Eastern Shore Food Lab

Basella alba - Malabar Spinach

Although not a true spinach by family, Malabar Spinach is a hardy, elegant vine that can bring an edible element to summer landscaping.

Look for dark green, heart-shaped leaves growing on a creeping red vine. Small white and pink flowers emerge before turning into deep purple fruits.

Common Name: Malabar Spinach, Indian Spinach, Ceylon Spinach  

Scientific Name: Basella alba -L.

Plant Family: Basellaceae

Primary Uses

Edible Parts: The leaves of Malabar spinach are edible and can be enjoyed as an addition to summer salads. After the plant flowers, the leaves will become slightly bitter. These leaves can be prepared the same way that spinach leaves. Malabar Spinach is native to East Asian countries and other locales with warm climates year-round where these leaves have been incorporated into cuisines.

Other Uses: After Malabar Spinach flowers and the vine fruits, the small purple to black fruits with little to no taste can be used as dyes or natural food colorings. The leaves of this plant also purportedly make a green watercolor.

Designing with this Plant

On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Malabar Spinach can only survive as an annual due to colder seasons and frosts. This vine can be kept in a pot or planter and grown in full sun during the spring and summer after all chances of frost have passed. During the fall and winter, the spinach can reside inside, in a warm, controlled climate. Alternately, the vegetable can be planted and enjoyed for its nutritive and ornamental assets as an annual.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 7+

Enjoys: Full sun, well-drained soil, something to attach to and creep vertically on 

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