Basella is also known as Malabar Spinach or Vine spinach, it is a popular tropical leaf green vegetable commonly grown as pot herb in the home gardens. In the true sense, it is different from English spinach (Spinacia oleracea) in that the plant is a creeping vine, and its leaves feature glossy, broad, deep green, thick, and mucilaginous.
Basella belongs to the Basellaceae family and has two chief cultivars, Basella rubra with purplish-stem and deep-green leaves with pink veins, and Basella alba, which features green-stems and deep-green leaves. It is native to south Asia, probably originated in the monsoon fed tropical regions of Malabar Coast of India and Sri Lanka.
Basella commonly found in the home gardens of many south Asian families, it is gaining popularity in some of the tropical and temperate climates of America, Australia and Europe for its succulent, nutritious greens, and tender stems.
Basella is a perennial vine and grown as annual or biennial pot-herb. It prefers hot humid climate and moist, fertile, well-drained soil to flourish. Although its seeds can be sown directly for planting, usually thick cuttings about the length of 20 cm preferred for easy propagation and fast growth. Being a vine, the plant requires trellising for its creeping at a faster rate. It bears white or white-pink color tiny flowers depending upon the species and deep-purple to black color berries.
Basella alba bears thick, fleshy, broad, oval to heart-shaped leaves all along its vine length. Basella rubra features pink or purplish stems and pink color veins in the leaves. In either case, leaves and terminal, tender, 8-12 inches stems are ready for harvesting about 35 to 45 days after planting (about 50 days after seeding).
The nutritional and therapeutic value of Basella
Basella is very low in calories and fats (100 g of raw leaves provide just 19 calories). Nonetheless, it contains an incredibly good amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
The leaves and stem of basella are incredibly rich sources of Vitamin A. 100 g fresh leaves provide 8000 IU or 267% of recommended daily allowance (RDA) of this vitamin. Vitamin-A is required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin and is essential for good eye-sight. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin-A, and flavonoids has been thought to offer protection from the lung and oral cavity cancers.
Fresh leaves, particularly of basella rubra, are rich sources of several vital carotenoid pigment anti-oxidants such as ß-carotene, lutein, zea-xanthin. Together, these compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a healing role in aging and various disease processes.
Its thick, fleshy leaves are a good source of non-starch polysaccharide, mucilage. In addition to regular fiber (roughage), found in the stem and leaves, mucilage helps in digestion, reduction in cholesterol absorption and prevents bowel movement problems.
Like in spinach, basella too is an excellent source of Iron. 100 g fresh leaves contain about 1.20 mg or 15% of daily intake of iron. Iron is an important trace element required by the human body for red blood cell (RBC’s) production. Additionally, this element acts as a co-factor for oxidation-reduction enzyme, cytochrome-oxidase, during the cellular metabolism.
Basella has more Vitamin C content than English spinach. 100 g of fresh greens contains 102 mg or 102% of daily recommended levels of vitamin C. Vitamin-C is a powerful antioxidant, which helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals.
This green leafy vegetable also contains good amounts of many B-complex vitamins such as folate, vitamin-B6 (pyridoxine), and riboflavin. 100 g fresh leaves provide 140 µg or 35% of folates. This vitamin is one of the essential compounds for DNA production and growth. Folate deficiency in during very early stages of pregnancy might results in the neural tube defects in the newborn baby. Anticipating and pregnant women are therefore, advised to include a lot of fresh greens in their diet to help prevent neural tube defects in the offspring.
Further, basella leaves are very rich sources of minerals like Potassium (11% of RDA/100 g), Manganese (32% of RDA/100 g), Calcium, Magnesium, and Copper. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Similar way to spinach, regular consumption of basella in the diet helps prevent osteoporosis (weakness of bones), iron-deficiency anemia. Besides, it is believed to protect the body from cardiovascular diseases and cancers of colon.
The precautions of eating Basella
Phytates and dietary fiber present in the leaves of basella may interfere with the bio-availability of iron, calcium and magnesium.
Like in spinach, basella contains oxalic acid, a naturally-occurring substance found in some vegetables, which may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some people. People with known oxalate urinary tract stones are advised to avoid eating them. Adequate intake of water is therefore advised to maintain normal urine output.