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What is Malabar Spinach?

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  • Written By: T. Alaine
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Malabar spinach is an edible, nutritious, leafy green plant. The hearty vine grows well in high heat, unlike other plants used for similar purposes, and is generally considered low-maintenance if planted in appropriate conditions. Leaves from the Malabar spinach plant, as well as the thin, tender ends of the vine itself, can be eaten raw or prepared similarly to other varieties of greens. The plant is an excellent source for a variety of vitamins and minerals.

One of the most valuable virtues of Malabar spinach seems to be that it grows well in conditions that other greens find unfavorable. This particular plant is tolerant of high temperatures, which makes it easy to grow during hot weather when other plants struggle to flourish. As a result, Malabar spinach is a good choice for warm weather gardens that cannot sustain other harvestable crops. Interestingly, however, some gardeners find the red, green, purple and white coloring of this vine attractive enough to grow it purely for decorative purposes.

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Unlike many other salad greens, Malabar spinach does not grow in heads, but instead consists of individual leaves that grow along a vine. A potential pro or con of choosing to grow Malabar spinach is that the vines are prolific and should be provided with a surface to climb, whether it is a post or trellis of some kind. Gardeners looking for a well-contained plant might consider this a disadvantage, although persistent trimming and harvesting should allow for adequate control. People who only have small areas of horizontal, but plenty of vertical, space might be pleased with the addition of a climbing plant. If provided with ample room to grow, the vines of the Malabar spinach plant can reach up to six feet in length.

Possible culinary applications of Malabar spinach are quite diverse. The edible portions of the plant, which include the leaves and tender stems, have a mild, peppery, citrus-like taste, and can be used to complement a variety of dishes. Crisp leaves can be used raw as salad greens or as additions to sandwiches. They are also hearty enough to stand up to cooking and can be used in place of traditional spinach, collards, or other types of greens. Sturdy leaves mean that the greens can be cooked for longer periods of time without wilting or disintegrating like some other, more delicate salad greens.

Nutritionally, Malabar spinach, like traditional spinach, is very low in calories and cholesterol while providing significant amounts of fiber. The plant is also contains high levels of vitamin B, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. It is a good source of protein, potassium, magnesium, and folate.

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