Worldcrops.org has this to say about this wonderful plant:
Malabar spinach is in the Basellaceae family, not the spinach family. The taste is similar to spinach, however this crop is a very warm-season crop unlike standard spinach grown in the Northeastern US. This crop is native
to tropical Asia, probably originating from India or Indonesia, and is extremely heat tolerant. [I disagree about it tasting like spinach. It does not contain the oxalic acid that spinach does. I'm not at all fond of spinach, but I love malabar "spinach." -Shivani]
Malabar spinach is grown throughout the tropics as a perennial
and in warmer temperate regions as an annual. There are two main species of Malabar spinach: Basella alba, which has green stems and Basella ruba which has red stems. Both have thick fleshy leaves,. The mucilaginous texture is especially useful as a thickener in soups and stews. [The red forms vnes and cllimbs up to 6 ft., the green forms a bunch on the ground. -Shivani]
Other names for Malabar spinach include: Ceylon spinach, Vietnamese spinach (English); Saan Choy, Shan Tsoi, Luo Kai, Shu Chieh, Lo Kwai (Chinese); Tsuru Murasa Kai (Japanese); Mong Toi (Vietnamese); Paag-Prung (Thai); Genjerot, Jingga, Gendola (Indonesian).
Malabar spinach is a warm season crop and should
be direct seeded when all danger of frost has passed and night temperatures are above 60 degrees F. Plant seeds 1 inch deep, 1 inch apart in rows in rows 2.5 feet apart. Thin germinated seedlings to 1 foot. Malabar spinach can also be started as transplants eight weeks before the last frost. [It's also easy to root cuttings. If you have a greenhouse
you can eat the leaves all year. I think
the plant is hardy to 5 degrees, but am not positive about that. - Shivani]
Malabar spinach tolerates high rainfall. This is a fast growing vine plant and produces best when trellised. Stem tips (6-8 inches) are harvested 55-70 days after seeding. Repeated harvests of new growth stems can be made through out the season. [The vines will grow rapidly to 8-12 feet tall. Most of us would be hard put to provide a trellis
that tall. A 5 or 6 foot trellis is enough
. You can wind the sturdy vines around it. We did not get all the plants trellised. Those with no trellis at all just wound around themseles and sprawled along the ground or twinded around other plants nearby and used them as trellises as best they could. A couple even used raspberry plants to grow up on. -Shivani]
Malabar is a good source of Protein, Niacin, Vitamin B6 and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. For a very detailed nutritional analysis of it, see: www.nutritiondata.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/3049/2
That website has similar data on all major and many minor world foods.
Here's a bit more interesting information about the plant, from http://wwbota.free.fr/XMLPublication/decode-markup/Amar-Capsi_.htm
Description: The plants are twiners, and can climb two metres up a trellis or bush. Otherwise they will sprawl over the ground and twist themselves gently. ....
Cultivation: Although basella grows well in a climate with a wet summer, it will grow almost anywhere. The hotter and wetter, the better. Basella is very easily grown organically because it is rarely attacked by insects. The seeds germinate readily and can be planted directly in the garden, or in seedling punnets or trays.
Propagation: Take cuttings from well-established basella plants and bury them at least half way up the stem in good soil. They will quickly send down their own roots
in warm and wet weather.
Saving the seed: Basella goes to seed as the weather cools down. Pick the berries when they are dark purple. They have only one seed in each of them. Rub them clean with gloves and wash them under a tap until the water runs clear. Alternatively, leave the skin and flesh on them. Dry on a wire screen before storage.
Storage: The seeds look like peppercorns and store for five years in a cool, dark and dry place. There are fifty seeds to the gram.
Usage: The mucilaginous leaves and tender stalks are used as a spinach, or in soups and stir fries. Their oxalic acid content is low and they are very rich in minerals and vitamins. Cooking should be brief to retain these nutrients – more than a minute creates a sloppy mess. Our kids write on their bodies with the inky berries.
G.A.C. Herklots, whose knowledge about Asian vegetables was already profound by the time he was interned in Hong Kong during World War Two, records that, in China, basella was grown for its seeds, the flesh of which were used as a dye
in rouge and sealing wax (Herklots, 1972). This dye is also a safe, natural colouring for jellies, pastries and sweets. [end quote]
We have eaten the leaves both raw and cooked. Brief steaming is all that's needed if you want to eat the leaves by themselves as cooked greens. Boiling would be a shame.
This is a wonderful way for those with a Vata Ayurvedic constitution to get their greens. Most leafy greens are of the brassica family, and thus imbalancing for us Vata folks. (Vatas are thin, and often chilly. We do not do will with much raw food
.) I'm delighted to have discovered basella.
The seeds are used as a colorant. They will turn your fingers bright red if you pick them when they still have juicy plant material around them.
I hope you'll try this spinach that is not a spinach in your garden next season. [I offer these and other seeds. I hope that's OK to mention here? I just joined today.]