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Okinawa spinach is a dense, low growing leafy plant that generally reaches heights of 70 centimeters. The slightly toothed leaves are shiny and brilliantly colored, deep green atop and dusty purple underneath. Its texture is succulent and pleasantly chewy with a nutty herbaceous flavor and mild pine finish.
Okinawa spinach may be found year-round with peak season spring through early fall.
Okinawa spinach is an herbaceous perennial that is botanically classified as Gynura crepioides. A member of the Asteraceae family it is actually unrelated to spinach, which is in the Amaranthaceae family, and is more aptly called Okinawan lettuce or Hong tsoi. It is both incredibly nutritious and visually ornamental, making it a perfect back yard plant for container gardening or flower beds.
Okinawa spinach has been known to lower cholesterol, and has even earned the nickname “cholesterol spinach”.
Okinawa spinach may be eaten raw or lightly cooked, however can develop a slimy texture if overcooked. Young leaves should be reserved for raw applications in salads, spring rolls and garnishes. The larger leaves and stems may be steamed, sautéed or used in a stir fry. Their slightly chewy texture also stands up well in tempuras, stews and soups. Complimentary flavors include bacon, pancetta, anchovies, shrimp, crab, lamb, cheese, cream, eggs, garlic, shallots, mustard, mushrooms, water chestnuts, potatoes, raisins, lemon, dill, basil, sorrel, pine nuts, walnuts, sesame (seeds and oil) and soy sauce.
Okinawa spinach is native to Indonesia where it thrives in the local tropical climate. It is an easy to grow plant that also does well in subtropical temperatures, but is frost sensitive and should be grown in containers so that it may be moved indoors when freezing weather is a possibility. It does best in partial shade in well drained soils with plenty of irrigation. Keep Okinawa spinach regularly pruned to increase life span and induce a healthy, stout bushy structure.