Malabar spinach (Basella alba) is a twining vine with attractive, glossy, succulent leaves and spikes of pink flowers. It originally comes from South Asia, and is widely grown throughout the tropics. Planted in spring, it’s rather unimpressive and just sort of sits there, but once the hot weather arrives it takes off and will quickly cover a fence, trellis, or any plant nearby.
After years of seeing this in catalogs advertised as a “summer alternative” to spinach, I decided to give it a try this year, planting it on the pea trellis to give some shelter to my peppers. It’s very pretty and I’m very happy with it, so I’ll be growing it again.
The flavor of the leaves is mild and spinach-like, and the succulence feels nice in the mouth. According to Cornell the leaves become bitter when the plant produces flowers, but personally I find it a nice bitterness.
The leaves do not have a long shelf life, and should be used as soon as possible after picking, which presumably is why you never see them at the grocery.