Basella alba is an edible perennial vine in the family Basellaceae. It is found in tropical Asia and Africa where it is widely used as a leaf vegetable. It is native to the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and New Guinea. It is reportedly naturalized in China, tropical Africa, Brazil, Belize, Colombia, the West Indies, Fiji and French Polynesia. Basella alba is known under various common names, including Ceylon spinach, Malabar Spinach vine spinach, red vine spinach, climbing spinach, creeping spinach, and buffalo spinach among others.
Basella alba is a fast-growing, soft-stemmed vine, reaching 10 metres in length. Its thick, semisucculent, heart-shaped leaves have a mild flavour and mucilaginous texture. It is rich in vitamins A and C, iron and calcium. It has been shown to contain certain phenolic phytochemicals and it has antioxidant properties.
There are two varieties – green and red stemmed. The stem of the Basella alba is green and the stem of the cultivar Basella alba ‘Rubra’ is reddish-purple; the leaves in both cases are green.
Soil and climate requirement
Basella alba grows well under full sunlight in hot, humid climates and in areas lower than 500 metres above sea level. Growth is slow in low temperatures resulting in low yields. Flowering is induced during the short-day months of June to August. It grows best in sandy loam soils rich in organic matter with pH ranging from 5.5 to 8. Food uses Typical of leaf vegetables, Malabar spinach is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium. It is low in calories by volume, but high in protein per calorie. The succulent mucilage is a particularly rich source of soluble fibre. Among many other possibilities, Malabar spinach may be used to thicken soups or stir-fries. In the Philippines the leaves of this vegetable is one of the main ingredients in an all vegetable dish called utan that is served over rice.
In Karnataka Cuisine (India), the leaves and stems are used to make Basale Soppu Saaru/Curry
(Especially in combination with Jackfruit seed) and soupy raita with curd. In Bengali cuisine it is widely used both in a vegetable dish, cooked with red pumpkin, and in a non-vegetarian dish cooked with the bones of the Ilish fish. In Andhra Pradesh, a southern state in India, a curry of Basella and Yam is made popularly known as Kanda Bachali Koora. Also it used to make the snack item bachali koora bajji. In Odisha, India, it is used to make Curries and Saaga. In the Western Ghats in Maharashtra, India, it is used to make bhaji. It is also known as daento or valchi bhaji in Konkani. A popular Mangalorean dish is “Valchi Bhaji and Shrimp – Curry”.
The vegetable is used in Chinese cuisine. It has many names including flowing water vegetable. It is often used in stir-fries and soups. In Vietnam, particularly the north, it is cooked with crab meat, luffa and jute to make soup.
See also ABC Gardening Australia’s website for lots of practical tips: http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s2660517.htm