Greens greens Lettuce malabar Organic Gardening

Malabar – a/k/a – Malabar Spinach – to tide you over when lettuce won’t grow

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.

Grows Easily

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.

I put my Malabar in an out of the way place on the property line where we had just removed some shrubs. I keep it pruned back because I don’t want rampant growth that will end up dropping seed every where.

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).

Final Thoughts

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.

Related Posts:

Mizuna – Evergreen, Elegant and Delicious


Organic gardening is easy, efficient, effective — and it’s a lot healthier.


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  • Your comment about pruning the malabar spinach helped me to realize that I can prune vegetable plants to help prevent them from overtaking other plants in the garden. Any tips on doing this would be appreciated.

  • Alice, I don’t know which plants you have in mind to prune. Also, no tips that I can think of.
    I will say that I would be tempted to prune vining squash if they start to take over. They’ll just branch — but just in another direction. Same with wintersquash. I think the thing you want to think about is when to do it. You want to prune at a time that you don’t loose fruit (assuming you want that fruit.) I don’t grow watermelons or pumpkins but I would think they would be the same.

    I’ve pruned cukes before, but I don’t really like to prune them. Trellising cukes works great.

  • I just discovered this plant for the first time this year also – perhaps I heard you mention it! I love it too. I don’t mind the texture, and I find the taste mild and delicious. As you said, it’s beautiful. I much prefer it to New Zealand spinach which I also tried for the first time this year – it’s way too harsh for my taste.

  • I was hoping you’d add to the conversation on this one Sandra. Nice to have folks hear a slightly different perspective on taste than just mine.
    I grew New Zealand spinach many years ago. I like the taste alright, but stoped growing it only because other things came along and were easier.

  • Theresa, Have you noticed how the flavor of the Malabar Spinach has changed with the cooler weather? It has sweetened beautifully, and it’s even better than earlier on in the year. It has become one of my favorites.

  • Spinach sweetens in cool weather as well. Glad to know about Malabar. Haven’t had any lately for salads because I’ve had so much good lettuce —- but will now try it again. Thanks Sandra.

  • Theresa, we have grown malabar spinach for a few years. I do put it on a fence, but it almost always ends up spreading outward from the crown. I find that the soil is improved in the area in which the spinach has grown and decomposed. For that reason I am considering it for summer cover cropping, but I haven’t actually done that yet. I fear it will choke out whatever is growing nearby.

  • Thanks for sharing your observation Pat. Your strategy to use it as a cover crop is interesting. If you can keep an eye on it and not let it choke out whatever is nearby, it might do very well. Just don’t turn your back.
    I let my Malabar come up from seed each. Just can’t resist it. It’s in a spot I don’t get to often and last year it grew into everything it was near. A mess. BUT, when I finally got to it, I just cut it and left it to die back.

    If I used it as a cover, I would not let it seed. That could be a nightmare.
    Let me know how you fair with it.

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