Grow ‘Green Cuisine’ Spinach All Year

Three years ago my wife, Lynette, was touring an innovative display garden in the cool rainforest of Costa Rica. She noticed a medium green plant with lots of shiny and crinkly round leaves connected to center stems.

 

Lynette asked our guide about it and he said it grew all year long and can be harvested continually for fresh salad greens and plus be cooked like spinach. He said it is a perennial called Sambu lettuce or Sissoo spinach. We later discovered it is native to Brazil and is also called Brazilian spinach (Alternanthera sisso).

Being a very adventuresome gardener, Lynette cut a few sprigs, stripped the leaves and popped them in her mouth, and then pocketed the stems. The next day she planted the stems in a pot on our patio (see photo). This wonderful little plant thrived in our hot Guanacaste climate, and with regular watering, it grew equally well in sun and partial shade.

Brazilian spinach has become our favorite tropical green because it grows vigorously and is easily propagated from stem cuttings. During our winters in Costa Rica, we add the leaves to green drinks almost every morning, plus use them in salads and sauté them with other vegetables. 

During Costa Rica’s dry season, November-April, we operate a small organic farm. In 2012 we added several 30’ rows of Brazilian spinach. Our region of Guanacaste overwhelms most edible greens, with heat, strong winds, pests and no rain from December through March. But not Brazilian spinach. It keeps right on growing as long as we keep the soil moist with drip lines, and it’s now the farm’s #1 cash crop.

During the wet season, when the tourists aren’t around and there’s a lower demand for fresh produce, the rows of Brazilian spinach “go wild” and form a ground cover as the stems reach out and self-root. In November we simply cut it all back to the original rows and start new plants from the cuttings.

We wondered if this “ground cover” spinach could also succeed up north and found we can grow in Vermont from May-October. Again, we harvest it for six months for green drinks, salads and cooking. We grow the plants in containers so we can bring them indoors in the fall, where they mostly hibernate over winter and become our first fresh greens in spring. We gave cuttings to a friend in Florida who now grows it there year-round. Brazilian spinach is probably a perennial in zones 8-10, and if protected from cold in a sunroom or greenhouse, it may continue to produce right through the winter. 

Would you like to try growing Brazilian spinach?  We will be growing it on our Vermont organic farm this summer and in June, would be happy to send you a few stems, ready for you to root in a pot or raised bed (instructions included). If you’d like to give it a try, please email me with your name and address at willr@gardeners.com.  

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