Okinawa Spinach

Tonielle Christensen Edible Plants, Land & Nature Stewardship

Okinawa Spinach


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Common Name:  Okinawa Spinach, Hong tsoi, Okinawa lettuce, Cholesterol spinach.

Latin Name:  Gynura crepioides.

Origin:  Indonesia.

Description (what it looks like):  A dense, low growing plant to 70cm high.  The top of the leaves are dark green and the undersides are purple.  The flowers are very small and orange.  One of the easiest, low-maintenance, perennial, leafy green vegetables to grow.  Hardy and relatively pest-free.

Uses (function):  The vivid leaf colour makes a great background plant in ornamental garden beds.  Utilise it as an edible ground cover.  Grows well in container gardening, hanging baskets or even on a windowsill provided there is adequate light.

Nutritional value:  Okinawa spinach has been known to lower cholesterol, and has even earned the nickname “cholesterol spinach”.  It is rich in protein, iron, potassium, calcium, vitamin A and has many uses in traditional medicine.

Growing details (propagation, seed etc):  Cuttings 10-25cm long can be rooted easily in a glass of water or just pushed into moist soil.  Strip the leaves off the bottom half of the stems and bury to half their length, spacing 60cm apart.  Keep moist.  The plant responds well to pruning, rapidly becoming bushy. This will also increase its lifespan.  It is frost sensitive and should be grown in containers so that it may be moved indoors when freezing weather is a possibility.  

Best time to grow:  Cuttings are best taken when the soil temperature is at least 25°C, during the wet season or spring.

Soil:  Rich, fertile well-drained soil that is kept mulched and prefers a pH of between 6.1 and 6.5.

Sun:  It grows best in full sun to partial shade.

Water:  It needs ample water in the dry season.  Fast growing in during summer.

How to eat it:  Very nutritious vegetable, eaten raw or cooked.  Leaves and young shoot tips are steamed, used in stir-fry, tempura, stews, and soups.  Overcooking it can cause it to become slimy.  The leaves have a crisp, nutty taste with a faint hint of pine.  In Japan, the leaves are often fried and served as tempura.  It can also be steamed with rice, added in last few minutes of cooking.  Young leaves have a much nicer flavour compared to the older leaves, therefore young leaves should be reserved for raw applications in salads, spring rolls and garnishes.  Complimentary flavors include pork, shellfish, lamb, dairy, eggs and spices such as garlic, shallots, lemon and mustard.

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