Choosing perennial vegetables and edible ground cover plants can help you create layered, thriving, and biodiverse systems in your organic garden. In sub-tropical and tropical zones? Okinawa spinach is a great option to consider.
It’s delicious and easy to grow. Plus, it looks majestic and beautiful!
Okinawa spinach also has a few nuances that all gardeners and homesteaders should consider.
Let’s take a closer look at this hidden perennial gem.
- About Okinawa Spinach
About Okinawa Spinach
Okinawa spinach is not spinach! But, it is a plant called Gynura crepioides in Latin. Okinawa spinach with the beautiful purple leaves is called Gynura bicolor. It’s also called Hung Tsoi. Okinawa spinach has a dense growth habit. It has deep green leaves with a glorious purple on the reverse side.
It grows to around 70 to 100-centimeters tall. (Two to three feet.) It produces small orange flowers when left to do so.
Okinawa Spinach Overview
- Okinawa spinach is a perennial plant.
- It can be grown in many sub-tropical or tropical climates or even as a houseplant.
- Okinawa spinach is an edible ground cover and companion plant in warmer growing zones.
- Plant or root cuttings in spring.
- Grow in full sun or part shade, in fertile soil.
- Doesn’t mind growing in pots or containers.
Where Does Okinawa Spinach Grow?
This plant is native to Southeast Asia, though it grows without fuss in most subtropical or tropical climate zones where sufficient moisture is available.
It thrives in full sun (with sufficient moisture) or in partial shade and does best in rich, moist, and fertile soil with plenty of organic matter. It prefers a medium with a slightly acidic pH of around 6 to 6.5.
If you live in a cold area? Growing Okinawa spinach is trickier. However, it is possible to grow Okinawa spinach indoors – or anywhere if it avoids cold temperatures in winter.
It can potentially be grown in a sheltered and sunny spot in a container outdoors, then moved under cover or indoors before any risk of frost. Or it may be possible to grow it indoors as a houseplant year-round.
Is Okinawa Spinach Perennial?
Yes! Okinawa spinach is a perennial plant in its native range, and in areas where temperatures do not fall below zero during the winter months, it will grow in your garden for many years.
It is, however, sometimes grown as an annual in colder climate zones.
Why Grow Okinawa Spinach?
Okinawa spinach is yummy and nourishing. It’s perfect for smoothies, salads, vegetable stir-fries, soups, sandwiches, veggie roll-ups, and steamed veggies.
Okinawa spinach is also very easy to grow in warmer climates. In suitable climate zones, it can provide excellent ground cover. It can also be a great companion plant – providing benefits to other nearby plants.
Okinawa spinach can be helpful in agroforestry or silvopasture as a fodder crop. (You can protect your other more valuable crops by planting loads of Okinawa spinach – if you wish. It grows fast – and has a diameter of up to four feet.)
Can You Eat Okinawa Spinach?
Of course, another primary benefit of Okinawa spinach is that you can eat it. It is an edimental! An attractive, ornamental, and edible crop.
It can be eaten as a salad, stir-fried, or used as you would use spinach in a range of recipes. The leaves have a nutty flavor with a unique hint of pine and are crisp in texture when raw. When cooked, they have a sticky texture and should not be overcooked.
Though not related to spinach at all? It makes a good substitute in areas where true spinach can be challenging to grow.
Is Okinawa Spinach the Same as Longevity Spinach?
Okinawa spinach is related to but distinct from the plant known as longevity spinach. Longevity spinach is Gynura procumbens – a ground-spreading vine rather than an upright herb.
The two share many characteristics in common – and are both useful edible plants and spinach substitutes. But they differ in their growth habits and are somewhat different in flavor.
When to Plant Okinawa Spinach?
You can plant Okinawa spinach anytime if you live in a warm growing zone. But remember that they detest cold weather. Okinawa spinach is usually purchased either as potted plants or as herbaceous cuttings that you can root yourself at home. If you already know someone growing this plant, you might also be able to take cuttings yourself.
How Do You Grow Okinawa Spinach?
Especially in more humid subtropical and tropical climate zones, Okinawa spinach can be a tremendously easy plant to grow:
- Prepare a suitable bed, border, or container to place your plants.
- Take cuttings 10 to 20 centimeters in length and root into pots filled with a medium rich in organic matter.
- Place plant cuttings or young plants approximately one foot apart for dense ground cover or around two feet apart for the plants to mature to their full size.
- Mulch well around the plants with organic material such as homemade compost or well-rotted manure.
- Remove the flowers so that the plants focus on foliage production. But consider letting some plants flower to bring in beneficial pollinators and other insects to your garden.
- Move to a frost-free location in autumn in cooler climate zones.
Once your Okinawa spinach establishes, you can enjoy (yummy) year-round harvests if you are lucky enough to live in a warm climate.
Harvesting Okinawa spinach is tremendously rewarding – and easy.
How to Harvest Okinawa Spinach
Okinawa spinach is a plant that never stops giving. You can cut leaves from the plants as and when they are required. To keep the plants producing well, harvest little and often. Cut plenty when harvesting the upper leaves. That way – you get fuller, bushier, and more productive plants.
There are better and more hardy spinach substitutes to grow for temperate climates. However, in warmer climates, Okinawa spinach can be one of the easiest leafy green perennial vegetables and so can be a perfect option for gardeners in suitable climate zones.
We've noticed that finding Okinawa spinach for local transplanting is difficult! If you can't find a specimen at a local plant nursery, you can buy them on Amazon. You get one Okinawa spinach plant. It's between three and eight inches inside a three-inch pot. They're perfect for sowing in your warm garden. Or - you can develop them indoors.
Okinawa spinach is one of our favorite summer garden plants.
They look beautiful alongside nearly and companion plants. Gardens always look better with a few Okinawa spinach plants.
They’re also fun and rewarding to cook and eat!
What about you? Do you love them as much as we do?
If you have questions about Okinawa spinach, please ask.
We look forward to hearing from you – and we thank you for reading.
Have a great day!