Egyptian Spinach (Malu Kia)
Egyptian spinach, also known as molokhia or jute mallow, is a leafy shrub and has tasty leaves and edible seed pods from the Malvaceae family. Its Latin name is Corchorus olitorius.
Easy to grow and ready to harvest in just two months, Egyptian spinach makes an exciting addition to any garden.
Although its exact origins are debatable, it was commonly grown as a food crop in Ancient Egypt and other parts of Africa and the Near East. Nowadays, it is enjoying increasing popularity worldwide as a leaf herb, taking both fresh produce markets and gardeners by storm.
Despite the name, Egyptian spinach is not a type of spinach, nor does it look like one. It belongs to the same family of plants like okra, durian, cacao, and even the linden tree. Its leaves are more akin to those of a tree rather than ordinary spinach. They are large, dark green, with an oval shape and a slightly serrated edge.
Egyptian spinach typically grows to a height of 6 feet (1.8 meters), producing long, fibrous stalks and side vines clusters. In some areas, where it is cultivated for the jute fiber, the molokhia plant can grow as tall as 13 feet (4 meters).
How to grow Egyptian spinach
Egyptian spinach is a fast-growing annual crop. Unlike ordinary spinach, which can be grown as a cold season crop, it thrives in warm temperatures. As a result, it should be planted in late spring at the earliest to prevent any chance of bolting or cold damage. In some areas, growing Egyptian spinach is best done in summer.
– Germinating seeds
The simplest way to grow Egyptian spinach is from seed. You can either start them indoors, 6 to 8 weeks in advance, or plant them directly in the garden soil.
Before sowing, the Egyptian spinach seeds need to be treated to overcome dormancy. To do this, soak the seeds in hot water for a few seconds. Then, soak them in room temperature water for at least 12 hours. Once the soaking is complete, you can sow the seeds into the soil. The seeds germinate very quickly, usually within 2 or 3 days.
If sowing the Egyptian spinach seeds directly outdoors, it’s best to know that the ideal temperature for germination is around 77 °F (25 °C). This is relatively high for most areas, especially if you’re planning to sow in spring. So depending on where you live, it might be best to get them started indoors.
If you’re starting your Egyptian spinach seeds indoors, bear in mind that the plants can be sensitive to transplant shock, and they don’t like being disturbed. You have two options: either continue to grow them in a container or plant them in compostable seedling pots.
Compostable pots make it much easier to transplant the young plants outdoors when they are mature enough. When the time comes, all you need to do is dig a hole deep and wide enough to fit the pot. You don’t have to take the plant out and risk disturbing the leaves. Place it in the soil, and it will naturally decompose over a few weeks.
– How to plant Egyptian spinach outdoors
Start by picking a part of your garden that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of light each day. Egyptian spinach should be planted in full sun.
Plant your Egyptian spinach in nutrient-rich, well-draining soil. This plant is very tolerant of moist soil types and can grow in neutral and acidic soil. As long as you fall within a pH range of 4.5 to 8.2, the plant should be happy. Use plenty of compost when preparing the soil so that the young plants have access to all the nutrients they need to grow. You can also use well-rotted manure or worm castings as an alternative to compost.
Sow the seeds half an inch deep, spaced out at about 2 inches (5 cm). Once each plant has developed 6 to 7 leaves, you can thin them out to about 15 inches (38 cm). Molokhia spinach grows into a shrub-like shape, and it can reach up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in height. Make sure that the plants have plenty of space to develop.
Keep the soil well-watered. Egyptian spinach is tolerant to high heats but not drought, which can lead to bolting. However, avoid overwatering, leading to problems such as root rot and other fungal diseases.
Egyptian spinach doesn’t need too many fertilizers to grow. As long as the soil is rich in organic matter, such as compost, it shouldn’t need any additional feeding. Suppose the soil in your garden is very poor in terms of nutrients. In that case, you can apply a liquid, organic fertilizer solution once a month.
– Grow in containers
Egyptian spinach is easy to grow in containers. This way, you can plant it indoors as early as March without worrying about the cold weather.
Start by soaking the Egyptian spinach seeds for at least 12 hours. Then, plant 2 to 3 seeds in a compostable seed pot. Keep the soil moist using a spray pump, and make sure that the room temperature doesn’t drop below 77 °F (25 °C). After the seeds have sprouted, wait another couple of weeks before trimming the seedlings down to just one plant. Once the plant has at least six well-developed leaves, or when you see the roots poke out through the compostable pot, you can move it to a larger container.
1. Choose the right container
Pick a plastic container with drainage holes that’s about 10 gallons (38 liters) in size. Fill it with a well-draining, nutrient-rich potting mix. Egyptian spinach needs room to develop, so plant a maximum of 3 plants per container. Water regularly, and apply an organic liquid fertilizer once a month.
Egyptian spinach grown in containers should be kept in shape with regular pruning. The more you cut the stems, the bushier it will grow. Prune the top couple of inches off each stem once the plant reaches 12 inches (30 cm) in height. The leaves and stems that are removed can be enjoyed either raw or cooked.
Egyptian spinach is ready to be harvested 7-weeks after sowing, or once the plants reach 2 feet (60 cm) in height. Use a pair of sharp gardening scissors to remove each stem’s top 6 inches (15 cm). Using the cut-and-come-again method will also encourage it to develop more side branches, which will grow young, tender leaves. On average, Egyptian spinach takes around 60 days from sowing to reach maturity. You can continue harvesting the leaves throughout summer and until early fall.
1. Flowers and seeds
Mature Egyptian spinach plants will produce small, yellow flowers in autumn. After the flowers dry out, they will develop thin seed pods with an elongated shape. These pods are also edible and can be harvested and use the same way as okra. If you want to harvest the Egyptian spinach seeds, allow the pods to dry on the stem. Then pick them, crack the pods open, and collect the seeds. They should be small and dark gray. You can use them to plan your next year’s crop.
2. Is it a perennial plant?
Egyptian spinach is not frost tolerant. Unless you live in a tropical or subtropical climate, the plant can only be grown as an annual crop. When the harvest season is done, cut down the plants, and add them to your compost bin. Bear in mind that Egyptian spinach seeds are very small and easy to self-sow. If you don’t want the plant to grow back in the same place the following year, make sure to cut the seed pods before they mature. Once they dry, the pods will burst, releasing the seeds on the soil, where they will remain dormant until next year.
Egyptian greens are a staple ingredient in several African cuisines. The leaves have a pleasant savory taste, with a distinctive aroma similar to coriander and even garlic. They are also packed full of nutrients, antioxidants. They are a great source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A, C, and the vitamin B complex. Egyptian spinach leaves can be eaten raw, although they tend to have a noticeably bitter taste. If you’re not a fan of bitterness, cooking them is the best way to enjoy them. Try using them in the traditional Egyptian molokhia stew, paired with some lamb or even fish.
Or, if you’re after something spicy, use the leaves in a Levantine-style soup, along with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and chili peppers. The leaves of Egyptian spinach can also be dried and used to make tea or turned into a powder and used in cooking.
Egyptian spinach’s health benefits have been praised since the days of the Pharaohs, whether it was used in cooking or to make tea. Ancient Egyptians used the leaves for their anti-inflammatory properties, to restore strength and even aid in childbirth. Halfway around the world, it was used in Ayurvedic medicine to relieve pain and treat tumors.
Egyptian spinach is a fantastic way to grow a tasty and unusual ingredient in your own home. It can be a little tricky, but you can enjoy a bountiful harvest with this grow guide!
Here are the key points to remember:
- Egyptian spinach isn’t a type of spinach, although the leaves are edible;
- It requires hot temperatures to thrive, and it can be best to germinate the seeds indoors first;
- Egyptian spinach isn’t too fussy about soil, but add in a reasonable amount of compost for the best results.
Now all you need to do is grab a pack of seeds and give it a go yourself!