Malabar Spinach(Basella alba, Basella rubra) Easy to grow, edible plant for El Paso's desert climate
This is not a well known edible green but is now slowly gaining some popularity. Malabar spinach is not a true spinach but the green leaves taste and cook similar to spinach. Both the leaves and the tender shoots are edible. It tastes best when eaten cooked but can also be eaten raw in salads. Malabar spinach, as with most other greens, has rich nutritional value. 100 gms of cooked Malabar spinach provides, as percentage of daily value recommendation, approximately 28% of Folate, 20% of Vitamin A, 12% Calcium and 10% vitamin C.
It is not yet available in most grocery stores but is extremely easy to grow from seeds. Seeds can be sown in small containers and the young plants, when about 3-4 leaved, can be transplanted in ground or containers. Initially it is slow to grow but after it gets about 7-10 leaves it picks up growth. It is a climbing vine and can be grown on any light weight trellis or a tomato cage. In a large container or in ground the vine can be quite prolific and dense. Apart from the leaves the delicate growing ends can be pinched off and used in cooking. This will make the plant more bushy
Malabar spinach is originally a tropical plant but it performs well in all climates. However, it is an annual plant in El Paso as it will not tolerate frost and cold winters. It does well in the desert climate here and can tolerate some drought conditions as the leaves store water.
It can be cooked with sautéed onions, garlic or tomatoes. Add any herbs or spices for more flavor. Also, it can be added to any soup.
Reference: USDA National nutrient database FDA - daily value recommendations