Basella or vine spinach (Malabar spinach) is a popular tropical leafy-green vegetable commonly grown as backyard plant in the home gardens. In the true sense, it is different from English spinach (Spinacea Oleracea) in that the plant is a creeping vine, and its leaves feature glossy, broad, deep green, thick, and mucilaginous. Commonly found in the backyard gardens of many south Asian families, it is gaining popularity in some of the tropical and temperate climates of America, Australia, and Europe for its succulent, nutritious greens, and tender stems.
Malabar spinach is one of versatile leafy green vegetable and revered in some East Asian cultures for its wholesome phytonutrients profile.
Malabar spinach is very low in calories and fats (100 g of raw leaves provide just 19 calories). Nonetheless, it holds an incredibly good amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Fresh leaves, particularly of Basella Rubric, are rich sources of several vital carotenoid pigment anti-oxidants such as ß-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin. Together, these compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a healing role in aging and various disease processes.
Its thick, fleshy leaves are a good source of non-starch polysaccharide, mucilage. In addition to regular fiber (roughage) that found in the stem and leaves, mucilage facilitates in smooth digestion, bring a reduction in cholesterol absorption, and help prevent bowel movement problems.
Vine spinach leaves and stem are incredibly rich sources of vitamin A. 100 g fresh leaves provide 8000 IU or 267% of recommended daily allowance (RDA) of this vitamin. Vitamin-A is required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin, and essential for good eyesight. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin-A and flavonoids has been thought to offer protection from the lung and oral cavity cancers.
Malabar spinach has more vitamin C content than English spinach. 100 g of fresh greens contains 102 mg or 102% of daily recommended levels of vitamin C. Vitamin-C is a powerful antioxidant, which helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals.
Likewise in spinach, Basella is an excellent source of iron. 100 g fresh leaves contain about 1.20 mg or 15% of daily intake of iron. Iron is an important trace element required by the human body for red blood cell (RBC’s) production. Additionally, this element acts as a co-factor for oxidation-reduction enzyme, cytochrome oxidase, during the cellular metabolism.
It also contains good amounts of many B-complex vitamins such as folate, vitamin-B6 (pyridoxine), and riboflavin. 100 g fresh leaves provide 140 µg or 35% of folates. This vitamin is one of the essential compounds for DNA production and growth. Folate deficiency in during very early stages of pregnancy might result in the neural tube defects in the newborn baby. Anticipating and pregnant women are; therefore, advised to include a lot of fresh greens in their diet to help prevent neural tube defects in the offspring.
Further, Malabar spinach leaves are good sources of minerals like potassium (11% of RDA/100 g), manganese (32% of RDA/100 g), calcium, magnesium, and copper. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Akin to spinach, regular consumption of Basella (Malabar spinach) in the diet helps prevent osteoporosis (weakness of bones), iron-deficiency anemia. Besides, it is believed to protect the body from cardiovascular diseases and cancers of the colon.
Preparation and serving methods
Wash the leaves in cold running water to remove any surface grit/sand. Mop dry using a paper towel or soft cotton cloth. Trim away tough stems. Chop the leaves and stem for the desired length to add in the recipes.
Basella is used in the same way as other seasonal greens like spinach, watercress, and purslane. However, being more mucilaginous, it adds thick, glue-like consistency to the recipes.
Here are some serving tips:
The greens are mixed with other popular greens to prepare “Shaak” in India and Bangladesh (Pui Shaak), with added lentils or seafood. Its flower and seed heads (Pui seeds) are also edible, and being used to prepare recipes with seasonal seafood.
In the southern parts of India, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, and Sri Lanka, its leaves and stem are used in numerous variations to prepare curries, stews, soups, etc., and eaten with rice, bread (roti), and noodles.
In the Philippines where the greens known as Alugbati, are being used to prepare mouth-watering stir-fries, with meat, and vegetables.
Phytates and dietary fiber present in the leaves may interfere with the bioavailability of iron, calcium, and magnesium.
Like in spinach- Malabar spinach, too contains oxalic acid, a naturally-occurring substance found in some vegetables, which may crystallize into oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some people. People with known oxalate urinary tract stones are advised to avoid eating them. Adequate intake of water is, therefore, advised to maintain normal urine output.