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Malabar Spinach | A Beautiful Vining Vegetable


Malabar Spinach | A Beautiful Vining Vegetable

CC BY-SA 3.0,

Basella alba, generally known as Malabar spinach, Climbing Spinach or Indian Spinach is a heat loving, vining, leafy vegetable native to the tropical regions of Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka. Malabar spinach is actually not a true spinach. It is grown as a substitute to true spinach which can only tolerate cooler weather. Malabar spinach can be grown as an annual in USDA Hardiness zones 9-11 and is a member of the Basellaceae family.

Malabar spinach is very easy to grow and produces vines that can reach 10 feet in height (the vines can grow larger if grown as a perennial) and will benefit from strong trellising. The plant sturdy spikes produce pink or white flowers that are globe shaped and extended. If allowed to fruit, expect black to dark purple berries that are not edible, but the berry’s juice is used as a colorant in Asia. Malabar spinach leaves are thick (succulent like), dark green in color and heart shaped or oval.  The texture of the leaves is glutinous and has a slight peppery taste and if picked young (older leaves can become bitter) can be eaten raw in salads or cooked like true spinach. The consistency is similar to cooked okra. The shoots can also be used in stir fry, stews and soups.

By Joydeep, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Malabar spinach grows readily in full sun ad loamy, well-draining, moist soil. The plants will need consistent moisture because the flowering will occur if the soil dries out. Malabar spinach can be grown from cuttings or grown from seeds indoors (frost sensitive) and will germinate within 28 days. Soaking the seeds in water overnight will aid in the germination process. Transplants should not be placed outdoors until several weeks after the last frost date. The plant will start growing rapidly when they receive consistent high heat and sun. Malabar spinach seems to be relatively free from pests and diseases.

Malabar Spinach will make a stunning focal point to any ornamental garden because of their beautiful red to burgundy-colored stems and green to pink tinged leaves. They can also easily be grown in containers, hanging baskets and along fences.

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