Basella or vine spinach is a popular tropical leafy-green vegetable, commonly grown as backyard herb in the home gardens.
Vine-spinach belongs to the Basellaceae family and has two chief cultivars, Basella alba, which features green- stems and deep-green leaves, and Basella rubra with purplish stems and dark green leaves with pink veins.
Basella alba is usually referred to as the “spinach” equivalent of a certain country in English, even though it is not related to the true spinach (Spinacia oleracea). Examples include “Malabar spinach”, “Ceylon spinach”, “Indian spinach”, “Surinam spinach”, “Chinese spinach”, or “Vietnamese spinach”. Other common names include “vine spinach”, “red vine spinach”, “climbing spinach”, “creeping spinach”, “buffalo spinach”, “Malabar nightshade”, and “broad bologi”.
It is different from English spinach (Spinacea oleracea) in that the vine spinach is a creeping vine with bright, broad, dark green, thick, and mucilaginous leaves. Although commonly featuring in many backyards across South Asian families, it slowly gaining popularity in some of the tropical and temperate climates of America, Australia, and Europe for its lush, nutritious greens, and tender stems.
Malabar spinach is a perennial vine and grown as annual or biennial pot-herb. It prefers hot, humid climate and moist, fertile, well-drained soil to flourish. Stem cuttings about the length of 20 cm preferred over seeds for natural propagation, and faster growth. Being a vine, it requires trellising for its spread. It bears white or white-pink color tiny flowers depending upon the species and purple to black color berries.
Basella-alba features thick, fleshy, broad, oval to heart-shaped leaves all along its vine length. Basella rubra has pink or purplish stems and pink color veins running across its leaves. In either case, fleshy greens and terminal, tender 8-12 inches stem harvested about 35 to 45 days after planting (about 50 days after seedling).
Typical of leaf vegetables, Malabar spinach is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium. It is low in calories by volume, but high in protein per calorie. The succulent mucilage is a particularly rich source of soluble fiber. Among many other possibilities, Malabar spinach may be used to thicken soups or stir-fries with garlic and chili peppers.
In the Philippines, the leaves of this vegetable is one of the main ingredients in an all vegetable dish called utan that is served over rice. It is usually cooked with sardines, onions, garlic, and parsley.
In Karnataka Cuisine (Karavali and Malnad regions), the leaves and stems are used to make Basale Soppu Saaru/Curry (Especially in combination with Jackfruit seed) and soupy raita with curd. Beary Muslims of coastal Karnataka prepare Basalede kunhi Pindi (small rice dumplings smeared in gravy prepared from Malabar spinach and dried tuna ). In Bengali cuisine it is widely used both in a vegetable dish, cooked with red pumpkin, and in non-vegetarian dishes, cooked with the bones of the Ilish fish and may also be cooked with shrimps. In Andhra Pradesh, a southern state in India, a curry of Basella and Yam is made popularly known as Kanda Bachali Koora (Yam and Basella curry). Also it used to make the snack item bachali koora bajji. In Odisha, India, it is used to make Curries and Saaga (any type of dish made from green leafy vegetables is called Saaga in Odisha). In the Western Ghats in Maharashtra, India, it is used to make bhaji (भजी). It is also known as daento or valchi bhaji in Konkani. A popular Mangalorean dish is “Valchi Bhaji and Shrimp – Curry”.
- Basella is one of versatile leafy green vegetable and revered in some East Asian cultures for its wholesome phytonutrient profile.
- Basella is very low in calories and fats (100 grams of raw leaves provide just 19 calories). Nonetheless, it holds an incredibly good amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Fresh leaves, particularly of basella rubra, 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 an excellent source of non-starch polysaccharide, mucilage. In addition to natural fiber (roughage) that found in the stem and leaves, its mucilaginous leaves facilitate in smooth digestion. Fiber diet brings a reduction in cholesterol absorption, and help prevent bowel 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 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.
- Basella 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 human body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals.
- Likewise in spinach, basella too 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 essential trace element required by the human body for red blood cell (RBC’s) production. Additionally, this element acts as a co-factor for the 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 results 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, basella 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 used by the human body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.