Plant of the Week – Malabar Spinach

Plant of the Week - Malabar SPinach

Our Plant of the week – Malabar Spinach may be the answer to having fresh green vegetables during the summer in West Texas. During the long hot summer days of West Texas, growing greens can be a challenge, if not downright impossible.  We eat a lot of salads and greens around our house. The problems of growing leafy greens during the heat of summer often causes us to fall back on supermarket vegetables.   

Malabar Spinach is not a true spinach, Malabar Spinach (Basella alba) is an edible perennial vine in the family Baseliaceae.  It is native to tropical Asia and Africa where it is widely used as a leaf vegetable in local cuisine.  It is known in the US by various names other than Malabar Spinach. You may see it called vine spinach, red Malabar, green Malabar, buffalo spinach and Ceylon spinach.

Malabar Spinach – Habits

Malabar Spinach is a fast-growing vine with soft stems that can reach 30 feet in length.  It has the appearance of a semi-succulent due to its sometimes thick leaves. The leaves are heart-shaped and have a mild flavor.  Malabar Spinach is most readily available in two varieties.  Basella alba is characterized by green vines and stems with white flowers.  Basella rubra has red stems with green leaves and flowers in pinkish tones.  There seems to be no difference in taste between the two varieties.

The leaves and stems of Malabar Spinach are rich in mucilage.  This may cause a slimy appearance when the leaves and stems are broken from the vines.  This mucilage is heavy with soluble fiber much like the pectin in apples.  The mucilage makes Malabar Spinach useful to thicken soups and stews.

Growing Malabar Spinach

Tropical in ints origins, Malabar Spinach is really at home in temperate climates with at least some humidity.  Some reports say that it struggles at altitudes above 1600 feet.  However, we have grown Malabar Spinach successfully for several seasons in our garden in West Texas, which is almost twice that height above sea level.

Full sun is the best option.  Plant the seeds or transplants in well-drained rich soil.  Water it well but don’t let the roots stay wet continuously.  A light occasionally misting during the extreme heat of West Texas will help keep it happy.  Since it is a vining plant unless you want it to spread all over the garden, provide some trellis or string to support the vines.

Be aware that if you let your Malabar Spinach go to seed, it may act more like an invasive plant.  The seeds germinate easily.  You can also do cuttings from Malabar Spinach to create transplants or share with friends.

Malabar Spinach Problems

Letting your Malabar Spinach flower and go to seed can result in finding sprouts all over your garden.  If you are a seed collector, allow a few vines to flower and then collect the seed.  Pinch off the other flowers before they mature to keep the vines from becoming invasive. 

Malabar Spinach doesn’t seem to have many pest problems.  Ours has been grown next to spaghetti squash vines that got overrun by squash bugs. The Malabar Spinach showed no signs of the bugs. 


Malabar Spinach in recipe

Rich in Vitamin A, C, Iron, and calcium, Malabar Spinach is low in calories.  The high mucilage content makes it a good source of soluble fiber in your diet. The leaves and stems be eaten raw or cooked in a variety of ways.  There are many recipes available, especially for Asian cuisine, that make use of Malabar Spinach.

Plant of the Week – Malabar Spinach Recipes

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Helena Saag Bhaji (Stir-Fried Buffalo Spinach)

Malabar Spinach Curry

We enjoy the spinach dip recipe from Knorr products.  We often substitute Malabar Spinach or fresh Swiss Chard for the frozen spinach called for in the recipe.  Check out the recipe here. http