Basella alba and Basella alba ‘Rubra’
Also known as vine spinach and Ceylon spinach, this vine is native to the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia but is widely grown right across Asia and Africa for its edible leaves. Perennial in tropical areas, it is fast growing and can be grown as an annual in frost tender areas, and provides a useful alternative to common spinach which tends to bolt in summer. The plant is very ornamental, with glossy stems and leaf stems being green or fucshia pink depending on the variety, and leaves either green or starting green and turning to purple. These yield a reddish dye. They are tender and succulent, and slightly mucilaginous, and can be used in any number of curries, soups, stir fries and tempura, or added to stews as a thickening agent. The flavour is mild, with a hint of pepper and citrus, and health benefits include relatively levels of vitamins A and C, folate and manganese.
Shorter days and/or drier conditions will stimulate flowering. Flowers are followed by tiny black berries which yield a reddish-purple juice, which can be used as a food colourant or dye.
Plants enjoy full sun, plenty of moisture, ideally some humidity, and are best suited to sandy or loamy soil. Whilst the vines can grow up to 10m in their native habitats they are unlikely to do so under general garden cultivation in most parts of Aotearoa; we think 1.5 – 2m is more likely, however we’d love to hear how tall yours do grow! Definitely some staking or trellising will be required though.
Frost tender perennial. Certified organic plant in 9cm pot. Usually only available Nov – Feb.
Photo credits: flowers and berries: https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/malabar-spinach-basella-alba/, leaves: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/malabar-spinach/growing-malabar-spinach.htm