Basella, a spinach look-and-taste-alike

Basella, the indian spinach, leaves and stem

Ha! Basella comes as an amazing diversification after the more classic spinach that most of us are familiar with.

Basella key facts

Botanical nameBasella rubra
Common name – Basella, Malabar spinach

Type – leaf vegetable
Height – ± 5 feet (1.50 to 2 meters)
Planting distance – 16 inches (40cm)

Exposure – full sun
Soil – high levels of humus, soft and loose

Planting – March-April
Harvest – July to September

Basella is an annual vine. Whether it’s planted in the garden or in the vegetable patch, its leaves are delicious both raw and cooked.

Native to Asia, more specifically India, its popular name is Malabar spinach. Though it definitely comes from the tropics, it positively thrives in temperate climates as long as a few rules are followed.

Planting basella

To grow best, basella requires a few basic things:

  • soil that contains lots of organic material (humus);
  • soil that is soft and loose;
  • a location in the sun.

Preparing the soil

If the soil in your garden doesn’t exactly match these “best-case” requirements, you’ll have to work on it a bit over the Fall season before being able to plant it in Spring:

  1. Spread a heap of rich amendments along the growing bed. Make sure it’s well-decomposed manure or compost.
  2. Run the spade along the surface, to mix this organic matter into the topsoil. Better than a spade, try using a spading fork: it minimizes disturbance to underground animal life.
  3. At the beginning of Spring, work through the soil again to loosen it up well before planting.

Planting basella

Basella cuttingYou’ll have to do this in two steps:

  1. In March-April, you start with simply sowing the seeds in nursery pots, or in a tray. The substrate you use should contain both sand and soil mix. Once the seeds are sown, place your tray or pots in the sun and out of the cold. Best is an indoor windowsill.
  2. When May comes along, after the last frosts, transplant the most vigorous seedlings. To guide the basella vine as it grows, set up a treillis or lattice, or anything it can easily climb along (stakes, arbor…). Last of all, depending on the climate in your area, you might want to go for greenhouse growing instead.

Smart tip : soak the seeds in plain water for a few hours, this will increase the germination rate.

Just like Spinach, you can also recover stems from your harvest and plant them: they’ll grow roots and new shoots from the nodes, leading to even more vines!

Growing and caring for basella

Basella won’t require much care at all. However, it is very vulnerable to drought, so making sure it’s watered often is important.

Diseases and pests

The main predators of basella are snails, slugs and aphids. They always start off by attacking young leaves. Not only does this weaken the plant, but it also reduces the harvest. As you endeavor to control these pests, try to make the most of natural solutions so that you don’t contaminate the leaves. After all, they’ll end up in your plate!

Harvesting and keeping basella

Depending on when you sowed, you can expect to start harvesting in July and produce a continuous supply of leaves until September. Pick and eat leaves, of course, and also collect young stems, just as you would for chayote. After picking, leaves will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

Cooking with basella

The common name for basella (Malabar spinach) isn’t just a coincidence. Indeed, it’s possible to cook and pair the plant exactly as you do spinach, whether raw or cooked. The texture is unique, both crunchy under the tooth and somewhat slimy or gooey as it breaks down.

Lattice with basella

Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
CC BY 4.0: Kim & Forest Starr
CC BY 2.0: Andrey Zharkikh
CC BY-SA 2.0: 阿橋 HQ