By Paul Fischer
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about growing Okinawan spinach in buckets. I have also been growing another perennial salad herb that grows well on Molokai. Its scientific name is gynura procumbens, but it is also known as “longevity spinach” or “cholesterol spinach.” The plant is native to southeast Asia, and is widely known for its nutritional and medicinal values. Proponents claim it fights a variety of ailments, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even cancer. However, I feel it is worth growing just to eat. This plant is quite hardy and prolific. Once established, it will grow almost as fast as you can pick it.
Growing longevity spinach is quite similar to Okinawan spinach. You can easily start plants from cuttings. I find you don’t even have to start roots in water; you can just insert fresh cuttings directly into the soil about five inches, and it usually takes. Just make sure it’s kept well-watered while it grows roots. You can grow it in containers quite well if you have limited space, or plant a whole garden bed. It requires minimum upkeep and is easily harvested by pinching off the end leaves. I find that this variety of spinach grows better in partial shade. It will grow in the full sun, but the leaves are more tender when it’s in some shade. The leaves will also be more tender if you keep it watered regularly.
Uses of this spinach are varied, and it can be eaten raw or cooked. I have even boiled a whole potful with salt and butter added, and found it similar to eating southern collard greens. Some people think the taste of longevity spinach is strong, but I found I got used to it. I actually prefer it to iceberg lettuce now. I use it on almost every day on sandwiches, in salads, and mixed in with stir fried vegetables.
If you would like to see longevity spinach up close, there is a bed of this plant at Mitchell Pauole Center, next to the Parks and Rec office. A simple Internet search of gynura procumbens will turn up many articles and blogs containing further information, including health benefits and recipes. But I wouldn’t mail order plants or cuttings, as there are plenty of people on island you can get cuttings or even established plants from. Just network a little bit!