Perhaps you live in a part of the world where you can grow greens in the summer - lettuces, spinach, kale, and chard fill your plot. Here in our arid, zone 9b summer climate, greens are nearly impossible in the hot months; they either require cool soil temps to germinate, or they bolt immediately upon growing. Fall, winter, and spring are our main greens-growing time; in the summer we tend to make do without.
Until now! I only recently came across Malabar spinach, and knew I had to try it. It's not really a spinach; it's Latin name is Basella alba 'Rubra.' But the leaves look like spinach, which is how it got it's common name (plus it's from the Southern Indian coastal Malabar region). It's a tropical plant. It likes HOT weather. It likes lots of sun. And it likes humidity, which is one thing we don't naturally have here, so I have to keep it well-watered.
I'm growing it in part shade (they'd prefer full sun), up a portion of fence that needed some adornment. I got the seeds from Baker Creek, but I've seen it available at lots of seed houses. They were slow to germinate, and spotty - I probably got about 60% germination rate. They were also very slow to start growing, but once the temperature hit the 90's, they really got going. And this past weekend we had over-100 degree temperatures, so they started taking off for real.
As you can see, these are vining plants, and they will get quite bushy and cover this fence, probably growing right over it into the neighbor's yard. They are very sensitive to frost, so I'm hoping the fence protects them and I can grow them as a perennial. If not, it's a lovely summer annual. It has attractive red stems and very shiny leaves, which are large and fleshy, almost succulent. It does taste remarkably like spinach and stands in very well in green salads. I have not cooked the greens yet, but apparently they do well in things like frittatas, which is where we would use them most. Every part of the above-ground plant is edible; the flowers are pink-tinged and pretty, and then they turn into very dark purple berries which are also edible, though very seedy. And that purple color in fruits is extremely dense in vitamins.
I am thrilled with this plant; thrilled to have summer greens to graze on as I make my way through my garden chores, and thrilled to give some fresh to the chickens each day. I'm excited to see what I can do with the berries. The only downside I can see is that it can be invasive in tropical climates, so if you live in the American Southeast, you'd probably want to be careful growing this plant.
For a stunning picture of a mature vine and some more facts on this versatile plant, check out this post from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. And if you'd like some seeds, let me know, as I'm sure I'll have plenty to share!