How To Harvest Red Malabar Spinach – The Best Easy Way!

If you’ve planted red Malabar spinach in your garden, chances are you already understand the reasons to love this unique, heat-loving succulent vegetable. After seeing some steady growth with this beautiful plant you may be asking yourself if your red Malabar spinach is ready to harvest and the best ways to go about doing this. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the best way to harvest red Malabar spinach and some added tips for growing and cooking with this versatile vegetable. 

Red Malabar spinach is ready to harvest at the beginning of the summer when it seems that the main stalk is growing well. Using garden scissors or a knife, snip the edible leaves and stems 6-8 inches long. You can harvest all season long until the plant starts to sprout its characteristic pink and red flowers. 

The interesting thing about Red Malabar spinach (Basella Rubra) is that it’s not spinach at all, but a member of the Basellaceae family, along with its close relative, Basella Alba. It goes by many names including Ceylon spinach, Red Vine Spinach, Climbing spinach, Gui, Indian spinach, and Malabar Nightshade. Whatever you choose to call it, this red-stemmed beauty makes an excellent substitute for regular spinach if you’re looking to stir things up a bit with your veggie choices. If you’re a fan of spinach, kale, or Swiss chard you must give red Malabar spinach a try. Its fleshy, juicy leaves offer the slightest hint of citrus and pepper. 

A native to Southeast Asia the plant enjoys warm, tropical climates and grows as a perennial in sunny areas. It grows as an annual in areas that have some frost. The plant can grow to be very tall, some have even been reported to grow as high as 30-35 ft. 

Now that we’ve learned a little more about this dreamy plant let’s get back to the harvesting. Below are some tips that you may find helpful when it comes time to harvest:

Know When to Pick your Red Malabar Spinach

A red malabar spinach plant reaching for the sky. You can harvest red malabar spinach when the leaves are young or full grown, either way it's delicious. Learn more at JersGardening.com.

It takes red Malabar spinach about 40-50 days from planting until it’s ready to harvest. Early Summer is the best time for harvesting your plant. Make sure to check on the plant daily for signs that it might be ready. The plant is ready to harvest when the main stalk is looking sturdy, is around 12 inches tall, and has at least 8-10 leaves that are at least 3 inches long.

Red Malabar Spinach Harvesting

Depending on whether you prefer the look of the lengthy vines and if space allows, you may choose to prune more conservatively to allow steady growth. You can choose to wait until the vines are a bit longer for harvesting. Starting from the outside of the plant snip only what you may need and allow the rest to grow. 

If you prefer a full, bushy plant don’t be afraid to prune early and often. Aggressive pruning won’t hurt the plant and will encourage more growth. Continue picking as long as the plant is producing, into the late Summer or early Fall, until the plant bolts and the deep purple berries appear. 

Harvest Red Malabar Spinach and Save the Seeds

At the end of the season, the plant will bolt and produce dark purple berries with seeds inside (source). A great option is to dry the berries out and save them for reseeding the following year. The drying process can be started on the vine if you choose, then the berries can be pulled off later to remove the seed. 

The seeds can reseed themselves easily if they drop on the ground. If this happens you can always allow it to sprout, then transplant it later to the location of your choosing. 

Pests and Diseases

Red Malabar spinach is, for the most part, problem-free when it comes to pests and diseases, however, there are a couple to be aware of. 

If you notice that your plant is looking nutrient-deficient, it may have fallen victim to soil nematodes. These are small bacteria eating worms found in soil. Although they are typically more helpful than harmful, a small percentage of them can cause damage to your plant. 

If you think you may have nematodes your best bet is to destroy the plant and don’t add it to your compost pile (source). 

Cercospora beticola is a fungal plant pathogen that can also affect the red Malabar spinach. It causes red spots and holes in the leaves. If you suspect you have been affected it’s best to remove and destroy the plant to prevent any spread of the disease (source). 

What to Do with Your Harvest?

Now that you’ve picked some beautiful leaves you may be wondering how to store and prepare your harvest. Since red Malabar spinach does not keep well, it’s best to enjoy them shortly after picking, usually within 1-2 days. 

The best way to store red Malabar spinach is in a bag in your refrigerator where it can last 2-5 days. 

The young, tender leaves and stems typically have the best flavor, while the more mature leaves have more of the high fiber mucilage which gives it a somewhat slimy texture, making it less desirable for some palates. 

Red Malabar spinach can be enjoyed as a simple side dish you can saute with garlic and chili oil or add to your favorite smoothie for a boost of vitamins. It also makes an excellent addition to a variety of dishes. Try it in any of the following: 

  • soups
  • stew
  • curry
  • stir-fry
  • omelets’ and scrambles
  • quiche
  • savory pot pie and turnovers 
  • simple salad

As an added immune-boosting bonus the leaves and stems of Red Malabar spinach are rich in calcium and iron, as well as vitamins A and C. Make sure to load up and take advantage of the nutritional benefits throughout the season. 

My Tips for Growing

If you enjoyed growing and harvesting your Red Malabar Spinach and are looking forward to doing it again next year, here are 3 tips to make sure your plant comes back better than ever: 

  • Use a trellis. Since Malabar Spinach is a fast-growing plant a trellis will help manage it and keep it from overtaking other plants. It’s also a great way to showcase the beauty of the plant and add an aesthetic appeal to your garden space. 
  • Consider your planting location. Since Malabar Spinach grows best in tropical, humid locations it will love a sunny disposition in your yard. Make sure you choose a spot that receives plenty of direct sun. Partial afternoon shade is okay.
  • Make sure the soil is healthy. Make sure the soil is in good condition and well-drained. When preparing your soil mix, make sure to add in some fertilizer before you plant. If you live in a colder climate you can always start your plants in a pot, then transfer outside when the weather warms up. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed growing and harvesting your red Malabar Spinach and have reaped the benefits of your harvest with some delicious summer dishes. Putting these growing tips to use will hopefully bring your harvest back even stronger for next year. 

Here’s to good eating and healthy living. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I Freeze Red Malabar Spinach After Harvest?

Yes. You can freeze the red Malabar spinach and save it for later. To do this, blanch the leaves for about 1 minute, drain, and dry thoroughly.
You can store it in freezer bags in your freezer for up to 12 months (source). 

How Do I Harvest and Dry Red Malabar Spinach Seeds?

If you’re looking to harvest and dry out your seeds, there are two ways to do this. The first is to pick the berries when they are ripe and to dry them manually. You can do this by pressing them into a strainer in soap and water and scrubbing to remove the seed from the berry, then placing them on a plate to dry (source). 
If it’s a sunny day, place them outside for a few hours to speed up the drying process. They should be dry in about 8 hours. 
Take care with handling the berries as they can be messy and stain easily. You can take advantage of the bright color by using it as a natural food dye for whipped cream, yogurt, or frostings. 
The second method is to leave them on the vine to let them dry naturally. Once dry pull the berries off the plant or remove the entire stem and pull them, placing them in a container. Once the berries are dry, the seeds should be easy to remove. 

Are There Companion Plants That Do Well With Red Malabar Spinach?

Since Red Malabar Spinach is a vining plant that can take off and grow rapidly, it’s important to be careful not to plant summer vegetables nearby that may potentially be shaded by the leaves. Tomatoes tend to do well, and they can also share the trellis. Some other popular choices include asparagus, celery, and cucumbers. 

Article Sources

  1. https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/malabar-spinach/growing-malabar-spinach.htm
  2. https://homeguides.sfgate.com/harvest-climbing-spinach-69074.html
  3. http://www.gatewaygreening.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Malabar-Spinach.pdf
  4. https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/red-stemmed_malabar_spinach
  5. https://ag.tennessee.edu/news/Pages/POM-2016-04.aspx#:~:text=While%20it%20is%20resistant%20to,be%20suffering%20from%20nematode%20damage.
  6. https://www.echocommunity.org/en/resources/c28fd084-e5f5-4d31-9b26-bc11f0388b07
  7. https://growinginthegarden.com/how-to-grow-malabar-spinach/
  8. https://couchtohomestead.com/malabar-spinach-seeds/#:~:text=You%20Can%20Dry%20Them%20on%20the%20Vine&text=Wait%20to%20pick%20until%20you,plate%20for%20a%20short%20time.
  9. https://www.growveg.com/plants/us-and-canada/how-to-grow-malabar-spinach/

More from Jer's Garden

Scroll to Top
Skip to content