Malabar Spinach

Basella alba, B. ruba
Malabar spinach at UMass Research Farm
Malabar spinach at UMass Research Farm (Photo by Frank Mangan)

Introduction

Malabar spinach is in the Basellaceae family, not the spinach family. The taste is similar to spinach, however this crop is a very warm-season crop unlike standard spinach grown in the Northeastern US. This crop is native to tropical Asia, probably originating from India or Indonesia, and is extremely heat tolerant.

Malabar spinach is grown throughout the tropics as a perennial and in warmer temperate regions as an annual. There are two main species of Malabar spinach: Basella alba, which has green stems and thick fleshy leaves, and Basella ruba which has red stems. The mucilaginous texture is especially useful as a thickener in soups and stews.

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).

Malabar spinach for sale at a farmers' market in Dorchester, Mass.

Production

Malabar spinach is a warm season crop and should be direct seeded when all danger of frost has passed and night temperatures are above 60 degrees F. Plant seeds 1 inch deep, 1 inch apart in rows in rows 2.5 feet apart. Thin germinated seedlings to 1 foot. Malabar spinach can also be started as transplants eight weeks before the last frost.

Malabar spinach is fast growing and tolerates high rainfall. This is a fast growing vine plant and produces best when trellised. Stem tips (6-8 inches) are harvested 55-70 days after seeding. Repeated harvests of new growth stems can be made through out the season.

Seed Sources

There are many commercial seed sources for Malabar spinach, including Evergreen Seeds and Johnny's Selected Seeds

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