How to Grow Okinawa Spinach

by Corinne Mossati

Okinawa spinach is a leafy green with two-tone leaves that are edible and ornamental. Here’s how to grow and propagate the perennial plant.

Okinawa Spinach

Okinawa Spinach – Photo © The Gourmantic Garden

If I told you you could grow a leafy vegetable all year round that is low maintenance, delicious and nutritious and doubles as an ornamental plant, would it sound too far fetched to be true?

Okinawa Spinach (Gynura crepioides), also known as cholesterol spinach, dawn dewa, leaves of the gods, Mollucan spinach, handama, gynura, hung-tsoi, purple spinach and red vegetable is a leafy green vegetable in the Asteraceae family. Native to Indonesia and Japan, it is also known as Hong tsoi and Okinawa lettuce.

The frost sensitive plant grows up to 70cm tall in a bushy habit and produces two-tone edible leaves that are green on top and purple underneath. Its attractive and contrasting colours make it suitable as an ornamental shrub adding vibrant colour to an edible landscape.

From late summer and well into winter, Okinawa spinach starts to produce flowers which develop from tight green buds to orange flowers looking like cotton tufts. The tips are flower seeds and can be dried and collected.

How to Grow Okinawa Spinach

Okinawa Spinach

Okinawa Spinach Cutting – Photo © The Gourmantic Garden

Much like the olive herb, Okinawa spinach is best grown from a cutting or a plant starter. It can be grown from seed but I haven’t given this method a try as it grows ever so fast from cuttings.

Plant in rich soil that is well drained but not waterlogged to avoid root rot. It thrives in full sun or part shade with little difference but it does need direct sun to grow. I accidentally planted a cutting in a position that became obscured by taller leafy greens and it didn’t grow at all in winter.

Okinawa spinach is very easy to grow even from the smallest of cuttings. Simply take a 10cm cutting at an angle below a node and plant in soil or root in water first. Once transplanted in soil, keep it moist until established. I’ve grown many cuttings off a plant, and I usually do it when I’m pruning which means I have a few to give away.

Okinawa Spinach Plant Care

Okinawa spinach is heat tolerant and grows well into the summer months in my temperate climate. Not a heavy feeder by any means, the occasional liquid feed is usually sufficient at the start of warmer seasons.

The other advantage of growing it is that the shrub is relatively pest free. You may get the occasional leaf miner damage and these can be pruned and discarded straight away to prevent further spread.

However, it is a fast spreader so it pays to choose a suitable location unless you’re continually harvesting and eating. After it took over one of of my raised planters, I like to keep it into shape by pruning branches instead of merely harvesting leaves.

As a low growing ground cover, if the stems touch the soil for a period of time, they too can grow roots.

Eat it

Two Tone Leaves

Two Tone Leaves – Photo © The Gourmantic Garden

Okinawa spinach claims to lower cholesterol hence it is also known as the cholesterol plant. It stores longer if you cut off a small branch instead of the leaves.

Young leaves and the tips have the best flavour for salads and are best eaten raw. They have a slightly nutty flavour. The leaves can be thinly sliced at an angle and added to cooked rice or salads for a little crunch. Older leaves are best cooked such as in stir fries, tempura, omelettes and soups. Avoid overcooking the leaves as they can be a little mucilaginous and develop a slimy texture. Added to smoothies along with other greens, a little goes a long way as it can turn a little foamy.

And there you have it, a perennial, edible, ornamental, delicious and nutritious leafy green (and purple) that ticks all the right boxes.

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