Plant Name: Basella alba
English: Malabar spinach, Indian spinach
Interesting facts and history
Some special property: Like spinach, Basella alba also contain oxalic acid which is a naturally occurring substance found in some vegetables. Thus, people prone to oxalate urinary tract stones are recommended to avoid eating them1.
Basella alba is a short-lived, perennial climbing plant, producing stems up to 9 metres long that scramble over the ground and twine into other plants for support
It has a deep-red - purple colour stems.
They are broad, deep green, thick and glossy and succulent.
The colour of the flowers varies from species to species. It differs from white or white-pink.
The fruits are in the form of berries. They are deep-purple to black in colour.
Habit / Habitat
It is a perennial twinning herb1.
The plant thrives in hot humid climate. It requires moist, fertile and well-drained soil and is often cultivated in pots or in kitchen garden.
1) Basella alba is a fast-growing vine and found throughout India and native to tropical Southern Asia.
2) Location of photograph: The plant sample was photographed at Chambharshet village, Jawhar
World wide use
Tender leaves and stem
Used by tribal community in Jawhar
leaves and stem
Non Edible parts
Fruits: The juice of purple berries has colorant properties due to presence of betacyanin pigments. Thus, the intense purple colour obtained from the ripped fruits is used as dye and also as a natural food colorant14.
Method of consumption
The tender leaves and stems are cooked with other leafy vegetables or added to dals/ curry (lentils).
Mangalorean malabar spinach curry recipe
- ¾ cup black eyed beans/lobia/chawli
- 1 to 1.5 cup chopped malabar spinach leaves and stems (mayalu or valchi bhaji or pui shaak)
- ¾ cup to 1 cup fresh grated coconut/nariyal
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 small onion/pyaaz
- 1 medium tomato/tamatar
- 3 to 4 garlic/lahsun
- 1 tsp mustard seeds/rai
- a pinch of asafoetida/hing
- salt as required
- For dry roasting the spices
- 3 tsp coriander seeds/sabut dhania
- 2 tsp cumin/sabut jeera
- 3-4 black peppercorns/sabut kali mirch
- ¼ tsp fenugreek seeds/methi dana
- 2 to 3 dry red chilies/sookhi lal mirch
- Rinse and soak the black eyed beans or chawli/lobia in enough water overnight or for 5 to 6 hours.
- Drain them and pressure cook the black eyed beans in 2 or 2.5 cups water along with salt, till they are cooked well and softened. They should not become mushy.
- Heat a small skillet or pan. Add all the whole spices and on a low heat dry roast them till aromatic.
- When the spices cool, add them to a grinder long with grated coconut.
- Add some water and make a smooth paste of the roasted spices with the coconut.
- Keep the coconut-spices paste aside.
- Lightly crush garlic in a mortar-pestle keeping the peels on it. Just crushing them lightly, not making a paste of them.
- Finely chop the onions and dice the tomatoes.
- Rinse and remove the leaves from the stems of the Malabar spinach. Small leaves can be kept intact. Large leaves can be chopped.
- Cut the tender stems in 1 or 1.5 inch pieces. If the stems are not tender, you will have cook them separately in water in a pan or pressure cooker, till they are cooked well.
- Heat oil in a pan. Crackle the mustard first.
- Then add the crushed garlic with their peels. saute for 4-5 seconds
- Add onions and saute till translucent. add the tomatoes and coconut spice paste
- Stir and saute for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the malabar spinach leaves and stems.
- Stir and add 1 to 1.5 cups stock or water. Season with salt and stir again.
- Simmer the curry for 6-7 minutes on a low to medium flame.
- Add the cooked black eyed beans and simmer for 6-7 minutes or more, till all the flavors are well blended. You will see specks of oil on top of the curry when it’s done.
- Add water if required if the curry looks thick and continue to simmer.
- The curry is neither thick nor thin, but of medium consistency.
- Lastly, garnish the curry with chopped coriander leaves if you prefer.
- Serve the Malabar spinach curry hot with steamed rice and chapattis.
Cooked roots are used in the treatment of diarrhoea. The leaf juice is used in cases of dysentery. The juice also has diuretic, febrifuge (reduce fever) and laxative properties.
Traditionally in West Cameroon region, this plant has been used as a medicine on male reproductive functioning and to treat male infertility. This was proved by an experimental study carried out on male rats showed which showed that methanol extracts of Basella alba stimulate the testosterone production in testicular fraction and could have an effect to contribute to the improvement of the male reproductive function .
A study carried out by Bamidele, O, et al; in Nigeria, showed that the internal consumption of the leaves of the plant could significantly have a positive effect on haematological parameters like red blood cell count, white blood cell count, haemoglobin concentration and platelet count .
Leaf extract was used to investigate the effects of the plant on reducing the excess level of cholesterol in the blood stream (hypercholesterolaemia) which leads to atherosclerosis (disease caused due to deposition of fatty material on the inner walls). The study thus designed by Baskaran, G et al, in Malaysia, suggests that the plant has the potential as an alternative therapeutic agent to treat the disease.
Nutritional and medicinal information
Literature review: The young stem and leaves are incredibly rich sources of vitamin A and C. They are also a good source of calcium and iron and contain essential amino acids. The greens are cooked with other popular leafy vegetables to prepare different curries and “sags”.
Nutrition Facts of cooked Malabar spinach per 100 g
Sr. No. Parameters Amount % Daily Value*
1 Total Fat 0.8 g 1%
2 Cholesterol 0%
3 Sodium 55 mg 2%
4 Potassium 256 g 7%
5 Total Carbohydrate 2.7 g 1%
6 Dietary fiber 2.1g 8%
7 Protein 3 g 6%
8 Vitamin A 1158 IU 23%
9 Vitamin C 5.9mg 10%
1 Folate 114mg 29%
11 Vitamin B-6 0.1mg 4%
12 Riboflavin 0.1mg 8%
13 Calcium 124mg 12%
14 Iron 1.5mg 8%
15 Magnesium 48 mg 12%
Harvesting and preserving
A vigorous, fast-growing plant, when established it can be harvested every week or so by removing young shoots 7 - 13cm long. In addition to keeping the plant within bounds, this encourages the production of side shoots and thus more stems to harvest.
Propagation and Storage
Season of collection
It is a perennial plant. Leaves could be harvested within 50-70 days after planting the seeds.
How to grow it?
Malabar spinach could be easily grown as a pot herb or cultivated in the home gardens. Seeds could be directly sown for planting, although a stem cutting of about 20 cm in length is used as an easy method of propagation.
In temperate conditions seeds are sown in the month of March until mid-June.
Method of storage
1) Propagules: Seeds are directly stored whereas, stem cuttings cannot be stored, hence propagated garden-fresh.
2) Edible parts: Leaves could be stored in the refrigerators. Although they should be eaten fresh to get the maximum nutritional benefits.
In China, Malabar spinach is known as ‘huang ti cai’ which translates into ‘Emperor’s vegetable’, hence widely eaten as a delicacy.
Extract of leaves in the form of juice is used to treat nose and throat inflammation in Nepal3.
In Africa, tender leaves are used as a laxative, and the juice of red fruit is used as eye-drops to treat conjunctivitis.