Medicinal Plant Malabar Spinach (Basella alba rubra)

Malabar Spinach/Indian Spinach is a wildly cultivated, cool season vegetable with climbing growth habit. It is native to India, Africa and other countries of Southeast Asia. It is grown as pot herb in almost every part of India. It is a vegetable with medicinal properties.

Malabar Spinach is very nutritious and helpful in curing malnutrition. The leaves contain Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, flavonoids, saponins, ?- Carotene, water soluble polysaccharides, bioflavonoids, essential amino acids (arginine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, threonine and tryptophan) and minerals (rich in calcium and iron compounds and contains a low percentage of soluble oxalates). This herb works as medicine due to presence of numerous biologically active compounds such as carbohydrates, proteins, enzymes, fats and oils, vitamins, alkaloids, quinines, terpenoids, flavonoids, carotenoids, sterols, simple phenolic glycosides, tannins, saponins, polyphenols.

Malabar spinach medicinal uses
By Rameshng (Own work)[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Malabar Spinach is used as cooling medicine in digestive disorders. The leaves have diuretic action. Diuretics are also known as water pills as they increase the urinary output and electrolyte excretion. They are useful in various diseases such as high blood pressure, fluid retention, oedema, acute and chronic renal failure, sciatica, kidney stones, lymphatic swelling, glaucoma, liver disorders and many more diseases. This herb is a natural diuretic. Natural diuretics work by stimulating the kidney to produce more urine by reducing the amount of water and salts that the kidney reabsorbs into the bloodstream. This improves the functioning of tissues and organs, and also, prevents fluids from accumulating in tissue matrices. Malabar spinach/ Potaki leaves causes increased total urine output and increased excretion of sodium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonate levels. They also exerts significant anti-urolithiatic (against stone) activity by lowering the elevated levels of oxalate, calcium and phosphate in urine, further calcium, creatinine, and uric acid in serum. The leaves are also used traditionally in inflammation of respiratory tract, cold, cough due to demulcent action. Demulcents are agents that form soothing layer on mucous membrane thus giving relief in pain and inflammation.

This medicinal plant is used both internally and externally for treatment of diseases. The plant is reported to be beneficial in treatment of constipation, inflammation, skin diseases, burns, ulcers, diarrhoea and fluid retention.

Scientific Classification of Malabar spinach/ Potaki/Vaslakkirai

The botanical name of Malabar spinach/ Potaki/Vaslakkirai is Basella alba Linn. var. rubra Stewart. and it belongs to the family Basellaceae. The literal meaning of its Latin name (Basella alba) is Small White Pedestal. The synonyms of species are B. rubra and B. cordifolia. Basella alba refers to green stemmed variety and Basella rubra to redish stem variety, but both are same species of plant. This plant is native to South Asia.

Its taxonomical classification is as given below:-

KINGDOM: Plantae

PHYLUM: Magnoliophyta

CLASS: Magnoliopsida

ORDER: Caryophyllales

FAMILY: Basellaceae

GENUS: Basella


Although both green and red leaves variety are eaten as vegetable but green variety is cultivated commercially.

This plant prefers hot and humid climate. During low temperature growth of plant is slow. In India, it is found almost in every part of country, and especially in Bengal and Assam.

Vernacular names of Malabar spinach/ Potaki/Vaslakkirai

ENGLISH: Ceylon spinach, Malabar spi nach, Indian spinach SANSKRIT: Upodika HINDI: lalbachlu, Poi BENGALI: Puishak, ORIYA: Poi saga, KONKANI: Valchibhaji, KANNADA: Basalesoppu, TELUGU: Bachhali TAMIL: Kodip pasalai, Kodip Pasali MARATHI: Mayalu, PORTUGUESE: Bertalha FILIPINO: Alugbati SINHALESE: VelNiviti CHINESE: Lo kwai, Luo kai

Other common names: Ceylon Spinach, Malabar night shade, East Indian Spinach, Buffalo spinach, Surinam spinach, Vine spinach

Plant Description

Annual or biennial, branched, smooth, twining herbaceous vine, several meters in length;Stems are purplish or green;Leaves fleshy, ovate or heart-shaped, 5 to 12 cm long, stalked, tapering to a pointed tip with a cordate base, mucilaginous;Spikes are axillary, solitary, 5-29 cm long;Fruit fleshy, stalkless, ovoid or spherical, 5-6 mm long, and purple when mature.

Propagation: The plant propagates through Seeds and also through stem cutting. Six inch cutting can be put in potting soil to grow new plant.

Part Used: Mainly leaves and stems are used for the medicinal purpose.

Medicinal uses of Malabar spinach/ Potaki/Vaslakkirai

Medicinally Upodika/Malabar Spinach/Pasalai/Kodippasalai is used for treating variety of diseases.

The leaves are used externally in treatment sores, urticaria and gonorrhoea. The leaves poultice is applied externally on affected body areas.

Due to cooling action of this herb, the leaves are considered specific remedy for burns. In case of burn and scalds, the leaf juice is mixed with ghee/butter and applied topically.

The paste of leaves is applied externally on ulcers, boils and abscesses to hasten suppuration.

For snakebites, crushed plant is applied topically at place of bite.

The fresh leaves juice of plant can be taken in dose of 10-20 ml. This juice has diuretic, demulcent, febrifuge, and laxative properties. It is beneficial to drink it during fluid retention, dysentery, diarrhoea, constipation and catarrh.

The leaves juice with sugar candy/Misri is beneficial in cold, cough and congestion. This is also useful in gonorrhoea and balanitis (inflammation of the end of the penis).

Juice of leaves is used to get relief from constipation in pregnant women and a decoction has been used to alleviate labour.

The leaves juice has cooling effect on body and is helpful in bleeding disorders (Rakta-pitta). It also promotes sleep and improves body strength.

Basella alba is used as substitute of spinach. It extremely low in calories but high in nutrients. As a vegetable, cooked leaves and stem of plant are eaten. This preparation is easily digestible, laxative, very nutritious and useful in curing malnutrition in children. As the leaves are mucilaginous, it is used to thicken soups, stews etc. The leaves are also eaten raw as salad. Leaves infusion can be taken as substitute of tea. The purplish sap from the fruit is used as a food colouring in pastries and sweets.

Malabar spinach leaves contain about protein 2.8%, fat 0.4%, carbohydrates 4.2%, calcium (200 mg per 100 gram of leaves), phosphorus (35 mg/100 g) and iron (10 mg/100 g). In addition, vitamin A and C, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin are present. The cooked vegetable useful in mouth ulcers and constipation.

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