Alugbati (Basella rubra Linn., B. alba Linn.) also known as ‘arogbati’ (Bik.); ‘dundula’ (Sul.); ‘grana’ (Tag.); ‘ilaibakir’ (Ilk.); ‘libato’ (Tag.); Ceylon spinach, Malabar spinach, Indian spinach, Climbing spinach (Eng.); and ‘Lo k’uei’ or ‘luo kui shu’ (Chinese) is one of the most popular indigenous leafy vegetables in the Philippines. Originally from India, it is usually found in settled areas, in hedges, old cultivated areas, etc., throughout the Philippines. It is extensively grown in market gardens and home gardens and is being sold even in supermarkets in Visayas and Mindanao. It is also cultivated in tropical Asia, Africa, and Malaya.
Its leaves are somewhat fleshy, ovate, or heart-shaped. The fruit is fleshy and stalkless, which turns purple when mature. The young stems, shoots, and leaves are usually blanched. The edible species Basella rubra has red flowers and bright purple-red stems while Basella alba, which is more popular, has green leaves and stems. Alugbati production in 2006 was 32,303 tons (t) from 2,482 hectares (ha). It is grown almost anywhere, but major producers were Iloilo, Zamboanga del Norte, and Negros Oriental (Bureau of Agricultural Statistics [BAS], 2006).
Uses and Nutritional Value
Alugbati has a pleasant, mild spinach flavor that some may find earthy. It is slimy when overcooked, which makes it an excellent thickening agent in soups and stews. The purplish dye from the ripe fruit is used as food color and as rouge for the face. The cooked roots are used to treat diarrhea, while cooked leaves and stems are used as laxative. The flowers are used as antidote for poison. A paste of the root is used as a rubefacient or applied to swellings. A paste of the leaves is applied externally to treat boils.
Per 100 grams (g) edible portion, alugbati leaves contain:
- Water (g) - 92.5
- Energy (kcal) – 23.0
- Protein (g) - 2.0
- Fat (g) - 0.3
- Carbohydrates (g) - 3.0
- Fiber (g) - 0.9
- Ash (g) - 2.2
- Calcium (mg) – 128.0
- Phosphorous (mg) – 40.0
- Iron (mg) – 4.9
- Vitamin A (ug) - 456.0
- Thiamine (mg) – 0.04
- Riboflavin (mg) – 0.12
- Niacin (mg) - 0.5
- Ascorbic acid (mg) – 89.0
Source: The Philippine Food Composition Tables, 1997. Food and Nutrition Research Institute-Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST).
There are three common types of alugbati: Basella alba with green stem and oval to almost round leaves; Basella rubra with red stems and green, oval to round leaves; and a third type, which is a hybrid of the two. The Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines Los Banos (IPB-UPLB) has released two stopgap varieties in 1981 through its Germplasm Registration and Release Office: the red-stemmed ‘Pulahan’ and the green-stemmed ‘Luntian.’
Soil and Climate Requirements
Alugbati grows well under full sunlight in hot, humid climates and in areas lower than 500 m above sea level.
Growth is slow in low temperatures resulting in low yields. Flowering is induced during the short-day months of November to February. Alugbati grows best in sandy loam soils rich in organic matter with pH ranging from 5.5 to 8.0.
Alugbati is grown in beds similar to upland kangkong. Prepare raised beds or plots 0.75-1.0 m wide and 20-30 cm high at any convenient length. Make sure that a good drainage system is in place.
Alugbati is usually planted in home gardens using cuttings. Use mature stem cuttings 20-25 cm long with at least 3 internodes. Soak the cuttings in water overnight or store in a damp, shady area for 1-2 days. Plant 2-4 cuttings at 15-20 cm between hills and 20-30 cm between rows. Water before and after planting, if the soil is dry. Mulch with grass clippings or rice straw.
For market gardens, sow seeds in rows or broadcast on well-prepared seedbeds. Transplant seedlings at 20 cm x 20 cm distance between plants at 3 weeks after sowing. Water regularly to ensure high survival rate.
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