I don’t like English Spinach.
Perhaps because I’m not inclined to sado-masochism.
It all starts nicely enough…
Spinach leaves shoot up from from the seed!
I harden them off until it’s time to set them free in the garden bed.
But then, their tender young leaves are bait for bugs and slugs, and they willingly submit.
The English spinach that survives the pests, falls over with the first waft of heat.
English spinach is so tiresome, if it doesn’t get water a few times a day, it
pouts wilts and then grows bitter.
Then, the 1 in 100 English spinach plant that survives the bugs and heat, promptly bolts to seed when you are not paying close enough attention. It’s miserable stuff.
So, if you enjoyed 50 Shades of Grey, English Spinach is for you.
Me? English spinach is just not welcome in my garden. I just don’t need the high maintenance and drama it demands.
Thankfully, there is an alternative that is just as delicious, twice as robust and infinitely more beautiful.
It’s also not really spinach at all.
Or specifically, Basella alba.
Also known as Indian Spinach or Climbing Spinach, it is a tropical perennial.
Malabar Spinach and I are a perfect match.
Robust Malabar spinach embraces my sandy soils. It thrives in my constant heat, yet doesn’t mind a bit of shade. It’s valiantly resistant to pests and quickly scrambles over any ugly screen or wall that needs beautifying.
I love the Red ‘Rubra’ Malabar Spinach, the glossy green leaves contrast with the lurid red stems. A green stemmed variety is also available. When all other salad greens are vaporised by our summer heat, this sturdy plant just gets on with it and delivers bowlfuls of gorgeous greens.
Malabar Spinach is delicious and healthy.
Plus, Malabar Spinach is ridiculously good for you, containing phenolic phytochemicals and boasting antioxidant properties. Malabar Spinach is packed full of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, soluble fibre and is high in protein per calorie. If you are sensitive to oxalic acid, avoid eating large amounts of it raw, or cook it before you eat it.
It’s young picked leaves are tender and perfect in a salad or juice. The larger leaves are succulent and are best cooked, with a slightly mucilaginous texture. Malabar spinach is perfect for thickening soups, curries and stir-frys.
My favourite way to eat Malabar spinach is stirred through my potato curry or super-spice dhal.
How to grow Malabar spinach.
Invite Malabar Spinach into your garden, and you’ll need a warm climate, sandy soil and up to 10 feet of trellis that it can ramble over.
It likes a good drink but can handle a bit of neglect if you have regular rainfall. The peppercorn-sized seeds germinate quickly. In fact, Malabar spinach will self sow so prolifically, you will want to share all your Malabar spinach love!
I have given away many seeds and seedlings to friends keen to give it a place to ramble.
If you are so inclined, pinch all the small white flowers off the plant to encourage leaf growth. Frankly, I gave up that task, simply because it would have quickly become a full-time job. However, it appears the flowers and seed don’t really do much to dent the enthusiastic nature of this lovely plant.
As long as the leaves are regularly harvested it will continue to thrive and look absolutely stunning.
The seeds are encased in a small berry fruit that stains all it touches with an assertive purple mark. For that reason alone, the kids love making “paint” with the berry fruit. The Malabar spinach berry fruit stain can also be used as a natural food colouring and is non-toxic.
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Have you ever grown Malabar Spinach? What is your favourite way to enjoy it? I would love to hear from you, please leave a comment below.