Offering your taste buds a mild, pleasant hint of spinach, the large leaf of this fast-climbing vine also brings a list of nutrients to the table and useful home remedies to the medicine chest. Also known as Indian spinach, this native of tropical Asia probably first appeared in India or Indonesia.
What does it do?
Valued for its mucilaginous texture, Malabar spinach is used in soups and stews as a thickening agent in much the same way that okra is employed in Southern cuisine. No flyweight, nutritionally, Malabar spinach provides a good amount of vitamins A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B6 (niacin) and C, as well as the minerals calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and sodium. As a healing agent, this botanical is chewed to give relief in cases of mouth ulcers. The astringent quality of the cooked roots is beneficial to curb diarrhea, while the cooked leaves and stems are summoned when a mild, effective laxative is called for. Ongoing research is examining the traditional role played by Malabar spinach as a remedy for infertility and as a potential ingredient in testosterone-boosting herbal cocktails.
About the herb
Related to spinach in name only, this vine fares best in warm climates and tolerates a fair amount of rainfall. Both of the most popular species of Malabar spinach climb up to 30 feet, with their respective soft stems distinguished by either the color red or green. The flowering season runs from May to September, after which small reddish purple berries add their luster. The berry juice is commercially valuable as a source of food coloring, makeup (rouge) and ink that is often found in official seals.
Neighborhood grocery stores that carry East Asian foods often feature Malabar spinach. The thick, juicy broad leaf is the perfect size for claiming its own layer in your favorite sandwich. Add a second or third leaf when constructing an all-veggie double-decker! Malabar spinach sprouts quickly in containers, and this can be your all-season source of tender salad greens.