Saturday, May 31, 2014

MALABAR SPINACH (Basella alba, Basella ruba)

Malabar Spinach is another of those exotic green leaf vegetables that gets called "spinach" because it can be cooked and eaten like spinach.  This "spinach" is a very different looking plant as it is a vine with luscious thick green leaves.  It is a tough plant that is still growing strong in the hot summer when the other green leafy vegetables have given up.  I saw an example of this when I visited the farm vegetable garden at Biltmore House in North Carolina  last year.  There were beautiful lush green Malabar Spinach vines growing there at the end of September while the rest of the garden was turning brown.  With its climbing habit, you can grow Malabar Spinach on your chain link fence or on your patio railing.

Malabar Spinach at Biltmore House, Asheville, NC

Not only is Malabar Spinach beautiful to look at but it is high in nutrition.  100 gm. of fresh leaves and stem will supply 8000 IU of Vitamin A and 102 mg. of Vitamin C.  It is also a good source of minerals.  The red stem Basella ruba is higher in anti-oxidants than the green stem Basella alba and the red stem does look a little more exotic in your garden.  It has tiny mauve flowers that give way to pretty purple berries that can be used in making a natural dye.  Malabar Spinach is native to tropical Asia and the leaves and soft terminal stems are used there in curries and the usual stir fries.  It is easily sauteed and can be added to any dish that you would use spinach in.  The leaves drip mucous a bit when cut so I would use them in a cooked food where it is not noticed rather than in a salad.

Malabar Spinach likes moist, fertile, well drained soil.  It can be grown from cuttings.  Here in Hawaii, bunches of the spinach vine tips are sometimes sold at farmers markets and you could easily get a few plants growing from them.  I find that the little purple fruit dropping on the soil self seed enough to keep me supplied in babies.  They are tough little seedlings that are easily transferred.


PS  July 2015

I am adding a couple of pictures of growing Malabar Spinach in a small way.  This really is enough for one or two people or if you just have a patio garden and does not need a trellis to hold up the plant.  Just have one strong plant in a pot and let it grow until the tendrils are long enough to harvest. Just cut them off and the plant will easily grow you another lot.

Before harvesting

After harvesting