Gardening How-to Articles

Red-Stemmed Malabar Spinach

One of my favorite hot-weather vegetables is red-stemmed Malabar spinach, Basella alba 'Rubra'. Easy to grow, versatile in the kitchen, and delicious to eat, this vigorous vine is unrelated to true spinach (Spinacia oleracea) but produces abundant large meaty leaves that are remarkably spinachlike in taste and form. The plant is also much better suited for summer growing than its better-known namesake.

Oh, and I forgot to mention this: It's a thing of beauty. A number of years ago, I visited Wave Hill gardens, in the Bronx, New York, and saw red-stemmed Malabar spinach twining on a trellis and forming the backdrop for a display of dark-leafed cultivars of common economic crops—purple-stemmed sugarcane, black-leafed cotton, aubergine-colored beets, kale, and Swiss chard. The combination knocked my socks off!

Basella alba goes by many other common names besides Malabar spinach, including Ceylon spinach, Indian spinach, vine spinach, and Malabar nightshade. Native to India and Indonesia (Malabar is a coastal region in southwestern India), the plant is used in traditional cuisines as far westward from its point of origin as Japan and eastward as Africa. It has also been introduced to South America and the Caribbean.

Straight species Malabar spinach has yellowish stems and green leaves and is a pleasing enough plant, but it's the red-stemmed cultivar 'Rubra' that really catches the eye (whether it's growing in a pot or lounging in a salad bowl). The thick red stems contrast wonderfully with the round, highly textured, two- to four-inch-long dark green leaves. Red venation in the leaves adds another level of color contrast.

Malabar spinach grows eight to ten feet tall and wide and produces inconspicuous white-tinged pink flowers in its leaf axils. Upon fertilization, the flowers develop into small, highly ornamental, single-seeded purple berries. The juice from the berries is so intensely purple that it puts beet juice to shame. It's used as a natural food colorant for agar (vegetable "gelatine") dishes, sweets, and pastries.

Malabar spinach excels in warm, tropical areas, where it can easily grow a foot per day. It's intolerant of any chills; thus, the only regions in the U.S. where it would be perennial are the Deep South or southern Florida. Gardeners in colder climates can grow it as an annual.

Basella alba prefers a humus-rich, sandy loam in full sun. Seeds can be sown in situ after all danger of frost has passed, or they can be started indoors eight weeks before the last frost date, hardened off outside, and transplanted one foot apart. Use any style of plant support you prefer: poles, teepees, chain-link fencing—I use a tall, recycled Eiffel Tower-esque metal étagère missing its glass shelves. Malabar spinach is amazingly insect and disease resistant, and that is saying a lot; down here in Puerto Rico, legions of caterpillars and grasshoppers can decimate an entire planting overnight, yet the spinach remains untouched!

Propagation from seed is a snap, and happily, the red-stemmed cultivar of Malabar spinach comes true from seed. Saving seed is easy too: Simply dry the entire fruit and use it for planting the following year. Stem and tip cuttings may be employed as well. (One source for the plant is Shady Acres Herb Farm, 7815 Highway 212, Chaska, MN 55318; 952-466-3391;

The succulent leaves and stem tips are rich in vitamins A and C and are a good source of iron and calcium. They may be eaten raw in salads, boiled, steamed, stir-fried, or added to soups, stews, tofu dishes, and curries. Or you can use them as a filling for quiche, omelets, savory turnovers, and potpies. Since red-stemmed Malabar spinach can lose a lot of its red color when cooked, perhaps it is best utilized (visually speaking) in raw dishes.

Indonesian-Style Malabar Spinach

  • 4 cups Malabar spinach leaves
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ½-inch piece galangal root or fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 red chile pepper, seeded and slivered lengthwise
  • 1¾ cups cream of coconut (not coconut milk)
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 scallion sliced into thin rings, including green tops
  • 2–4 fresh kaffir lime leaves, or 2 dried leaves pulverized in a spice mill

Gently sauté the galangal, garlic, and chile in the oil for a few minutes, then stir in the greens and cook until they are wilted through. Drain off excess liquid. Combine the remaining ingredients in a medium-size, heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat to a bare simmer, stirring constantly. Do not let it boil. Add the cooked greens and mix. Serve warm.

Scott D. Appell is a regular contributor to BBG publications and the author of four books, Pansies, Lilies, Tulips, and Orchids. He lives and gardens on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.


  • Dee August 17, 2020

    We live in Long Island and this year I planted this spinach from seed in March. We had an unusual early and warm spring, but I thought spinach liked it with a little chill. In 2 weeks the sprouts began and I was excited (never have been able to grow spinach in the past). Then we had a cold spell and they took a hit, I thought they were dead. I cut the tender damaged sprouts down and waited. 5 weeks later we had a very warm spell and this spinach looks like a monster vine. Pretty cool!!! Lots of good eating. Isn’t nature wonderful???

  • [email protected] September 5, 2019

    We have grown the red-stemmed Malabar Spinach this year inspired by an Indian couple from our community garden. I planted all the seeds in the package because another time I tried to grow it hardly any came up. I watered these seeds nearly every day. Now in early September the plant is magnificent. We have eaten in salad, soup, stir fry.  I have been cutting off the flowers, but will stop now as this plant cannot stand cold weather. You can eat the stems in stir fry and soup by slicing the stems in half and chopping them up into 1-2 inch segments.  This is a plant that will feed you for sure.

  • Susie from MO September 15, 2018

    How do I get this vine to grow again next year from the same plant?

  • Okpani izuchukwu March 8, 2018

    Interesting article Malabar spinach grows very well in Nigeria. I love the colour. I enjoy the way it grow and coils round an object. Can it be eaten raw?

  • Frances July 27, 2017

    Hi, I planted red-stemmed Malabar spinach for the first time this year. I’m from Puerto Rico, tropical weather. The plant grew very fast and beautiful. I waited 4 month to start harvesting the leaves, and even though I’m consuming them, the leaves taste like grass. Is this the normal taste? Thank you

  • Slawomir July 26, 2017

    I would be very happy if you could give me information how to buy the dried fruits of Malabar spinach—this way I would use be able to derive the pigments from it.

  • Isolde Kellock June 26, 2017

    I live in Houston, Texas, and planted some last year. Even though we had a couple of days of freezing weather this winter, it has now come back and taken over my vegetable garden. Also, new plants are popping up all over the yard. I don’t know how to control this plant. There was no sign of it when I first started my veggie patch this spring.

  • Jenna Arredondo January 5, 2017

    I make homemade soap, both melt-&-pour and with lye. I had some of this in my garden and thought the color would be beautiful in my soap. It was for about a week. Then, mysteriously the color just disappeared! One day if was this beautiful reddish purple and the next it was clear. Strangest thing.

  • SAM October 26, 2016

    I am so excited to be growing Malabar spinach. I started with vine cuttings I made from a bag purchased from a local organic food store. Then I purchased the seeds and scored and soaked them and most of them came up! The leaves from the seed start plants are super big and healthy looking in comparison to the cuttings. I live in the Virgin Islands in the hills and am growing them in self-watering patio picker planter boxes with a good potting mix and lots of worm castings, azimite, lime, and organic 5-5-5 fertilizer.
    QUESTION: Are the fruits completely safe to eat?

  • Zenrose April 22, 2016

    I am delighted to find this. I received my red malabar seeds and have scarified them and have them soaking. I have a container garden and must use a pot. Can you tell me what size would work well? I am in the Southwest where it is hot with a south facing patio with awning. I would like to know if the afternoon sun would be acceptable. I am looking for container grown edible plants that can tolerate this zone on the west side with 100 to 115 typical summer temperatures. Thank you.

  • Meg October 23, 2015

    This is my favorite plant for edible landscaping and stunning food gardens. So glad to find so many other folks talking about it. Some folks asked about preserving the leaves for winter use in cold climates. About this time each year, I start picking lots of the leaves (but leave the vines to keep growing til frost). I wash them in cold water, dry them on a towel covered tray, stack them into neat little piles, and pack them into freezer bags. Suck out the air, seal and freeze They keep perfectly, much better than regular spinach. Never had a problem with freezer burn or losing shape or color. If they’re dry when you pack them, they won’t stick to each other either, so it’s easy to take out just what you need for each recipe over the winter. I use these until spring comes and regular spinach or lambs quarters is back up. Here in Chicago my vines will keep growing up through end of October, early November. The cold weather seems to toughen the leaves a little, which makes them hold up even better in cooking and freezing.

  • Patti October 17, 2015

    I was wondering if I can snip the vine and it will produce a more rounded leafy plant?

  • BBG Staff October 13, 2015

    Eleanor: It’s hard to define “American” from a culinary standpoint, but if you’re looking for familiar dishes in which to use Malabar spinach, the web is a good starting point. A quick browse revealed recipes calling for Malabar spinach in lasagna, quiche, and gumbo, salmon cakes, and fritters, to name just a few.

  • Eleanor October 7, 2015

    Are there any American-style recipes for Malabar spinach?

  • Clare Gould September 22, 2015

    I live in northwest England, UK. I bought 3 small plants of malabar spinach from our local specialist vegetable nursery at the start of our summer (early June) and have had them growing in large pots in the greenhouse alongside tomatoes and cucumbers. Have decided to try overwintering them as house plants near a sunny window, as the greenhouse is unheated and gets quite chilly on winter nights. We are still looking for different ways to use it in the kitchen, but found it useful as a spinach substitute when the outdoor spinach crop went to seed, particularly as it was so trouble free, and did not seem to mind being watered with the tomato fertilizer. The information from other people on the website is really helpful.

  • Ginnie September 7, 2015

    We live in east Texas, and I planted one plant a couple of years ago. It has come up in all kinds of locations, including other flower beds. This year it was running loose in my hostas, so it tolerated shade very well. Will be harvesting berries off this year’s vine as I suspect that is how it has been so mobile in our backyard.  Blended it in with romaine in a salad tonight, and it was great!

  • Gaylene Smith September 1, 2015

    Several years ago I purchased some Malabar spinach seeds. This season I planted the seeds in a portable greenhouse. The small plants pierced through the soil in about 21 days. I did not soak them or score the seed, and lucky me, they grew!  Not knowing anything more than that the plant had colorful red stems and was edible, to my surprise this is a gem of ornamental beauty. Simply love this plant. It’s a spectacular addition to my other plantings. Searching for more information on this plant, I found your wonderful site!  Thank you for the time you spend making us gardeners happy with your wisdom.

  • Clarence July 14, 2015

    Have this plant on a tomato trellis in an aquaponic system, and it loves it.

  • Flo June 29, 2015

    I received a plant from a friend. It is doing great, but I’ve never harvested one of these. Do you pick the larger leaves at the base of the plant? Do I pinch the plant back to increase larger leaves on vine as well as cause side shoots?

  • BBG Staff May 29, 2015

    Judith: Try making a web search for recipes using some of the names Basella alba goes by in its native regions. Here are a few: pui (or poi), mong toi, saan choi, luo kai, remayong, mayalu, valchi bhaji. (The spellings may vary.) As this nutritious vine becomes more popular in the United States, there are bound to be more and more recipes offered online.

  • Judith May 28, 2015

    I have been growing the red stem Malabar spinach for some 3 years. Never ate any because of the slime. Any more recipes? My husband is begging me to cook with it, but as stated I’m not impressed with the slime.

  • GlDaytona Beach, Florida May 6, 2015

    Just purchased my Malabar spinach plant near S, Augustine. It is doing great; delicious, and I have seeds already.

  • Jo November 5, 2014

    We’ve grown some seedlings from seed. They emerged from the soil one month ago and are about an inch high but are growing really slowly. We water them every second day. We live in the warm Sunshine Coast region of Queensland, Australia. Can anyone tell me if seedlings usually take awhile to get going, or are we missing something to give them what they need to grow well?

  • sarah October 15, 2014

    I threw some dried Malabar spinach berries into my garden and forgot about them. Now one has dominated my garden and graced it with beautiful heart-shaped leaves and purple stems. I’m still waiting for it to flower. It’s been too long. How do I get it to flower and then to bear fruit, as I think the berries are just so pretty!

  • Kathir September 27, 2014

    I have this plant in my home, it is well grown and looks gorgeous. I read somewhere it has hydrogen, it will make problem to health. Please share regarding health issue on eating this spinach.

  • John Gannon September 24, 2014

    I grew a bumper crop of red Malabar spinach this year in SE Michigan. What can I do to preserve it?  Does it freeze okay after brief blanching like regular spinach?

  • Lora C September 23, 2014

    I have been using it at the top of the jar of my wild cultured veggies. Sea salt, whey, veggies, air lock. It’s recommended to use a cabbage leaf at the top to keep the veggies below the brine. I’ve also used the berries in my relish for a pink coloring. I eat the leaves fresh every morning right off the vine while doing my garden rounds.
    I also love using it fresh topped with tuna salad.

  • Lindy September 14, 2014

    I planted my Malabar spinach three years ago. I live just above Houston, Texas, and this plant is in the ground. I never water it. It comes back every year and grows all over my fence and a trellis as well. It has begun to propagate on its own in other spots of my lawn, however, so I would call it an invasive plant. I will put up with it, though, because it is not only a delicious, edible plant, it is absolutely beautiful as well.

  • usha August 31, 2014

    I have Malabar spinach planted on the ground as well as in a pot. Both of them have small leaves, unlike the large ones I see in pictures. How can I promote large leaf growth?

  • jeri lee August 30, 2014

    I bought this plant because it was so pretty, but no one could tell me anything about it at the nursery. Today I found the name stuck in the bottom of the pot and then found this web site—great! I live in Jacksonville, Florida, and my vine is growing nicely in a pot. I was afraid to eat the leaves but now I will. I’m saving any seeds and hope to save the mother vine by bringing it in this winter. Thanks again for the info.

  • Gay Thompson August 17, 2014

    I am delighted to find this forum. Here in northern Virginia my seeds did really well this summer, but now I need recipes! Any sources will be appreciated.

  • Ivan August 9, 2014

    Growing the red-stem version, and it grows like crazy in south Florida. Great groundcover, and we eat it raw in salads. It can take the Florida summer heat and direct sun without issues. No insect problems. Fun vine to grow!

  • Antoniette July 28, 2014

    Just received this pretty plant. Can I keep it indoors? Or can I keep the pot outside and bring it indoors for the winter?

  • Kathy July 20, 2014

    I grew this gorgeous, tasty vine for the first time last year and fell in love! It never wilted in the heat and the bugs hardly touched it. This year, little plants sprouted spontaneously from dropped seed once the weather warmed up. Seeds I dried from whole berries in my food dehydrator last fall germinated without any effort to scrape away the outer coating. I simply soaked them for 24 hours prior to planting. Outdoor temperatures at the time of planting were by far the most important factor. I started too early with the first batch, which failed. The second planting a couple of weeks later took off like crazy (almost 100% germination). I’m located in Kansas City (border of Zones 5/6). Has anyone attempted to preserve Malibar leaves for out-of-season use? If so, please share!

  • Glenis July 16, 2014

    I live in subtropical west Australia and have this vine. It is growing well but has brown rings all over the leaves. Does anyone know what it is? It has heaps of berries too. Thx.

  • Olle July 8, 2014

    Hi, I also wonder if the flowers and fruits should be removed to help foliage, or is it of no difference?

  • BBG Staff June 10, 2014

    Malabar spinach is a twining vine, so you will need a trellis or other type of support.

  • Jennie June 8, 2014

    I just bought a red Malabar spinach plant from a grower in the UK (I Iive down in Devon). We were both sure the slugs and snails wouldn’t like it, but they do! I’m going to try growing it in a large pot on my patio against a warm southwest-facing wall with lots of grit on top and a slug-repelling band around the pot. Does it cling to a rough wall or do I need to provide it with support?

  • Georgie Bouthillier April 28, 2014

    I planted this close to my cucumber trellis and added a lot of cow manure and other natural amendments in 2013. Both grew up same trellis and did very well. I also grew it just in reach of my bean trellis but was careful not to get manure too close to the beans and planted a little less malabar so it would not shade and crowd the beans. Both did very well.

  • sammy January 30, 2014

    I planted a Malabar stem in a small sack of soil in my backyard. For months now, I have been enjoying the leaves in soups. I observed that when I cook the leaves whole, they don’t get slimy (when chopped, they do get slimy). They become more tasty too when cooked whole.

  • chris dorr January 15, 2014

    A friend gave me a small sprig of this plant and we enjoyed its leaves in salads all summer long. Now that it is winter (Arizona), it is producing plump purple berries, and I am wondering whether they can be used in the same way as pomegranate seeds? Any other ideas besides food coloring?  Aso, tips for other such fun and exotic plants would be welcome. Thank you!

  • Michael Richard Stamets December 1, 2013

    I received some green Malabar spinach from my farm co-op in a grocery delivery. After I’d used the leaves I put the thick stem ends in a bit of root hormone and stuck them in a jar of water. They did well, growing long roots. I transferred them to pots several weeks ago and am getting new growth. I will plant them outside in the spring. I live in central Texas and could probably put them outside now (December 1) but will wait to give them a better start outside when it’s warmer.

  • BBG Staff November 7, 2013

    This article recommends drying the entire fruit, but Seed Savers Exchange offers this advice, which might get better results: “Place the fruits in a metal strainer that is partially submerged in a bowl of soapy water. When rubbed against the sides of the strainer the fruits disintegrate, exposing the seeds. Rinse the seeds in clear water and dry the bottom of the strainer on a towel to remove as much water as possible. Place the seeds on a glass plate to dry.” Cornell’s gardening webpage on Malabar spinach also recommends that the dried seeds be scarified (the process of scraping the seed coat with a file or sandpaper) just before planting to facilitate germination.

  • gina taras November 7, 2013

    How do you save the seeds? I have lots of the dark berries, but do I let them dry out on the plant, or do I cut them off and dry them inside? I have them growing on the roof in NYC, where it is about to get very cold. I really appreciate any info regarding this, as I adore this plant, and want to grow next year. Thanks.

  • Brandi November 6, 2013

    I was given a small plant as a housewarming gift. Can it be kept indoors or does it only do well outside? I want to have the vine climb my kitchen window.  I am in Southern California. Thanks!

  • Laurie September 11, 2013

    Any other suggested recipes that don’t include coconut? Thanks so much.

  • Ann September 9, 2013

    First year with this plant and I love it!  After a slow start this cool wet spring, it took off and has been producing like the Eveready Bunny. It goes on and on and on, overgrowing my teepee trellis and winding its red tentacles through the other vegetables. I eat the crunchy flowers as well as the leaves in salads but find the stems too tough. The mucilage (slime) is soluable fiber—excellent for the digestive tract, blood sugar levels, and many other conditions that respond to increased fiber. I use it in any recipe that calls for spinach, but where it is the main ingredient (i.e., creamed spinach), I try to minimize the cooking lest the dish become too slimy. The plant is visually stunning and I will absolutely grow this again next year!

  • Jen August 28, 2013

    I live in southwest Florida and grew Malabar spinach from seed in a pot, which I transplanted into a container garden in the yard. It has consumed the trellis we planted it next to. It has tolerated the heat, full sun, and torrential summer rains great. We have enjoyed it raw (the small leaves in salads) and very quickly sautéed, but it does not juice well. The taste is very pleasant; however, the slime from the leaves made the juice nearly impossible to swallow—very thick and viscous.

  • Donna August 14, 2013

    I have one Malibar spinach vine and it is doing well. I’ve been eating the flowers and am going to put some into salads. Is there anything I need to do to encourage seeds for next year? Will the seeds self-sow? I live in Zone 6, Kentucky. Thanks!

  • ginette lh July 31, 2013

    I wondered the same thing about the berries/seeds. Should they be removed to give more energy to the foliage? My spinach this year is not growing longer’ instead the leaves just seem to be getting bigger…any ideas?

  • Ingrid regula July 29, 2013

    I live in central Florida and purchased this plant at a “rare plant fair” four years ago. I kept it at the front porch where it climbs around the railing. It shows up every year again, then I pot them. It never has any problems, and looks beautiful. I water it along with my flowers and pick the leaves to add to our daily salad. I would not cook it unless I had more. I also stick it into a sandwich in place of lettuce. Finally I found a place for information on this interesting plant!

  • Parks July 28, 2013

    I live in Orlando area and would like to find a few of these plants. Can anyone help steer me where to get them?

  • Diana July 25, 2013

    I’ve been growing this vine for the first time this summer. It’s great to know the berries act as a natural dye; I will try to freeze/save some of the juice for egg dyeing next spring. If I have a lot of these berries and flowers, should I be clipping them off to stimulate more leaf growth or does it not make a difference? Thanks!

  • Ann July 22, 2013

    I live in SC, and we have malibar spinach in abundance; however, I don’t really know how to prepare it. I’ve tried quiche, and it was tasty, but I can’t locate the seasonings for other recipes. Any suggestions?

  • BBG Staff July 22, 2013

    Sandra, unless you have a hothouse where you can overwinter your plant, your best bet is to save the seeds from the fruit and start them indoors early next spring. Transplant the seedlings outside once all danger of frost is past.

  • Sandra July 18, 2013

    I just received a malabar spinach vine plant and have it in my sunny garden, where it’s growing very nice. What do I do for our winters in Manitoba, Canada?

  • Cherrida Hardaker May 19, 2013

    I have been using this climbing spinach this summer and it is great. It grows without any problem or care, just a little bit of water now and then. I use it in green smoothies and also in stir-fry. When there is a lot growing I put it in small plastic bags and freeze it, ready to use for when the season finishes.

  • Ann McGrath April 30, 2013

    Interesting web site, thank you! Here in Brisbane, Queensland, climbing spinach (red-stemmed or green-stemmed) grows very well and is ideal for growing on a verandah; pretty and practical.

  • Sally April 22, 2013

    Is there a risk of this becoming an invasive plant here in southern New Mexico? For example, morning glory is a pest to cotton farmers here in the Rio Grande Valley.

  • BBG Staff April 16, 2013

    Patti: As long as you have room, why not grow them all? Just make sure they are thinned or transplanted to one foot apart and trellised.

  • Patti April 15, 2013

    This is the first year I am growing malabar spinach in my garden (12 to 14 planned). Should I get rid of some of the plants?

  • nancy October 7, 2012

    I grow malabar spinach as an annual vine on the north side of my home in Minnesota. It grows fast and requires no care at all other than watering. I have tried several other plants in that spot and nothing else has worked. It was beautiful all summer.

  • Heather September 10, 2012

    I live in Daytona Beach, FL in the great sun and heat! I just received a plant from a friend. It’s in a small pot now, but I’d like to put in near my chain link fence so it can climb. Would it be better for me to put it into the ground or a big pot? Also, what kind of soil or fertilizer does it need, and any helpful tips for replanting? I am new to all of this but love the leaves it produces! Thank you!!

  • Jean August 30, 2012

    I have the green-stemmed variety. Do I cook the stems along with the leaves or just the leaves?

  • BBG Staff August 23, 2012

    Hi, Rita:
    Yes, the green-stemmed form is the most likely the straight species, Basella alba.

  • Rita August 21, 2012

    Is there a green stemmed variety as well? Someone just let me pick some from her garden, and what she called Malabar spinach had a green, thicker in appearance than your pic, stem. 


  • Diana Sandlin August 4, 2012

    I was so blessed to find this here in San Antonio Texas! I love spinach in my salads and have been looking for one that can handle hot weather, and here it is. I have it growing in partial shade as I noticed that it does wilt when it is too dry. 

  • Ruth Hollifield July 28, 2012

    Do you have any more recipes using the red stem spinach?  Can it be used successfully in a recipe like regular spinach?

  • Debra Maslowski July 26, 2012

    I recently bought property in Old Fort, NC. It use to be a nursery, so I’m finding all kinds of plants all over the place. While I was checking my hops I found a malabar spinach vine growing on the same trellis. I’ve never grown it, but thought I knew what it was since I had just ordered seeds for the plant. We’ve had two meals so far out of that one vine and can’t wait for more!

  • linda west July 11, 2012

    Do the berries turn into seeds if they are dried? I collected some and put them in a bright window. They don’t look like seeds.

  • BBG Staff June 19, 2012

    Since Malabar spinach needs hot weather to thrive, the best location in your climate would be on a sunny patio against a stone wall that catches the afternoon sun. Stone (and concrete) surfaces collect solar heat and release it slowly after dark, protecting the plants from evening cool.

  • Sue June 16, 2012

    I recently purchased this at a flea market in northern MN—several healthy stems growing inside a hanging pot.  Also purchased a single plant in a 4” pot. Any advice on what I need to do to keep these plants healthy in a northern climate? Temperatures have been dipping to the mid ‘50s at night, and we seem to be getting more rain than sunshine these days.

  • Carol June 15, 2012

    Thank you for answering my question, and yes, I really love this plant! Kind regards, Carol.

  • BBG Staff June 6, 2012

    Hi, Carol:
    The sap of malabar spinach is mucilaginous (slimy) by nature—and harmless. Enjoy!

  • Carol June 2, 2012

    Hi there, I’m growing malabar spinach in pots in my back garden, and it is winding its way around my stair banister and looks gorgeous. I use it in stir fries, but I am a bit concerned about the jelly that comes out of it when chopped up—is it safe to eat? I haven’t felt ill from it as yet!
    Thank you, Carol.

  • Carol Umstad April 7, 2012

    A friend gave me a little plant about 10 cm. Now it is several meters long shooting off in all directions. A most attractive vine, climbing up my tomatoes ever so beautifully, I let it go because it is so aesthetic. A real garden conversation piece. We use it in stir fries, but will experiment further. We tried to eat it because it was green. I do not know why it is not more widely grown here. I live in the sub-tropical gold coast of Australia. I am going to promote it as we cannot grow any other greens during our summer peak.

  • jblackburn December 6, 2011

    As long as you don’t completely strip the leaves from the stems, they will keep producing foliage. The leaves can be picked individually (the younger ones toward the top of the vine are the most tender), or you can snip off the tips of the shoots and cook them stems and all.

  • rick November 15, 2011

    if you take the leaves off do others grow back?

  • jblackburn July 20, 2011

    The foliage is considered to be the palatable part of Malabar spinach, although the fruit is not toxic and is used for coloring food.

  • pam July 19, 2011

    Do you eat the berries or just the leaves?

  • Gardener's Resource Center July 15, 2011

    Malabar spinach (Basela alba) is not listed as toxic in Toxic Plants of North America (Burrows and Tyrl) or Poisonous Plants (Frohne and Pfander). However, malabar spinach, like many other leafy green vegetables, is a source of oxalates, which people with kidney stones and other kidney disorders should avoid or restrict in intake. A good online source for plant and other toxic substances is the National Library of Medicine’s Toxicology Data Network, Toxnet:

  • RJ Parks June 22, 2011

    I would like to know if there are any health risks with eating this plant.

  • DDD Smith May 8, 2010

    I just wanted to comment on this paragraph…“Malabar spinach excels in warm, tropical areas, where it can easily grow a foot per day. It’s intolerant of any chills; thus, the only regions in the U.S. where it would be perennial are the Deep South or southern Florida. Gardeners in colder climates can grow it as an annual.”

    I live in North Texas. Believe it or not we get 4-5 cold snaps a winter where it can get to 15%F and stay below freezing for up to two consecutive days. Never had a problem with it not coming back, year after year.  In Fact, it can be invasive to a vegetable garden.  Do research on the health benefits. You will be amazed to say the least.  It heals!!!

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