Malabar spinach/Climbing Spinach (Basella sp.)
Malabar spinach is one of the lesser know vegetables growing at the garden. A succulent type of spinach it can be a perennial and comes from a different family than the spinach we are used to.
Originally from India & Indonesia, it is a vine that can grow 3-4 meters tall. Other names for Malabar spinach include: Ceylon spinach, Vietnamese spinach (English); Saan Choy, Shan Tsoi, Luo Kai, Shu Chieh, Lo Kwai (Chinese); Tsuru Murasa Kai (Japanese); Mong Toi (Vietnamese); Paag-Prung (Thai); Genjerot, Jingga, Gendola (Indonesian)
We are growing Basella ‘Rubra’ which has heart-shaped leaves and thick, red to purple stems. Inconspicuous flowers that are white tinged with pink are borne on axillary spikes, and as the season progresses, they give way to fleshy, purplish black, single-seeded fruits. The fruit is not edible.
Growing Malabar Spinach
Malabar spinach is fast growing and tolerates high rainfall, producing best when trellised. Stem tips (15 -20cm) are harvested 55-70 days after seeding. Repeated harvests of new growth stems can be made through out the season.
Malabar spinach grows well in full sun, although a bit of shade during the hottest part of the day, protects it from midday wilting. Although it is tolerant of a wide pH range (4.3 to 7.0), it prefers soil that is well-drained and reasonably fertile.
Plants are easy to grow from seeds or cuttings. Soaking the seeds in water overnight before sowing results in quick germination, usually within 7 or 8 days. Seeds can be planted outside where they are to grow, or they can be started in pots. To save the seed the best method is to remove the pulp and air dry the seeds.
Eating Malabar Spinach
Can be eaten raw in salads. Try some of the leaves tossed with fresh quartered strawberries and a bit of thinly sliced onion. Dress with a simple vinaigrette dressing made of a couple tablespoons each of olive oil and raspberry vinegar sweetened with a bit of sugar.
It is cooked in soups & stir-frys replacing regular spinach. Because of the thickness of the succulent leaves, it doesn’t wilt as quickly, so it holds its shape better. A slight mucilaginous quality of the stems makes it useful as a thickener and it is a good source of soluble fiber.
It is high in vitamins A and C, as well as iron, calcium, and chlorophyll.
The fruit contains an intensely red to purple dye that has been used for various purposes. It is a natural food colourant when used in dishes that do not require cooking.
Also some chooks love it.