Alugbati is a fast growing smooth, twining, succulent, soft stemmed vegetable vine, that grows abundantly on its own, without much care, and reaches a length of several meters. This vine is also called as the Malabar spinach, Ceylon Spinach, basella, or simply the red vine, because of its fleshy round and somewhat heart shaped leaves that can truly replace the spinach. The young leaves are popularly used as a food ingredient in the Philippines. The vegetable vine is widely found in tropical Asia and in Africa, where it is commonly prepared as leaf vegetable.
Alugbati is one of two Filipino names for Basella alba, the Malabar spinach. Actually, there are 2 varieties of Alugbati that grows and you can see in the Philippines. They are the green and red vines.
The Philippine alugbati vine spinach vegetable belongs to the Basellaceae family, which features the green stems Basella alba and the purplish stems with pink veins Basella rubra. That is why people often call them red or green. This creeping vine has a bright, broad, dark green, thick, and mucilaginous leaves.
This vine has been slowly gaining popularity in some of the tropical and temperate climates of the United States, Australia, and Europe. The popular demand can be attributed to its lush, nutritious green leaves, and tender stems you can use for the salad or plainly as a vegetable ingredient for cooking.
The use of the leaves of this vegetable is very versatile. Most people often times take this vegetable for granted and sometimes uproot the vine when it grows on the side of the house, because of its vine characteristics that makes it look quite a mess if not trimmed or not cared for. But, don’t you know that a regular consumption of the alugbati helps prevent osteoporosis, weakness of the bones, and iron deficiency anemia?
Many of us do not know this, right? Well, you will be surprised to know about the health benefits I listed below of this very cheap vegetable and food ingredient, which turns out to be very nutritious after all.
Nutrition and health benefits
A cup of Filipino food alugbati has only 10 calories and less than 0.5g of fat. It is very low in calories and fats. 100g of raw leaves provide just 19 calories. A 1 ½ cup serving of cooked alugbati has only 15 calories per serving, around a half gram of fat and 1.4 grams of dietary fiber.
The alugbati is a rich source of soluble fiber. Fiber helps digestion and boosts weight loss. Incorporating more fiber in your diet can help you lose weight fast. Soluble fibers have powerful effects on health and metabolism. They also feed the friendly bacteria in the gut that fights inflammation, said to be the key driver of obesity and disease.
The red variety of alugbati is a good source of the xanthones antioxidant. The xanthones are a class of recently discovered polyphenolic compounds that are both biologically active and structurally similar to the health promoting bioflavonoids. These compounds are quite rare in nature, being a phytonutrient and an antioxidant at the same time.
This plant has been found to be rich in saponin. Saponins are constituent of many plant drugs and folk medicines, especially from the Orient. Recently, there has been an investigation of their pharmacological and biological properties. Saponins have many health benefits, such as the reduction of blood cholesterol, cancer prevention, and stimulation of the immune system. Studies have proven that saponins cause cholesterol reduction by preventing their reabsorption.
The saponins also exhibit antitumor activity and can lower the risk of human cancers by inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. The saponin acts as a phytochemical that fight off cancer and cardiovascular disease.
The saponins help the immune system by protecting against viruses and bacteria. Some saponins even have protective effects on bone loss.
This plant is rich in iron, which is found in a good number of green leafy vegetables. Iron is an essential protein component for metabolism, and for the production of red blood cells. The role and importance of this mineral cannot be underestimated, primarily because the deficiency is unpleasant and dangerous.
Iron can boost hemoglobin formation, improve muscle function, enhance brain development, treat restless leg syndrome, regulate body temperature, acts as a carrier of oxygen and participates in transferring oxygen from one body cell to another. Furthermore, iron treats anemia, cures chronic diseases, eliminates fatigue, promotes energy metabolism, boosts immune system, and supports the organ systems.
Alugbati has been found to be high in Vitamin A, with 764 iu per 1 ½ cup serving. It definitely provides about 50 to 99% of the recommended dietary allowance. A single serving provides 85% of the RDA for men.
Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin and antioxidant that plays a critical role in maintaining your healthy vision, neurological function, healthy skin, and naturally slow aging by reducing inflammation and fighting the free radicals. The Vitamin A protects your cells from potential free radical damage.
The plant contains Vitamin B. Some B Vitamins help cells burn fats and glucose for energy, while others help with the production of serotonin. The folic acid, called as folate by some people, is one of the B Vitamins that are considered critical for childbearing women.
The B Vitamins work intricately together behind the scenes with amazing results, such as improved mood, improved memory, reduced PMS symptoms, and reduced anxiety and depression in addition to reducing heart disease risk.
Alugbati contains Vitamin C, which is vital for the body in fighting free radicals. The Vitamin C also helps in breaking down acids in the stomach that are responsible for forming ulcers.
It also has 55 mg of calcium, 113 mg of potassium and 50 mcg of folic acid. Alugbati is an excellent source of calcium, carotene, and ascorbic acid and fairly a good source of thiamine. It gives 510 IU per cup of alugbati.
Alugbati is diuretic and a mild laxative. The pulped leaves can be applied to boils, ulcers and abscesses. The stem and leaf extract can cure habitual headache, while the roots can be employed as medicine for external application or poultice to reduce local swellings.
The sap can be applied to eliminate irritation on acne areas, because it gives a softening or soothing effect to the skin. The juice of the leaf with sugar is effective for inflammation of the nose and throat due to an increased production of mucus.
The juice of the leaf can be used to treat gonorrhea and balanitis. Balanitis is inflammation of the glans penis and is a common condition affecting an estimated 3 to 11% of males. The leaf juice with butter has a soothing effect on burns and scalds.
How to plant
The Alugbati needs full sun and lots of moisture. The plant is so vigorous that it needs trellis and larger space to grow. Constant pruning is a must if you want to prevent the plant from over running the garden.
The alugbati grows well, even without fertilizer, but yield will improve with a liberal amount of compost. It reseeds itself, so there is no need to plant again. Alugbati is a very productive leaf vegetable, suitable for both home and market gardens.
An advantage of this leafy vegetable is its remarkable resistance to pests and diseases. The plant does not seem to be bothered by any pests or insects except birds. The birds really love to hang around the clusters of berries.
Hunter III, J. P. (2014). Health benefits: From foods and spices. Washington: Library of Congress.
Shahidi, F., & Alasalvar, C. (2016). Handbook of functional beverages and human health. New York: CRC Press.