Tag Archives: summer gardens

Malabar spinach: the summer substitute for spinach

Malabar spinach isn’t really spinach, but it’s a similar type of greens that comes from the tropics, India in particular. It grows well in the Arkansas summers when other types of spinach turn bitter from the heat. It has more substance that the types of spinach we usually eat and it is not as slimy.  A great plus is that it produces all summer. It can keep growing until the temperatures hit 35 degrees. It grows as an annual, but often it reseeds and comes up the next spring.
Malabar spinach and tomatoes
Tomatoes and Malabar spinach both like hot climates as well as frequent watering and feeding. The Malabar spinach is interplanted with tomatoes.
Sharon Dent has been growing Malabar spinach for five summers. She first saw it at Schults Nursery in Hot Springs and then found the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. She’s found the plants in several local stores in the last few years.
Malabar spinach is a member of the Basellaceae family. Basella alba is a green leaf variety while the red leaf variety belongs to the B. rubra species, which has purplish stems. The vines are quite attractive and can be trained to grow as an edible ornamental.
Stems and seeds
The red leaf vines have beautiful stems and the seeds are white and then turn purple. You can grow Malabar spinach from the seeds or stem cuttings.
It takes 70 days from spring planting to harvest. Sharon usually starts harvesting it in mid-June. She plants it in large pots. Typically there are three to five pots of it planted with tomatoes on her front patio. Malabar spinach takes some shade which is good because her patio has filtered shade in the morning. It does fine, but in shady areas the vine tends to climb trying to reach the sun. More sun might be better.
Harvested vines
Harvest Malabar spinach by cutting the leaves. Or trim the vines and then remove the leaves. The stems of young vines are edible until they become too tough.
Malabar spinach likes moist fertile soil with plenty of organic matter. You can trellis it alone or with peas or tomatoes or cucumbers. The Malabar spinach climbs up Sharon’s tomato vines which are staked or caged. Since tomatoes are heavy feeders, she feeds the tomatoes and Malabar spinach combo monthly and waters most days to keep them growing vigorously.
Large leaves
Large (2-4″ diameter) leaves
Malabar spinach is rich in Vitamins A and C, as well as iron and calcium.  Sharon tries to serve it several times weekly because it is so nutrient rich.
Wash and cut
Wash and cut the leaves into ribbons for cooking.

Gardening Know How
What Is Malabar Spinach: Tips For Growing And Using Malabar Spinach

Dr. Weil’s Blog
Gardening: Malabar Spinach