The tender leaf shoots and young leaves are the main product from this perennial vegetable. In the markets of Taiwan, the shoots are sold tied in a bundle. Okinawan spinach can also be used to give a red colouring to other foods, such as rice.
The young, raw leaves and shoots have a flavour that most people find agreeable. However, the flavour of okinawan spinach is strong and it is generally mixed with other types of green leaves.
The young leaves and shoots can be eaten raw in salads, after being washed in clean water. It is often mixed with other greens. When cooked as a green vegetable by itself, it is somewhat slimy. It is best to cook it with other leafy greens. The shoots and leaves can be added to soups, stews and stir- fry dishes.
Everyone in the family should eat some green leaves everyday. Children, pregnant women and nursing mothers especially need the protein, vitamins and minerals found in green leaves. For many children, green leaves are the sole source of vitamin A, an essential vitamin in preventing blindness.
Green leaves also contain phytochemicals, thousands of chemical tongue twisters like sulforaphane, genistein and indole-3-carbinol, that are the new frontier in cancer-prevention research. Serving a variety of green leaves will keep the whole family healthy.
Okinawan spinach is propagated by cutting. To prepare cuttings, take a 25 cm length section of the tip or midsection of the stem. Remove all leaves and plant slanting or vertically with 1 or 2 nodes exposed.
Cuttings can be planted in nursery containers or directly in the ground, and must be kept moist. Container grown cuttings will be ready for planting within 4 to 8 weeks.
Good results have been obtained from direct planting where rainfall is adequate or irrigation is used. Cuttings can be spaced close together, 12 inches (30 cm) apart, to establish a solid stand in a short time. It is important to keep the cuttings weeded until they have grown together, which takes 4 to 8 weeks.
Transplanting is best done at the beginning of the rainy season to ensure high survival and good growth. A thorough watering is important before planting. Containers should be carefully lifted and spiralled roots should be cut so that all roots are growing downward. The planting hole must be deep enough to allow the roots to hang down vertically.