenga, M. (eds) The Archaeology of Europe’s Drowned Landscapes. Coastal Research Library, vol 35. Springer,
3) Nachshon, Uri. “Cropland soil salinization and associated hydrology: Trends, processes and examples.” Water 10.8 (2018): 1030.
4) TAHJIB-UI-ARIF, Md, et al. Differential response of sugar beet to long-term mild to severe salinity in a soil–pot culture. Agriculture, 2019, 9.10: 223.
5) Yolcu, S.; Alavilli, H.; Ganesh, P.; Panigrahy, M.; Song, K. Salt and Drought Stress Responses in Cultivated Beets (Beta vulgaris L.) and Wild Beet (Beta maritima L.). Plants 2021, 10, 1843.
6) Raybould, A., Mogg, R., Aldam, C. et al. The genetic structure of sea beet (Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima) populations. III. Detection of isolation by distance at microsatellite loci. Heredity 80, 127–132 (1998).
7) Skalicky M, Kubes J, Shokoofeh H, Tahjib-Ul-Arif M, Vachova P, Hejnak V. Betacyanins and Betaxanthins in Cultivated Varieties of Beta vulgaris L. Compared to Weed Beets. Molecules. 2020 Nov 18;25(22):5395.


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Sea beet: properties, where to find it and how to use it
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Sea beet: properties, where to find it and how to use it
Climate change will bring us new challenges, and sea beet will undoubtedly be one of the foods of the future: find out why
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CHE Food Revolution
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