Malabar Spinach 'Green Stem'
Photo by Andhra Pradesh (CC BY-SA 3.0).
Scientific Name: Basella alba
Common Names: Malabar Spinach 'Green Stem', Ceylon Spinach, Indian Spinach, Pui and Vine Spinach.
Green Malabar spinach is native to parts of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It is widely grown as a leafy green vegetable throughout tropical areas of Africa and Asia where traditional English spinach struggles to grow.
Green Malabar spinach is a spinach substitute that grows well in the tropics and subtropics, the flavour and texture is similar to spinach but more mucilaginous. Malabar spinach can be eaten either raw or cooked. The younger leaves and shoot tips have the mildest flavour. The mucilaginous quality of the leaves can be used to thicken soups, stews and curries similarly to okra. The fruits of Malabar spinach are edible but they aren't sweet and taste identical to the leaves. Malabar spinach is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium and many beneficial antioxidants.
Malabar spinach grows best in full sun but will also tolerate light shade, although the vines will be leggier with smaller leaves. Grow Malabar spinach on a trellis to stop it from spreading across the garden and smothering other plants. The vines can reach up to 10m in length so choose the largest and sturdiest trellis available. Malabar spinach is a perennial vegetable in warmer climates however growth during Winter will be slow and any harvests will be limited. In areas that have frosts it should be treated as an annual as any frost will kill it. Malabar spinach grows best in a rich, free-draining soil with a pH range between 5 and 8. Malabar spinach grows rapidly and because of this it's a heavy feeder so be sure to add plenty of compost or well-rotted cow manure when planting. Water regularly or the leaves will wilt and growth will suffer.
When To Sow
In temperate regions of Australia sow Malabar spinach seeds from October to January. In subtropical and tropical regions of Australia sow Malabar spinach seeds in Spring or Summer. Green Malabar spinach is a tropical vegetable and won't grow well in cold and mountainous regions of Australia.
How To Sow
Sow Malabar spinach seeds 12mm deep directly where they are to grow or in punnet cells. Space planting sites about 45cm apart, the vines have large root systems that require plenty of room to grow. Malabar spinach seeds have poor viability, about half of the fruits don't produce viable seed, so sow 3 to 4 seeds in each planting hole and then thin or divide any extra seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle.
Malabar spinach seeds can be slow to germinate taking between 14 and 21 days for the seedlings to emerge after sowing.
Time To Harvest
Malabar spinach vines grow slow at first but rapidly once they've become established, taking only 9 to 11 weeks to start harvesting larger quantities of leaves.