Florida Heritage Foods


Common name


Scientific Name

Basella alba

Other Common Names

Ceylon spinach or Indian spinach (English),  锡兰菠  (xī lán bō cài, Mandarin), મલબાર પાલક (Malabāra pālaka, Gujarati)

Malabar Spinach is an edible vine native to India, and it is widely consumed throughout Asia and in tropical parts of Africa and the Americas. The leaves of both varieties, red and green, are prepared in a variety of cuisines ranging from curries and stir-fries to soups and sides. Malabar spinach is gaining popularity among home gardeners and chefs in Florida because it thrives in hot weather and serves as a nutritious alternative to cool-weather spinach. 

Historical Significance


Malabar Spinach originated in India and spread to other parts of Asia and tropical Africa through early trade routes. The first mention of Malabar in an English text was 1691. It made its way to the Americas through European colonialism, and it was introduced to tropical areas such as Belize, Columbia and the West Indies. Since Malabar Spinach thrives in hot and hummus climates, it is receiving greater attention among contemporary farmers and gardeners in Florida as a summertime green. 

Cultural Significance

Malabar Spinach is used fresh and cooked in much the same way as common spinach. It has a mucilaginous texture that can also serve as a thickening agent. In India, it is often found pureed in dal and served with rice; it is also added to soups, stews, curries, and seafood recipes. In the Philippines it is boiled with fish and vegetables to make utan.  In Bengal, it is cooked with onion, chili, and mustard oil. The red variety also produces red berries that have been used medicinally, and their pigment has been used for make-up, textile dyes, and inks.  In American cuisine, Malabar leaves are used in soups, frittatas and other egg dishes, as fillings, for stir-fries, as an alternative to flour or corn-based tortillas.  


Cooking With Malabar

 Malabar spinach is rich in vitamins A and C; fiber, iron, potassium, and calcium.

Malabar Plant Card Photo
Malabar Plant Card Photo

Growing Tips

Plant Malabar Spinach by directly sowing seed or via transplants from March through June; harvest August through November.  It is a climbing vine that needs support on a trellis or fence.

To plan a heritage garden, download the ‘Planning a Florida Heritage Garden (PDF).’