Malabar Spinach

Warm-weather spinach substitute #2.

You might wonder for a moment about the poor timing of my warm-weather greens posts this week. This is definitely not the time to get anyone excited about planting this stuff, but this has been the best time to take photos!

The cooler weather has made way for the Malabar spinach to flower and produce these dark little berries, or seed.

Malabar spinach, like the Magenta Spreen lambsquarters in the previous post, is not actually a true spinach, but it works well as a substitute. They both thrive in heat and can be eaten both raw and cooked. I am a little biased towards the Malabar spinach, though. This stuff I can eat straight off the vine; it’s so crunchy and clean. It works well in stir fry, too. It actually holds up better than true spinach. It does have a mucilaginous texture somewhat similar to okra, but I never really noticed it when used in stir-fry. When eating it fresh, straight off the vine, it takes about five or six good leaves before I notice it. Doesn’t keep me from continuing to eat it. A Vietnamese neighbor told me that he used it to thicken soups.

A word of warning, though. It really does thrive in the heat. It loves it… and plenty of water. This crazy plant grabbed on to the patio posts and started taking over my neighbors balcony. I’m definitely growing this again next year, so I’m saving the seeds from the little dark berries now. Good stuff!

Warm-Weather Spinach Substitute #1

I haven’t really had too much luck growing spinach in containers. Maybe its another one of those things I underestimated. When I did get a bit growing in the spring, it was quickly destroyed by pests. The few leaves I did harvest and eat were delicious, but I never did get enough to even put together a salad.

A few years back a friend gave me something she called wild spinach and told me to make sure I planted it in the ground. I was a little wary of digging holes in the common areas of my apartment complex, so I gave it a nice five gallon bucket to live in. It was beautiful. It grew to about five feet high, had a stem streaked with red and a purple “powder” on its newest leaves. She explained that it was a spinach substitute, and while the tender leaves were edible, both the taste and texture were less than appealing to me. The powdery feel on the tongue was a bit strange and the flavor was a bit metallic.

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Flowering Magenta Spreen lambsquarters

It took a little research to find what I had in that bucket was lambquarters. It is considered a weed by most standards. It withstands many different climates, it roots deeply, and it self-sows. This particular plant is a semi-wild cultivar of lambsquarters known as Magenta Spreen. Tender, new leaves can used from the plant at any time, but the whole, young plant can be used when it under a foot tall. Alternatively, they can be kept cut back and will continue to grow new, tender foliage.

Maybe I never really gave it a chance, but I did let the thing grow and it hit about five feet tall when it flowered and produced hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny seeds. From my research, I learned that these seeds could be used as a grain and cooked like porridge or turned into flour. I’m fascinated by the possibilities and the resilience of this plant, but I must admit that I’ve not yet tried to use it since the first disagreeable taste test. I saved that seed, though, and a few dropped to the ground and just sprouted where they landed. One of them found a nice spot by a potted plant and enjoyed a nice, consistent watering schedule. The darn thing is now about ten feet tall and has begun to flower. Now I get why one of its common names is Tree Spinach.

It’s beyond time for me to give this plant another chance. Maybe a little porridge this winter? Some baby greens next spring?