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Friday Rookie Topic: Malabar Spinach

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jillintx
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Post  givvmistamps 4/27/2012, 12:00 am

Hi all,

I recently told Rooster I’d love to help in any way I can with the site, so he invited me to give a try at doing a Rookie Topic for this week. Since I’m something of a Rookie myself, I thought that researching and reporting on a crop that I’ve seen discussed, but many of us are unfamiliar with would be fun, so I selected Malabar spinach as the topic. This is a plant I selected to grow in my first year of true SFG-ing. Here’s what I found out:

There are two species of Malabar spinach. One is a wholly green plant and named Green Malabar Spinach, or Basella alba. The other has a lovely red stem and leaf veins named Red Malabar Spinach, or Basella rubra. Malabar spinach has several other common names you may or may not have heard before, including (but not limited to) Ceylon spinach, Indian spinach, vining spinach, Malabar nightshade (names in English-speaking countries) Saan Choy, Shan Tsoi, Luo Kai, Shu Chieh, Lo Kwai (Chinese names); Tsuru Murasa Kai (Japanese name); Mong Toi (Vietnamese name); Paag-Prung (Thai name); Genjerot, Jingga, Gendola (Indonesian names).

Malabar spinach is not a true spinach type. Rather, it is a leafy vine used in similar ways to chard, spinach and kale, with a taste many consider similar to spinach or kale. The plant originates somewhere in tropical Asia, where it grows as a perennial, but which can be grown as an annual in the more temperate regions. It is commonly accepted that Malabar spinach originated somewhere in India or Indonesia; the name Malabar comes from Malabar Coast in India, and a district of Karala state in India. Most websites concerned with the culinary aspects that I found refer to Malabar spinach as a mucilaginous vegetable; having never heard this word before, I had to look it up. This is apparently a fancy way of saying that it is a bit slimy; however, if you’ve ever cooked true spinach before, you’d probably describe it about the same way! Some sites claim that it’s the stems that are mucilaginous. Several sites state that this feature of the vegetable
is useful in thickening sauces and soups. It’s apparently a great alternative to salad and cooking greens that will not grow during the summer heat in most regions. (That’s the main reason I selected it to try out, being in Florida where the summers seem to last 8 months of the year, with only 2 weeks of spring and 2 weeks of fall!) The younger leaves and stems are frequently used in stir-fries as one of the last ingredients added, or it could be used fresh out of the garden on sandwiches and in salads. I found several Asian recipes that use Malabar spinach as a main ingredient.

To grow Malabar spinach, it is generally recommended to plant seeds in the ground a couple weeks after all danger of frost is past, though it can be started indoors. It is a vigorous grower, particularly in warmer climates, doing best when it is both warm and rainy. Soil composition is apparently not terribly important to this vine, doing well even in poor soils so long as it has enough moisture. The seeds will take a long time to germinate; some sites recommend scarifying (scratching) the seeds with sandpaper or soaking them for a day before planting. I didn’t do this, and my red Malabar spinach was almost the last to germinate of all the things I am growing; it took about 2 weeks to see sprouts come up, and it’s been a very warm spring here. A trellis at least 6’ tall is necessary to grow this vegetable, and I’ve seen photos from fellow forum members which show this to be a plant that must be monitored to keep it from taking over neighboring spaces. Since the newer stems and leaves are the most tasty, clipping the last 6-8 inches off the growth attempting to come free from restraints is perfect for use in the kitchen. From the looks of things, one plant per square is a good spacing. I read that two plants would be enough to feed a small family through the warmer season.

Some websites claimed that the plant went bitter once flowering began, others stated that the bitterness is only in the older plant and that using the younger leaves and stems from the last 6-8” avoids that bitterness. I read in one place that flowering is stimulated by a dry spell after the rainy summer season of the tropics. Photos I found of the flowers and seeds look very attractive.

Not only can Malabar spinach be used in the kitchen, it can also be used as an ornamental vine, so if you want to grow a pretty vine somewhere, either for the lovely foliage alone or to disguise an unpleasant feature like an ugly old shed, this is an excellent choice. Additionally, I read that the stems and berries/seeds of red Malabar spinach can be used as a lovely purplish dye for fabrics and crafts.

Here is a photo of my red Malabar spinach sprouts, taken two days ago:
Friday Rookie Topic: Malabar Spinach 7113775929_8530472e0c_c
I hadn’t read about the spacing before planting Embarassed so I will attempt to move two of the plants to another location once they are a little larger.

Here’s a photo I found of a mature red Malabar spinach online:
Friday Rookie Topic: Malabar Spinach DSC_0747

Here’s a photo I found of the green Malabar spinach online:
Friday Rookie Topic: Malabar Spinach PoiCalaloo001comp

I hope you've found this as enlightening as I found researching it! If you have any input to add, I'd love to read it.

Here are some websites I found with more information:

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mv138

http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/scene9529.html

http://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/how-to-grow-malabar-spinach/index.html

http://www.worldcrops.org/crops/Malabar-Spinach.cfm

http://www.survivalfoodplants.com/malabar-indian-spinach-basella-alba/

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03087/Malabar-Spinach.html
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Post  mijejo 4/27/2012, 5:52 am

WELL DONE!

Thank you givvmistamps! I enjoyed and appreciated your Rookie Topic write-up, and the timing is perfect for me.

You state that the plant is grown as a perennial in some areas, and as an annual in others. Would my area (Cincinnati) require it to be restarted each year, or would it survive our winters?

Thank you again for such a great contribution!
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Post  walshevak 4/27/2012, 6:43 am

OOPS. I grossly overplanted. Well the seedlings just came up a few day ago so I'll thin drastically and maybe share with the food bank if they have their beds up.

Kay

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Post  RoOsTeR 4/27/2012, 7:21 am

Thank you givvmistamps for taking time out of your busy schedule and putting together a great Rookie Topic for us Friday Rookie Topic: Malabar Spinach 3170584802
What an interesting topic!!

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Post  ksbmom 4/27/2012, 9:00 am

Thanks for the very informative post! I first found out about Malabar spinach from the ECHO farm here in Florida. Their mission is to end hunger by developing plants and seeds that will grow in less than optimal conditions - mostly 3rd world. They send seeds all over the world. They do tours of their farm - it was fascinating. They also have a lot of appropriate technology for things like wells, pumps, solar water purifiers, etc. Check out their site at http://www.echonet.org/. I haven't planted my malabar seeds yet because I don't have a spot for them to climb. The plants I saw at ECHO were huge! And tasty!
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Post  UnderTheBlackWalnut 4/27/2012, 11:15 am

@RoOsTeR wrote:Thank you givvmistamps for taking time out of your busy schedule and putting together a great Rookie Topic for us Friday Rookie Topic: Malabar Spinach 3170584802
What an interesting topic!!

Way big +1! okay
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Post  givvmistamps 4/27/2012, 12:45 pm

@mijejo wrote:WELL DONE!

Thank you givvmistamps! I enjoyed and appreciated your Rookie Topic write-up, and the timing is perfect for me.

You state that the plant is grown as a perennial in some areas, and as an annual in others. Would my area (Cincinnati) require it to be restarted each year, or would it survive our winters?

Thank you again for such a great contribution!

You would definitely need to restart from seeds in your region. It only grows perennially in the tropics, so even where I live it will die off with the first good frost. In fact (Rooster, I believe you grow Malabar spinach so please correct this if it's wrong) I read in one place that the vine will turn mushy in a frost, so that site recommended that it be torn off the trellis before that happens.

THANK YOU ALL for the feedback. I appreciate knowing my topic was enjoyed.
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Post  givvmistamps 4/27/2012, 12:49 pm

@walshevak wrote:OOPS. I grossly overplanted. Well the seedlings just came up a few day ago so I'll thin drastically and maybe share with the food bank if they have their beds up.

Kay

Kay, that's an excellent idea! This will provide lots of food in our region to feed the hungry. I think I'll check around and see if any local food banks have their own garden. It sounds like seeds are easy to save from this plant.
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Post  givvmistamps 4/27/2012, 12:56 pm

@ksbmom wrote:Thanks for the very informative post! I first found out about Malabar spinach from the ECHO farm here in Florida. Their mission is to end hunger by developing plants and seeds that will grow in less than optimal conditions - mostly 3rd world. They send seeds all over the world. They do tours of their farm - it was fascinating. They also have a lot of appropriate technology for things like wells, pumps, solar water purifiers, etc. Check out their site at http://www.echonet.org/. I haven't planted my malabar seeds yet because I don't have a spot for them to climb. The plants I saw at ECHO were huge! And tasty!

That looks like a great organization. I wish it was easier for me to get to; the closest I ever get to there is Bradenton, so maybe when I visit my aunt & uncle I can talk them into a day trip down there. I'm sure they'd enjoy that.
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Post  walshevak 4/27/2012, 2:32 pm

I was doing an IM with my Philippine friends this morning and asking about this plant. My DIL calls it Kang Kong (sounds more like kangcun when she says it) Anyway, it is a perennial and grows wild in PI and is considered a native dish. They said it grows best in a boggy area, so I'm thinking watch the water when growing in SFG.

Kay

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Post  givvmistamps 4/27/2012, 4:06 pm

That's the impression I got, too, Kay. It's one plant I'll make sure to water every day during the hot, HOT summer here, and I'll probably mulch it, too.
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Post  Josh 4/27/2012, 4:36 pm

I grew the malabar spinach in my garden last year, the kind with a red stem. It was a very easy vine to grow for my area. This is one plant on the trellis in the picture. It stayed very green all the way up until the cold weather finally killed it. It did reseed in My SFG this year. I can't say how the taste was, I don't like spinach, and I only tried one leaf of the Malabar spinach and I can't say that I liked it, but that's just me. It did make a pretty vine and a lot of people wanted to know what it was and most people had never heard of it. I read on line that it is suppose to be really nutritious and good for you, as good or better than regular spinach. My mom put it in a salad and said it was good.
Friday Rookie Topic: Malabar Spinach Climbingspinach
Friday Rookie Topic: Malabar Spinach Closeupspinach-1
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Post  RoOsTeR 4/27/2012, 4:47 pm

I don't have Malabar Spinach, but I do find it interesting. Not sure if I would grow it to eat or for the pretty vine Razz



And yes Michelle, I have found this to be a very interesting topic. Thanks again for putting it together Friday Rookie Topic: Malabar Spinach 3170584802 for us.

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Post  givvmistamps 4/27/2012, 7:43 pm

@ Rooster: I thought it was you, but this just proves that my memory for names is horrible. Someone posted a photo...I can picture the photo in my mind that I thought had Malabar spinach growing up a trellis that's 8 or 10 ft tall.

@ Josh: those are some gorgeous pictures! Did your vine turn to mush when it got below freezing? Or did you take it out before that?

I'm growing this because it's pretty AND it can give me a very nutritious alternative to greens that won't grow in the summer here without being babied to an extreme. I checked around and many of the CSA's say they won't have much in the way of leafy greens during the summer.
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Post  TejasTerry 4/28/2012, 11:47 pm

Well it's super late here in Zone 8b, but I think I'll try to find some seeds and give it a try. I love greens and spinach. Thanks for the great info and write up! Friday Rookie Topic: Malabar Spinach 3170584802
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Post  givvmistamps 4/29/2012, 2:31 pm

By the sound of it Terry, so long as you give it plenty of water you'll have a pretty good crop from this stuff, even starting late. Very Happy I'm going to try one of Rowena's watering bottles in that square just so I know I won't miss out on the greens.
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Post  walshevak 4/30/2012, 11:44 pm

The food bank didn't have it's space ready so I gave the seedlings to the local certified roadside market that I use. Here is a link to the program.

http://www.ncfarmfresh.com/CertifiedCriteria.asp


He is ready to plant seeds for about 1000 red malibar plants, but said he could make room for my measly little 25. Mine are green.

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Post  givvmistamps 5/1/2012, 12:52 am

WOW! 1000?! Shocked Is that farmer going to train the Malabar up strings or something, or just keep it cut so it never gets taller than a bush?

I wonder if there's any difference in flavor between the red and green varieties... I picked the red because it provides some interest, and there's not much interest in our yard. (YET! I'm working on that...slowly.)
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Post  walshevak 5/1/2012, 6:59 am

He is supplying to a few resturants in VA Beach and says the plants will be heavly harvested and not get so big. I didn't know what I wanted and Sample Seeds had the green when I was placing an order. Next year RED. That is what my DIL prefers.

Kay

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Post  givvmistamps 5/1/2012, 7:21 am

How funny, I saw that he was supplying VA Beach restaurants and thought, "I thought she was in NC!" then I looked at your location and remembered where you are. I used to live in VA Beach and drove through Elizabeth City going to the Outer Banks (I preferred quiet little Duck to the tourist-trap towns). Duh! :drunken: It's not that far.

So this farmer must harvest heavily enough to keep it in bush form. I read that this was possible, but it sounded like you really have to be diligent in your harvesting efforts...something I don't feel confident I can do for the entire growing season!

Interesting that your DIL prefers the red. Does she think it tastes better, or does she just like the color?
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Post  walshevak 5/1/2012, 9:17 am

I'll have to ask her. Very Happy

Chesapeake and VA Beach are not all that far. I have to go up that way to get to the closest Home Depot. Only a Lowes here. And Navy Federal's closest branch is in Chesapeake.

Kay

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Post  elliephant 5/1/2012, 9:49 am

Friday Rookie Topic: Malabar Spinach Img_2516

Here's my Malabar Spinach. I tried both green and red and this is the one that germinated. It's been a slow starter, but seems to be growing faster now that it's gotten over the hailstorm damage and has built up some mass again. Haven't harvested from it yet. Had the red variety growing last year, but moved before it did much, and, after reading this I realize I wasn't watering it enough. This year's plant is in a deep bed that is staying much more moist now that I've got drip irrigation. I may try giving it a little extra water by hand for a couple of weeks and if it seems to like it, add a higher volume drip to that square.
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Post  TejasTerry 5/1/2012, 10:00 am

Here's another video on Malabar. I love this guy....He goes into the differences between the red and green...eating the seeds, etc. and a great recipe.

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Post  GWN 5/1/2012, 10:15 am

Hi there givvmestamps
WOW what a great topic, been busy pulling weeds so missed this.
I am going to try to find some seeds today. I have a fence that is made with cattle panels and will eventually be covered with grape vines, but some of them I just planted last year, and so this might make for a fun, and nutritious crop.
THANKS for all that work

Do you have a more recent picture of yours?
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Post  givvmistamps 5/1/2012, 4:39 pm

@elliephant: Thanks for posting that photo! Your plant looks very healthy now. This truly is a slow-starting plant, but it will take off just as many other things are bolting from the heat... so long as it has plenty of water.

@TejasTerry: What a great video, I appreciate your sharing it. I'll watch it more diligently when I don't have an active 5 y/o playing in the same room. What a Face

@GWN, I pulled out two of the seedlings and gave them to friends, but here's my last plant with a water bottle to help keep it moist:
2012.05.01.RedMalabar

It really does start out slow; the seeds take a long time to
sprout, and then the first leaves just appear to sit there thinking for a
week or so, but the first true leaves are out and it's showing signs of sending out more leaves. I suspect this thing is just saving up energy to surprise me...or maybe I'm just anxious for it to get big enough so I
can eat some! Friday Rookie Topic: Malabar Spinach 211713
givvmistamps
givvmistamps

Female Posts : 862
Join date : 2012-04-01
Age : 50
Location : Lake City, (NE) FL; USDA Hardiness Zone 8b, AHS Heat Zone 9, Sunset Zone 28

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