Malabar Spinach: Benefits and How to Grow & Eat It

This post may contain affiliate links.

Malabar Spinach

Malabar spinach (Basella alba [or rubra]) is a unique climbing vine. Though it’s not a true spinach, it tastes the same as regular spinach.

I have to admit, I love my greens. But in the heat of summer, lettuce, kale, collards, and chard all turn bitter, bolt, or dry out. Spinach is the worst; it seems to hate the sun! I found a few varieties that do better, but still not great. Then I came across Malabar spinach – a versatile and healthy option that grows well in the summer.

What is Malabar Spinach?

Malabar spinach (Basella alba or Basella rubra) is not a true spinach, but rather a climbing vine in a class by itself. Other common names include Vine Spinach, Red Vine Spinach, Creeping Spinach, and Ceylon Spinach.  Even though it’s not a true spinach, it has the same taste.

The variety Alba has white flowers and green vines, while the variety Rubra has pinkish flowers and purplish-red vines. I haven’t noticed a difference in taste between the two.

The leaves and stem contain mucilage, so it can appear slimy when broken off the vine. This mucilage is a great source of soluble fiber, much like pectin in apples.

The vine will grow rapidly in the heat of summer all the way through fall. It will die out in the winter, but often the seeds (if left on the vine) will fall to the ground and sprout the following spring. I’ve had plants in the same pots with a trellis for a few years now and they keep reseeding year after year. You can also collect the seeds and plant them next spring if you wish.

Health Benefits

Malabar spinach is high in Vitamin A (100 grams contains roughly 8,000 units), Vitamin C, iron, and calcium. It has a high amount of protein for a plant and is also a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Another good reason to eat Malabar spinach is that it has a good amount of antioxidants, particularly beta carotene and lutein, those naturally occurring chemicals that help keep your cells from aging. Rubra seems to be slightly higher in antioxidants, probably due to the purple color.

How to Grow Malabar Spinach

Unlike true spinach, which does better in the fall and spring, Malabar spinach loves the heat of summer. I soak my seeds overnight to give them a head start.

Plant in well-drained, rich soil in full sunlight. It prefers elevations of 1,500 ft or higher, but I grew it in Minnesota (728 ft) and it did fine. Be sure to water it well and keep it moist. In dry climates, you may need to mist it occasionally as it prefers humidity. The pH of the soil should be slightly alkaline, or around 7-8. Provide a trellis or twine for it to climb on – a tomato cage works great. I made the mistake of letting mine get into the trees one year and it was really difficult to harvest! Keeping it contained is the best thing to do for ease of use.

There don’t seem to be many pests or diseases that invade Malabar spinach, so minimal use of something like neem oil is probably not necessary.

Don’t forget to leave your seeds on the vine or collect the seeds at the end of summer. You’ll have a whole new crop waiting to be sown!

Cooking With Malabar Spinach

Malabar spinach can be used raw, in salads, or as a stand-alone vegetable. You can also use it like spinach in soups and stews. Steamed Malabar spinach is great and will yield more than conventional spinach due to its fleshy nature.

Buttery Malabar Spinach Recipe

My favorite way to use Malabar spinach is like many other greens I’ve cooked. It’s steamed, then braised with acid added at the end.



Add a small amount of water to a deep pan and heat on medium. Add the Malabar spinach leaves. Steam until leaves are wilted and tender. Drain off any remaining liquid. Melt the butter in the bottom of the pan with spinach and add salt and pepper. Toss to coat all of the leaves. Braise for just a few minutes with the liquid from the butter. When it’s done, remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Squeeze the juice of fresh lime over it and toss again. Serve warm.

Tip: use Malabar spinach in our spinach artichoke dip recipe!

Have you ever grown Malabar spinach? Have you ever eaten it? If so, share your experience!


About Debra Maslowski

Debra is a master gardener, a certified herbalist, a natural living instructor, and more. She taught Matt and Betsy how to make soap so they decided to bring her on as a staff writer! Debra recently started an organic herb farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can even purchase her handmade products on Amazon!

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for us to support our website activities, we may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for our endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this website.

DISCLAIMER: Information on DIY Natural™ is not reviewed or endorsed by the FDA and is NOT intended to be substituted for the advice of your health care professional. If you rely solely upon this advice you do so at your own risk. Read full Disclaimer & Disclosure statements here.


  1. Alex Pronove says

    I currently live in the Philippines where Malabar Spinach grows wild. I harvested a batch this morning from the roadside for my salad. It’s a very versatile green with an earthy smell and taste. The vine, by the way, grows from cuttings also. Thanks.

  2. M says

    I know this is from 5 years ago, but am wondering if you know about oxalates in this type of spinach? I’ve been coming across information about the high level of oxalates in spinach preventing absorption of certain nutrients, which makes the spinach not such a great “superfood” afterall. Any insight on this?


    • Debra Maslowski says

      Hi M! Unless you plan to eat excessive amounts, you’ll be fine. There are oxylates in Malabar spinach, but the amounts are not as high as conventional spinach. This also results in a less bitter taste.

  3. Dana Ross says

    Great in omelets – saute in butter along with herbs of choice – flavor blends well with garlic chives. Pour in eggs. Flip. Add sour cream or cheese. Fold over.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Yep, it’s that easy Darlene. You can pick the younger leaves or wait until they get bigger. The texture doesn’t seem to be affected over time. The sap can be slimy though, so you might wan to bring a towel along. I’ve found that the sliminess diminishes by the time I get to the kitchen.

    • Helga G says

      I have been growing Malabar for a few years now. I share with my neighbor who also loves it. You can buy the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.