Malabar spinach

Malabar Spinach (Basella alba) - an attractive AND nutritious plant

Malabar Spinach - an attractive AND nutritious plant

Botanical Name: Basella Alba

Some other names: Ceylon Spinach, Indian Spinach, climbing spinach, Basella

How to grow it: Malabar Spinach is a perennial twining, sprawling vine that is at it’s best in the heat of summer. It does well in full sun, but will produce larger juicier leaves if grown in partial shade.

It will thrive in moist, fertile and well drained soils, tending to develop tough leaves or bolt to seed if conditions are too dry.

When it’s happy, it is a very attractive plant quickly growing up trellises and other plants for most of the warm season. It’s best suited to sub-tropical to tropical conditions where the rain & heat of summer suit it perfectly but will also grow with a shorter season in cooler climates.

Will do well in pots if well watered, mulched & fed – for best results make sure it has a trellis to climb.

I’ve grown two varieties – one with a green stem the other with red. I don’t think there’s much different in terms of flavour or productivity, but the red stems look great!

Malabar Spinach is a very easy plant to propogate, in fact I usually just let it self seed and pick out the surplus seedlings like they’re weeds. If you allow it to go to seed, next spring you’ll find it sprouting up all over the place!.

When you have a plant in season, tip cuttings will root readily in water. Collecting seed is easy too. In Autumn, the plant develops red berries which I usually let dry on the vine. Just collect them up and replant them the following spring. For better germination, soak them in water overnight the day before planting.

If you can’t get the plants from a local outlet, you should have no problems getting seeds online.

Malabar Spinach (Basella alba) - Closeup of the ripe & unripe berries.

Malabar Spinach - Closeup of the ripe & unripe berries.

Nutrition: Malabar spinach had high levels of vitamins A,B, & C, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, zinc, and decent amounts of Iron and copper. It has good levels of mucilage which is a valuable aid in detoxifying the body.

A highly nutritious plant.

Using it in the kitchen:

The young, juicy leaves make a great addition to salads and sandwiches and are often plentiful when other leaf vegetables are struggling with the hot midsummer sun.

Freshly harvested Malabar Spinach (Basella alba) - young shoots and larger leaves

Freshly harvested Malabar Spinach - young shoots and larger leaves

All leaves & shoots can be added to soups, stews & quiches where the mucilagin will help thicken the meal.

Also great in stirfries, omelettes or just on it’s own as a steamed vegetable, but don’t cook it for too long as the mucilage can have the effect of giving it a slimy texture. Usually I add them only at the very last minute.

My personal favourite way to use it is to plant it thickly in tubs in spring, and when it’s growth takes off, pick the young shoots off daily for stirfries & omelettes. Eventually it will get away from you by climbing or sprawling, but usually I can keep it contained for a couple of months this way. The shoots are delicious & tender!

Malabar Spinach (Basella alba) - Grown in tubs for daily picking of the shoots

Malabar Spinach grown in tubs for daily picking of the shoots

I’ve never thought about preserving the foliage, but Malabar spinach is a good survival food in warmer areas because it so readily self-seeds & has high nutrient value.

Other info:

The red juice of the berries is used as a non-toxic food dye, and as ink in some countries. My kids have used it for body painting too.

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