I Love Basella alba, aka Malabar Spinach 

Sep 16, 2022 | Love This!

Name: Basella alba, aka Malabar Spinach 

Type of Plant: A fast growing, soft-stemmed vine that can reach 8 to 10 feet in one summer season. Not a true spinach (which is Spinacea oleracea) but a tropical vining plant that is often grown as a spinach substitute, especially in hotter weather. This plant is perennial in a Zone 10 (not Cape Cod), but it’s easily grown as an annual in colder climates.

Why I Love This Plant:  I like how this plant grows quickly and is attractive on small obelisks, trellises and other supports. I love the white and lavender-pink flowers and attractive bright green leaves. And I appreciate how the stems twine around any support that they are near. As an ornamental alone, this is an attractive annual vine!

If you are just growing it for the looks, you’ll also appreciate the dark purple or almost black berries that form after the flowers fade. These are used as a dye or food coloring in other parts of the world.

A Word to the Wise: If you want to eat the leaves, pick them early in the season before the flowers mature. After the blooms open and start to form seeds, the leaves are more bitter. Also, these leaves have a mucilaginous character kind of like cooked okra. This is good if you want to add the chopped foliage to soups or pasta sauces to thicken them.

These leaves on the malabar spinach aren’t real spinach but they are often added to dishes much as other greens are.

Malabar spinach twines up supports such as obelisks and small trellises, making it a perfect vine for smaller supports.

This plant was given to me by a visiting plantsman who was on his way to Provincetown. What a lovely gift! I hope he will get back in touch, as I didn’t get his contact information when he passed through my gardens during the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival.

The flowers start out white but change to lavender and purple as they open.


1 Comment

  1. Piia

    Nice pictures, thank you! I am growing basella alba in Helsinki, Finland. I love how it looks and also taste. I also like okra, which was too difficult for me to grow, malabar spinach is easy even mine did grow very nicely in balcony, outside summer seemed to be bit too short in here. I carried mine into inside home. I think I wouldnt had got seeds otherwise. Also they are very nice looking near window.


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