I can make lettuce last a long time in my garden. But by August I’m craving greens for a salad. If you feel the same way — you might be interested in a solution I found.
By adding two new Asian vegetables to my garden this year, I’m able to eat salad in August and September while I’m waiting for my fall crop of lettuce to grow.
- I’ve talk about one of the two before: Mizuna. It’s as close a substitute for lettuce as I’ve ever been able to find.
- The second is Malabar — also known as Malabar spinach.
Both of these plants do well in hot conditions when lettuce won’t grow. And Malabar Spinach does even better in the heat than mizuna.
Malabar Spinach is a semi-succulent vining plant with beautiful shiny heart-shaped leaves along the stem. The variety I grew (Basella rubra) had striking burgundy red stems rather than green as in some varieties. It can grow 14 feet long or more — so it’s perfect for a trellis or fence.
Taste Won’t appeal to Everyone — But the Look will
Not everyone will like Malabar –since the texture is a little different. When used in stir fries it only needs the briefest of cooking. Anything more and the texture changes to something less appealing. The tips of the stems are edible, but a bit too gelatinous for my taste.
My favorite way to use Malabar is in salads or on sandwiches. And I love the tiny young leaves rather than the slightly thicker larger and older leaves.
If you grow this plant and don’t like the taste, the decorative qualities will keep it in your garden. It’s one of the most beautiful vining plants you’ve ever seen. I’m thinking of adding it to my front yard borders because it’s so beautiful and so easy. The front borders always need some help with green in July and August and Malabar with its shiny green leaves and red stems on a trellis or stake will be a great asset.
It’s easy to start from seed. It loves the heat and literally explodes with growth in conditions that would wilt most plants. It doesn’t need much water. We’ve had very dry conditions all summer and I’ve yet to even think about giving it water.
It’s hardiness, self-seeding, extremely rapid growth, and the trait of rooting wherever it touches the ground could become a problem if you don’t keep it controlled. (Kudzu – the invasive plant that you see taking over millions of acres in the southeast comes to mind because it too has these same traits.)
Persistent trimming will help keep it manageable. And I keep it cut so it won’t root where it touches the ground. Trellising it — so it could grow straight up — would also help solve this problem.
Frost and freeze should kill it in late fall, but there will be volunteers to pull next spring I’m sure. And one of these plants is plenty for me.
Two more pieces of interesting info about Malabar Spinach:
- It has lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
- It’s said to be a remedy for an inflammation of the mucous membrane of the mouth — also called mouth ulcers (Stomatitis).
If you don’t already have it in your garden give it a try. If you love greens — it’ll tide you over until your lettuce starts in the fall. And you’ll have a beautiful plant to admire for almost 6 months.
Organic gardening is easy, efficient, effective — and it’s a lot healthier.
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