Herb: Indian Spinach

Latin name: Basella alba

Synonyms: Basella rubra

Family: Basellaceae

Medicinal use of Indian Spinach:

Astringent - the cooked roots are used in the treatment of diarrhoea. Laxative - the cooked leaves and stems are used. The flowers are used as an antidote to poisons. A paste of the root is applied to swellings and is also used as a rubefacient. The plant is febrifuge, its juice is a safe aperient for pregnant women and a decoction has been used to alleviate labour. The leaf juice is a demulcent, used in cases of dysentery. It is also diuretic, febrifuge and laxative. The leaf juice is used in Nepal to treat catarrh. A paste of the leaves is applied externally to treat boils.

Description of the plant:

Perennial Climber

9 m
(30 feet)

Habitat of the herb:

Moist places in hedges to elevations of about 500 metres in Nepal.

Edible parts of Indian Spinach:

Leaves and stem tips - raw or cooked. A pleasant mild spinach flavour, the leaves can be used as a spinach or added to salads. Do not overcook the leaves or they will become slimy. The mucilaginous qualities of the plant make it an excellent thickening agent in soups, stews etc where it can be used as a substitute for okra, Abelmoschatus esculentus. A nutritional analysis of the leaves is available. An infusion of the leaves is a tea substitute. The purplish sap from the fruit is used as a food colouring in pastries and sweets. The colour is enhanced by adding some lemon juice.

Other uses of the herb:

A red dye is obtained from the juice of the fruits. It has been used as a rouge and also as a dye for official seals.

Propagation of Indian Spinach:

Seed - sow March or April in a warm greenhouse. The seed requires a minimum temperature of 18 - 21C in order to germinate, it germinates within 10 - 21 days at 20C, pre-soaking the seed for 24 hours in warm water shortens the germination time. As soon as they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots of fairly rich compost and grow them on fast, planting them out after the last expected frosts. Stem cuttings. These can be taken in the late summer, overwintered in a greenhouse and then be planted out in late spring or early summer.

Cultivation of the herb:

Moist places in hedges to elevations of about 500 metres in Nepal.

Known hazards of Basella alba:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.