Have you ever wondered how to grow longevity spinach? You may have heard about this unique green packed with health benefits, or this may be your first time hearing the term “longevity spinach.”
What does it mean, exactly? What makes longevity spinach different from other varieties of spinach? Why should you consider adding it to your garden? And how do you plant it and care for it?
Keep reading. In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more about growing longevity spinach.
Gynura_bicolor-leaves by Starr Environmental / CC BY 2.0 Longevity spinach isn’t actually spinach.
What is Longevity Spinach?
Longevity spinach is not actually spinach. Known scientifically as Gynura procumbens, it is a light green, semi-succulent vining plant native to southeast Asia. Longevity spinach vines tend to creep along the ground and may form a thick ground cover.
Longevity spinach is a highly-nutritious green edible and is sometimes referred to as a superfood. It is rich in vitamin K, polyphenols, flavonoids, and other valuable nutrients. People often grow it for its medicinal qualities. Longevity spinach can be eaten raw in salads and smoothies, sauteed or steamed like regular spinach, or boiled in soups and stews.
According to One Green World, the perennial plants are hardy in USDA zones 9-11, but you can grow them as annuals in almost any U.S. climate. I garden in zone 6, and I successfully grow longevity spinach outside from April through October.
Longevity spinach doesn’t have many pests in the U.S. I personally have never had any trouble with pests aside from the occasional bug hole in a leaf, but I’ve heard that some gardeners have experienced minor bug damage from beetles or aphids.
Gynura_bicolor-leaves-Wailuku-Maui” by Starr Environmental / CC BY 2.0 The leaves of longevity spinach are semi-succulent.
Other Varieties of Longevity Spinach
There are a couple of different types of longevity spinach. They are each known scientifically as Gynura Procumbens, but have different common names and unique colorations. Despite these slight differences, they each have similar flavors and health benefits.
Okinawan spinach leaves are bi-color, green on top and purple on the underside. The leaves are more pointed than regular longevity spinach, which are light green and rounded.
Okinawan spinach is more commonly grown in China and other parts of southeast Asia, whereas regular longevity spinach is commonly grown in the U.S. Both varieties of Gynura Procumbens can be grown in the U.S., as they require similar cultivation and care.
Kahanu_Gardens_Veggie_Garden_Hana-Maui” / Starr Environmental / CC BY 2.0. Okinawan spinach is dark green and purple.
Health Benefits of Longevity Spinach
The Chinese and other Asian cultures have long used longevity spinach as a medicinal herb. It is traditionally used for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and analgesic properties. Proponents of longevity spinach claim it has a wide range of medicinal uses, including:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Lowering blood sugar
- Lowering cholesterol levels
- Lowering fevers
- Preventing infections
- Removing toxins from the bloodstream
- Relieving pain
- Slowing the growth and spread of cancer
While there’s no scientific research to back up these claims, most people agree that longevity spinach is a healthy, tasty green that’s easy to grow.
Another benefit of longevity spinach is its protein content. According to Gardens All, the dried leaves contain about 4 ½ grams of protein in a 3.4-ounce serving. If you’re following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, longevity spinach may be a valuable addition to your diet as a plant-based protein source.
When and Where to Plant
You can order longevity spinach from many different garden suppliers, most of which will send you live plants instead of seeds. Plant them directly in the soil after the last frost date for your area.
Longevity spinach prefers a warm climate and is frost-sensitive. If you expect a late frost after planting, cover the plants with frost cloths or old sheets. Make sure they are completely covered and the covering is secure at ground level around the stems.
Longevity spinach needs plenty of sunlight but thrives best in partial shade. If you plant it in an area of full sun, it will grow well but the leaves may have a bitter taste. Plant in rich, well-drained soil for best results.
Water_Plant_Town_Sand_Island-Midway_Atoll” / Starr Environmental / CC BY 2.0 Longevity spinach does best in partial shade.
How to Care for It
Longevity spinach needs very little care. It will grow fast in warm weather and may spread out along the ground like a groundcover, so make sure it has plenty of room in your garden.
Water it regularly during periods of dry weather, but there’s no need to keep the soil wet all the time. As a semi-succulent, it has a great ability to retain water. Its roots also grow quite deep, allowing it to reach water sources further beneath the soil, and the vining nature of the plant may act as a mulch and prevent the soil from drying out too fast.
You can begin harvesting the leaves and stems as soon as the plants have filled out a bit, usually within a month of planting. Be careful not to harvest too much at a time if the plants are still small. Regularly harvesting the tips of each vine will keep the plant from spreading out and give it a more bushy appearance.
How to Use It
Longevity spinach can be used any way you would use regular spinach. It’s a nutritious and tasty addition to salads. You can cook and eat it plain or mixed with other vegetables, pasta or rice dishes, and soups or stews.
For best results, don’t overcook it. Lightly steam or saute it just until it has wilted, as this will preserve more of the vitamins and nutrients. Also, overcooking longevity spinach will give it a slimy texture, which may be fine for soups and stews but less desirable for other cooked dishes.
Longevity spinach is also a great addition to green smoothies and fresh vegetable juices. Blending or juicing the raw leaves is one of the best ways to take advantage of the health benefits of longevity spinach because it doesn’t destroy any of the precious nutrients. Blending or juicing also breaks them down into a form more readily absorbed by the body.
Its generally mild flavor makes longevity spinach an easy green to blend with other vegetables and fruits. Try blending longevity spinach with your favorite berries for a refreshing summer drink, sauteing the leaves with garlic and onion, or adding them to your favorite pasta dish.
Gynura_bicolor-leaves-Wailuku-Maui” / Starr Environmental / CC BY 2.0. Longevity spinach is a tasty addition to salads and smoothies.
How to Preserve It
You can preserve longevity spinach by any of the regular methods of food preservation, but freezing will allow it to retain the greatest nutritional value. You can blanch it first if you prefer, but you don’t have to. The simplest method is simply to wash the leaves and stems, allow them to dry, chop them in pieces, and throw them in a freezer bag.
You can also dry the leaves by spreading them evenly on a vegetable dehydrator, setting the temperature to 125 degrees, and dehydrating them for at least five hours. You may have to adjust the dehydration time based on how much humidity is in the air and how succulent the leaves are.
I wouldn’t recommend canning longevity spinach, but if you want to give it a try, simply follow the instructions for canning regular spinach.
How to Propagate It
One of the great things about longevity spinach is that it’s super easy to propagate. All you have to do is cut off a leaf or a small stem of the plant, stick it in soil, and keep it well watered for a few days. The leaf or stem will sprout roots and begin a new plant.
This is a great way to save cuttings through the winter if you live in a colder climate. As soon as a frost is predicted in your area, remove as many cuttings as you want to save and place them in indoor planters.
Make sure the cuttings get plenty of light by placing them in a sunny window or under a grow light. Water them occasionally if the soil becomes too dry. They will grow at a slower rate and be ready for planting outside when the weather warms up again.
If you live in a warmer climate where longevity spinach grows as a perennial, you may want to start a new patch of it in a different part of your yard. Depending on the soil and light quality, you may be able to take cuttings from your existing patch and plant them directly in the ground. Generally though, it’s best to start new plants in a more controlled indoor environment, then plant them outside after they’ve developed a good root system.
Habit_with_Kim_and_Sak_pat_tum_pang / Starr Environmental / CC BY 2.0. Longevity spinach is a nutritional green that’s easy to grow.
Can you keep longevity spinach as a potted plant year round?
Yes! If you have limited space for a garden or prefer to grow your plants in pots, longevity spinach will do just fine. Make sure the pots you use are at least 1-2 feet deep to allow plenty of room for the roots.
You can keep two or three plants in each pot, but keep in mind that they may compete for moisture and nutrients in the soil. Too many plants in one pot may cause them to become rootbound and stop growing. Check on your plants regularly and thin them if necessary.
Does longevity spinach need fertilizer?
The need for fertilizer will depend on your soil quality. Personally, I will sometimes mix earthworm castings or compost with water for watering my longevity spinach plants. It’s like giving them an energy drink.
In general, longevity spinach planted in the ground doesn’t need fertilizer to grow, but again, this will depend on how good your soil is. If the plants aren’t growing or look sick, they may need an extra boost of nutrients.
If you grow your longevity spinach in pots, it will probably need fertilizer from time to time. It doesn’t take long for potted plants to use up the nutrients in the soil, so it’s necessary to replace those nutrients on a regular basis.
Any type of basic plant food or fertilizer will do, though I prefer to use organic materials such as earthworm castings.
Is longevity spinach invasive?
Given the ideal climate and soil conditions, it is possible for longevity spinach to “go wild” and take up a lot more space than you want it to. It will not usually choke out other plants, but it may be seen as mildly invasive if you don’t keep it under control.
Fortunately, longevity spinach is easy to keep under control. All you have to do is harvest it regularly. If you use your longevity spinach in meals or preserve it regularly, it will become bush-like and won’t spread out as much, making it easier to contain to a single area.
Are there any side effects of eating longevity spinach?
As with any plant, there’s always a minor risk of allergic reaction. If you’re prone to food allergies or concerned about how your body may respond, start by eating one small leaf and gradually work up to more if you’re able to tolerate it.
Eating very large amounts of longevity spinach may cause diarrhea, but that is true of every kind of food. The average person should be able to eat longevity spinach as they would eat regular spinach or any other vegetable.
Longevity spinach is delicious, nutritious, easy to grow, easy to propagate, and generally resistant to most garden pests. It is one of my favorite plants to grow. I love the taste, I feel good knowing that I’m eating something healthy, and I love that I can just go out to my garden and pick what I need whenever I need it. Most of all, I love that it is so simple and stress-free to grow.
If you’re looking to add a new vegetable to your garden, why not give longevity spinach a try?